Group / Ensemble Playing
During a group lesson:
One of the misconceptions of the Suzuki method is the issue with the group playing.
A lot of people and especially people who are professional musicians are put off by the group playing aspect. Seeing a hundred children playing the same piece seems unartistic to them.
Comments from "they have no idea about musical phrasing" to "they play like machines" are frequent comments.
Those comments are understandable if you don't see the big picture and especially if you don't really know how the Suzuki method works.
Unfortunately, ignorance of really knowing the method causes statements like the ones above.
In the traditional method children usually, join an orchestra only after a few years of learning a new instrument.
Orchestra playing can be a wonderful experience for the children. However, it can also be quite a shock if the child is not prepared well:
Having to sight-read parts you may not have seen before, a conductor in front whose beats the child might not be able to understand yet and all these different instruments and other parts around the child can be very confusing and intimidating.
All this multitasking and trying to hang on to the other players can cause a beginner to lose a good technique and end up in sloppy playing. This is also the reason why children usually don't start to play in orchestras from the very beginning as it would be too counterproductive.
In the Suzuki method, the group playing is a forerunner to the orchestra playing.
Only with the difference that the child starts playing in an "orchestra" from the very beginning. It will only play pieces it has previously studied and polished in the individual lesson and therefore is confident of what he or she is playing.
That again gives the child time and confidence to feel free and relaxed while playing and can concentrate on the important aspects of orchestra and ensemble playing like really listening, blending, tuning out (intonation) and following the phrasing of the leader.
Every child also gets the opportunity to lead him or herself, watch and learn from other students and get slowly introduced into the art of making music as an ensemble rather than just playing a tune by themselves without having to consider other instruments or aspects.
Once a student has to sight read at the same time as making chamber music it is already an entirely different ball game.
Following the phrasing, blending together with the other cellists and being flexible in intonation, tempo and sound color has to have already been learned by then and should be easy as sight reading at the same time adds yet again a new challenge.
That is why we introduce the group playing very early on in the Suzuki method and why we take it very seriously.
The argument that a single player could not freely play his own interpretation when playing in a group is true but it is not any different in any orchestra or ensemble playing.
The argument that in an orchestra players don't play solo pieces together is not true. Especially violonists frequently if not mainly have the tune and have to play this tune together without freedom for individual interpretations.
Even an accompanying part needs to be played in unison with the rest of the group and won't tolerate any individual deviations.
There comes a point in the succession of the Suzuki books where one might have reservations to play pieces like Chanson Triste by Tschaikowsky as a group, but again: it is a good way of learning to play a big tune like that as an ensemble as it will prepare to play the big cello section tunes of orchestra repertoire like for example the Tschaikowsky Symphonies.
At least the student will know a piece previously worked on in the individual lesson well before playing it with the group and can concentrate on the important parts and aspects of ensemble playing.
Last but not least the reservation or even dislike for very big groups of Suzuki players is understandable but these events are practiced only rarely. As rarely as concerts with orchestras like the London Philharmonic Orchestra together with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra or together with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra playing in the Albert Hall or the Royal Festival Hall...