Inside Out, Upside Down: A Most Unusual Camp Experience

The best things that happen at Violin Camp are the most unusual.

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“Turn your violins upside down,” I say, “and bow the strings underneath!” Laughter abounds as the students try to comply with this unorthodox request. Difficult, but they manage to do it: they guide their bows, inverted so that the hair faces up, to make a sound on strings facing downward.

Then, leading the students outside, I ask if anyone has ever walked a labyrinth.

A labyrinth is a maze with only one pathway, meant for meditation. The students begin marching along the circular paths. As they go, they are asked to call out a piece. The student in front leads them in familiar Suzuki repertoire.

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Meeting someone special

Next I lead them back inside where a seeing-eye dog is being trained to assist a blind pianist. “Would you like to play for him?”

Everyone comes up on stage. The pianist begins to improvise chords and accompaniment as the students again play basic repertoire.

“We are jealous of how sensitive his ears are,” I explain. “We play with our eyes closed sometimes, but can you imagine playing all the time? His ears are really good.”

Then they get to pet the seeing-eye dog, their favorite part of the week.

Why we do unusual things

It may seem like just another “summer camp” of activities, but the learning and progress I observed at this year’s FIrst Annual Suzuki Violin Camp was outstanding.

There are three reasons the students made progress at Violin Camp:

1) More playing time. The kids were playing for two hours, four days in a row. That’s way more practice time than they normally put in. To get them to do so much extra playing creative teaching methods. 2) Less fear. What the unusual activities do is increase their sense of naturalness around their instrument. Playing upside down, closing their eyes, standing on one foot, and marching outside encourages them to try things without fear of failure. 3) Smuggled-in technique: for example, playing upside down develops awareness of the bow, and marching develops a sense of rhythm and pulse.

Everything we do has a purpose, but for the kids, it just feels like good old fashioned fun.

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The smiles on their faces were worth the effort. One student said it was the best camp he had ever been to! More importantly, the improvement in ease and facility in their playing was evident at their next lesson

I'm looking forward to next year. I know that more great learning will happen, and who knows what strange and unusual things we will decide to do?

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If you would like to see how Suzuki Violin Camp was organized day by day in detail, you can view the curriculum here.