Founded in 1950 as an open-enrollment school, Colburn’s Community School of Performing Arts has a rich history of building excellent arts education programs and striving to create a welcoming, open environment for our diverse student base. In the 2019–20 academic year, the Community School of Performing Arts is focused not only on developing their current programs, but also launching brand new programs to meet students’ needs in the Los Angeles area.
The new Suzuki Guitar program showcases Colburn’s awareness of music students’ needs and the Community School’s efforts to develop beneficial and inclusive programs. This new program is taught by Connie Sheu, DMA, a classical guitarist with over 10 years of experience teaching Suzuki guitar. Educated at Columbia, Juilliard, and the University of Southern California, Dr. Sheu brings a wealth of knowledge, experience, and energy to the new program. In the program, students starting at age five are given weekly private lessons and group instruction to ensure that they are progressing at their own pace, developing ensemble skills, and reinforcing proper technique on the instrument.
The Community School created this program to expand access to the highly sought-after Suzuki Strings program. This method, founded by Japanese violinist Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, rests on the philosophy that every child is born with musical ability that can be nurtured and developed to a high level. This teaching method involves parent participation both in lessons and daily practices at home, and requires a major commitment of time. Colburn believes in this methodology and desires to create a level playing field where all children can participate in art and music.
The desire for this type of training is evident in the numbers of applicants and enrolled students in the Suzuki Strings program. Over 120 students participated in Suzuki Strings last year, with the program accepting only around 25% of applicants in 2018–19. Suzuki Guitar helps address this need and allows more students to experience the Suzuki method.
Beyond just the consideration of numbers, the Community School wants to invest more time, talent, and resources into classical guitar. The guitar is a unique and beautiful instrument perfectly situated for beginning students. Both a harmonic and melodic instrument, it allows students to practice in a holistic manner as they delve into music theory and reading. Dr. Sheu describes the guitar as a “gateway” instrument, an easily accessible entrance point to the complex world of classical music. The Community School understands the barriers to classical music and seeks to widen the “gates” to this art form.
Guitar students will have the chance to be part of new chamber groups, such as an advanced flute/guitar duo coached by Dr. Sheu. With the creation of the Suzuki Guitar program, guitarists and other instrumentalists alike will benefit from the opportunity to collaborate and perform with each other.
Suzuki Guitar also presents the opportunity for Colburn students to pursue new and interesting repertoire. Guitar students not only rehearse and perform music from earlier periods, but also play material that is influenced by world music and a variety of styles, techniques, and idioms.
Dr. Sheu seeks to develop an often under-appreciated art form with her program at the Community School. Even though classical guitar contains extremely beautiful repertoire, the instrument does not hold as much standing in the classical world as piano, violin, or other instruments. Dr. Sheu acknowledges some of the barriers but has hope for the future of classical guitar. She says about guitar, “Many people don’t know that you can play classical music very seriously on the guitar, go to the best conservatories for training, and win Grammy awards on the instrument. It is an incredibly rich art form that many young musicians gravitate towards.”
Even though Suzuki Guitar represents only a small portion of the students and faculty at Colburn, it demonstrates the Community School’s awareness of students’ needs and emphasizes its commitment to creating programs that develop musicians in a holistic manner. The Community School of Performing Arts is excited to expose students to new repertoire through an accessible instrument. Dr. Connie Sheu is an exciting addition to the faculty roster, and the school is thrilled about the addition of her program. As the semester rolls on and new Suzuki Guitar students are roaming the halls, the Community School desires that every student might find their artistic home here at Colburn.