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Mervi Sipola-Maliniemi

Getting to Know Suzuki Voice

The first time I heard about Suzuki Voice was in winter 2002 when Dr. Päivi Kukkamäki was giving a lecture at the national winter camp for the Finnish Suzuki Association in Raahe. The same spring, I also happened to come across a newspaper article on the Hänsel und Gretel opera composed by Engelbert Humperdinck that the Finnish Suzuki Voice children were performing. These events arose my interest in the Suzuki Voice method and therefore I contacted Doctor Päivi Kukkamäki. After having heard more about the Suzuki voice method, I got even more interested and decided to apply for Suzuki Voice teacher training.

Now, four and a half years later, I can state that the Suzuki Voice method has changed my life completely!

Before specialising as a Suzuki Voice teacher, I had already gained a degree in church music in 1989. Five years later, in 1994, I graduated as a music teacher. I took my diploma in singing in 1997 and also my degree as a music pedagogue in 2004. Since 1989, I have been teaching singers at various levels and of different age groups. I have continued to perform as a soloist singer alongside teaching: giving lied, operatic and church concerts in around Finland. I have also been a member of an operatic ensemble and the production and performing of short operas gives more flavour to my singing and teaching career.

After learning about the Suzuki Voice teaching method, my own ideology towards teaching and singing changed. My new guiding principle became: "Less is more" and "More haste less speed".

Some thoughts about Suzuki Voice

The thing that I like about the Suzuki Voice method is how it builds upon children's ability to grow throughout their lives by being surrounded by song and singing while their own skills keep improving step by step. At every stage singing is part of the children's lives and if children so wish, they can continue to sing for the rest of their lives.

Another feature that I value in Suzuki Voice is the "family-centeredness" or "family orientation" of the method. I like working with children and their families and I actually make the whole family sing, not just the child. It is very rewarding to see how the children's performing abilities improve: some children really blossom on stage and the joy of singing shows clearly both in class and when performing.

I also value highly the carefully chosen study material, the expertly drawn up singing drills and exercises and the clear structure of individual classes. I also like the internationality which is in evidence from the very beginning of the Suzuki Voice from Level 1 onwards by singing songs in different languages. I also think that the method of training for Suzuki Voice teachers is wisely built: how you advance, step by step, still being able to make use of everything you have learnt so far in your practical training.

My Journey to becoming a Teacher

I have enjoyed immensely every single teaching period that I have participated in during my years of training so far!

It has been wonderful to observe Dr. Päivi Kukkamäki's own teaching, to be able to follow her own classes for children of various ages and to see how every small detail is needed in building a whole and larger entity. My own practice sessions with Päivi have also been invaluable as I have been able to further develop my skills as a teacher from the feedback I have received. I have also found the several discussions we have had with her on how to teach singing to children and young adults important. Thanks to these discussions, I have been able to prepare myself for the various age and development stages that children undergo in their classes.

I have been able to grow as a Suzuki Voice teacher together with my students. As they have grown and their skills have developed, I too have been able to learn many things with them.

My previous studies and my job teaching adult singers have helped me in the close contact now with the parents of my young Suzuki students. My own children, girls aged five and seven, have helped me to understand the world of children.

One part of the Suzuki Voice training has been my own individual singing classes with singing pedagogue Mette Heikkinen. At these classes, I have been able to build up my own instrument and to study the Suzuki Voice repertoire by learning details about how to pronounce foreign languages and how to interpret different styles. I find it superb that such emphasis is also put on the training of teachers' own singing skills!

Along with my studies of the Suzuki Voice method, I have received a warm welcome from the Suzuki Voice family here in Finland. The support and care I have received as a "teacher apprentice" has meant a great deal to me especially at the early stages of my training. I would like to express a warm Thank You to the entire Suzuki Voice family for this!

Working as a Suzuki Voice Teacher

I completed my Level 1 teaching exam in Suzuki Voice on 29 August 2003. The same August I also set up my private music school, Musiikkikoulu Virtus (www.musiikkivirtus.net). The main emphasis in my school has been teaching children by using the Suzuki Voice method, but I also teach adults, both professional singers as well as adults who sing as a hobby. My first Suzuki Voice families began their journeys with me in Autumn 2003. My first students were two babies, aged two months, and two girls, aged 2 and 4 years.

My Suzuki Family grew gradually. From the very beginning, we performed at various events for children, at churches, hospitals and homes for the elderly. We were also able to take part at the performances that Dr. Kukkamäki organized with her students.

In Summer 2004, I took part at the national summer camp organized by the Finnish Suzuki Association together with my Suzuki students. It was a great experience! With the help of Dr. Kukkamäki, I was able to practice teaching Suzuki Voice at the camp and was able to get to know other Finnish Suzuki teachers. I was also able to follow the work of Suzuki teachers teaching other instruments, which gave me more knowledge of the Suzuki teaching method.

I completed my Level 2 teaching exam in Suzuki Voice in Autumn 2004. At that time, I already had 14 children in my Suzuki family and the classes were eventful... Most of the children were under 3 years old and therefore the classes had to be packed with activity. Also the parents of the children were participating at classes singing and playing. The oldest of my children had their first book recitals.

In early Spring 2005, we took part at an opera performance of Xavier Montsalvatge's El gato con botas at Martinus hall in Vantaa. The opera had been directed by Dr. Kukkamäki and the soloist roles were sung by her oldest Suzuki students. My own small Suzuki students played the parts of mice. The preparing and practicing for a large production was an unforgettable experience for my Suzuki Voice families. It gave everybody a new boost at individual singing classes. The older children acted as important role models for the smaller children and the feeling of togetherness grew in my group both between children and parents.

The same spring, we organized our own performance, a Kalevala Day Concert, with traditional Finnish songs, games and rhymes.

It was great to see how all the work we had put into the lessons was now bearing fruit! The children really enjoyed performing and everybody sang their own solo pieces nicely and the whole concert went just as planned. The smaller children imitated the older ones and that way found the courage needed for the performance.

In 2005-6, several of my Suzuki students saw an upheaval in their lives as new babies had been born in their families and they too were now participating in classes. As a teacher, I had to come up with solutions on how to be able to give a class enabling every child to develop according to his or her own stage of development. Several of my students started to have individual singing lessons thus changing the structure of my teaching.

In Spring 2006, I attended the Suzuki Conference in Torino, Italy, and completed my Level 3 teaching exam there at the same time. The time in Torino was an exciting experience for me with all the concerts and performances involved. It was heart-stirring to see the connection between all those hundreds of singers and musicians making music together. It was touching to be able to follow the classes of small Suzuki children as the melodies and the games connected to them were familiar to all even though they did not share a common language. The language of Music was enough! All the familiar songs were also the links shared by younger and older Suzuki students.

In Autumn 2006, my music school moved to another part of Helsinki and my Suzuki students were able to continue their studies in a brand-new studio. The oldest of my Suzuki students are now in Level Three and new students have joined our Suzuki family. The children have performed at various concerts and smaller recitals. As the children have grown, solo singing has become more important. They all enjoy the opportunities to give book recitals where their closest Suzuki friends, family members and other friends can come and hear them. These recitals clearly motivate the children in their hobby. Children also learn to sing songs in foreign languages, sing in different groups and compositions, "direct" each other and love to perform different roles.

I have encouraged my students to go to classical music concerts and have asked professional singers to come and sing at our concerts. Some of the students have also started to play another instrument. The enthusiasm my students show towards music and singing can be seen in the number of book recitals. In Spring 2007, my students had a total of 12 book recitals!

What the Future will bring

In June 2007, there will be an International Suzuki Voice Workshop in Vantaa at Art Center Pessi. There will be participants from Argentina, Australia, Spain and Iceland and during the Workshop and I will be completing my Level 4 teaching exam.

In Autumn, we will have quite a challenge to rise up to: Suzuki Voice will be celebrating its 20th Anniversary! The long journey will be celebrated by performing an opera, Roope (Roope - poika joka ei uskaltanut pelätä), which has been commissioned by composer Timo-Juhani Kyllönen with a libretto by Leena Laulajainen. The opera production will be of huge scale and we have been practising it together with my young students since last term. The tone language is modern, but despite the challenge, my young students under the age of seven have been able to learn the music easily. Even at the winter camp in January they were able to sing long parts of the opera. A child's ability to hear, imitate and repeat what he or she has learnt is incredible!

After the performances of the opera, Roope, we will be starting a journey around the world with my students. We will start with Finnish folk songs and continue our journey with stops at different Suzuki countries. It will be interesting to see in which of these countries we will be able to meet our Suzuki Voice friends in person! Until then, we can all sing together:

Twinkle, twinkle little star,
How I wonder what you are!
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.
Twinkle, twinkle little star,
How I wonder what you are!

Mervi Sipola-Maliniemi, June 2007

 
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