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309 Instruments in Young Hands Testify to Power of Encouragement

November 18, 2002|Janet Wilson | Times Staff Writer

All the children were above average in Newport Beach on Sunday. Perfect, in fact, to their adoring audience.

Three hundred and nine violins, cellos and violas strong, they bowed and plucked in the afternoon sunlight, sending ribbon candies of sound through the big auditorium at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church.

Ages 6 to 17, they arrived in their parents' SUVs and sedans from across Orange County for the 32nd Suzuki Festival Concert.

Shinichi Suzuki pioneered a new form of music lesson in Japan 60 years ago, stressing that no child is mediocre and that talent is learned. He believed that, like speech, music could best be learned through intensive listening to and memorization of that "mother tongue." Nurturing and encouragement are as important as learning to read music.

There was plenty of encouragement Sunday.

Chris Lee, 42, of Irvine smiled at his daughter Michelle, 6, as they checked for her nametag.

"We'll do 'Twinkie, Twinkie' today," he announced.

"I'm not a twinkie!" retorted Michelle, clad in a long, white dress, fancy shoes and a bow floating in her hair. "I'm doing my recital. I'm playing 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star'!"

Inside, teachers moved like maternal muses, herding groups of youngsters on and off the stage. All the works were short, and enthusiastically received in spite of the occasional tin note.

"Mommy, how do I know when do I go?" Peter Debannah, 10, whispered nervously, adjusting his red tie. After a 40-minute wait, it was his turn, and his mom waved proudly as he strode confidently onstage.

One row up, Phyllis Streed, 72, in town from Minnesota, couldn't stop beaming as her granddaughter, Greta Streed, played Mozart on the cello.

"My only grandchild. Special, huh?" she said. Tapping her toe in time to the music, she said, "I love orchestra; I'll take it over band any day."

To her right, Kurt Richardson wore out his hands clapping as his older son, Dylan, 10, finished playing Vivaldi's Concerto in A minor.

"It's a difficult piece. I saw the smile on his face when he finished. I think he nailed it. All the lessons, all the time practicing, the times he didn't want to play -- this is the payoff, right here. You can't help but be proud."

Toward the end, all the young musicians gathered for the finale. Six-year-olds clutching violins barely bigger than Barbie dolls bumped their way shyly onto the stage.

Michelle Lee was front and center in her white dress, her bow raised at attention.

What is the sound of 309 instruments playing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star"?

Joy. Loud and pure.

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