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Teacher Spotlight on Melissa Arbetter, Suzuki violin


Melissa Arbetter, Suzuki violin


Interview by Erin Cano, violin


Melissa Arbetter joined MIC in 2008.


What led you to become a Suzuki teacher?

I had completed one small corner of the Suzuki Triangle by studying the Suzuki method as a child.  I participated in group settings and numerous performances and attended the American Suzuki Institute in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. However, my “ah ha” moment occurred when I was an undergraduate music major at Northwestern University.  I took a music education class and went on a field trip to observe a Suzuki group class. Upon returning to the classroom, I found myself passionately explaining the fundamental principles of the Suzuki Method to my classmates.  I realized I felt so deeply about the philosophy that I decided to study it from a pedagogical perspective.  Additionally, I was fortunate to meet Dr. Suzuki. That solidified my desire to become a Suzuki teacher.


Which of your teachers inspired you the most?

There are so many, but I will narrow it down to four remarkable teachers.  For the past several summers I have had the joy of taking teacher training courses with Doris Preucil at the Chicago Suzuki Institute.  I keep a list of “Preucil-isms” in my violin case. I am incredibly appreciative for her generous spirit in nurturing teachers.  

As a young student, I was inspired by a violin teacher I met at a summer program, Mary West. Although I only studied with her briefly, I recall her kindness and patience. From her, I learned that it is possible to teach with compassion and joy. 

When I was young, I also studied Suzuki piano and am forever grateful to my piano teacher Mary Ann Swallum, a registered piano Suzuki Teacher Trainer.  She demonstrated fundamental Suzuki characteristics of nurturing musical growth through integrity and grace.

Finally, I fondly remember my daughter’s first piano teacher and former MIC faculty member Mrs. Yasuko Joichi.  She taught me so much about being a Suzuki parent.  I am more empathetic towards parents because of the time I spent in Mrs. Joichi’s studio.


What is your favorite piece to teach?

I enjoy teaching Twinkle Theme because it is the foundation of everything.  I also like teaching the violin pieces that return in later Suzuki books. It is rewarding to observe a student repeat Long, Long, Ago in a more advanced version in Book 2.  Dr. Suzuki carefully planned a sequential approach to repeating previously learned songs.  In a group setting, I enjoy teaching Perpetual Motion because there are so many fun creative ways to deconstruct the piece. 


What are some of your favorite performance experiences?

One of my favorite orchestral performance experiences was a concert I played in Chicago with the renowned pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim.  He was conducting and performing a piano concerto. I was so nervous during the concert that I was not able to enjoy his performance. However, after the concerto, he performed the Schubert Impromptu Op. 142 as an encore. It was incredibly inspiring to be only feet away from this immensely talented artist.

Another favorite experience was a concert I played with the famed singer and conductor Placido Domingo. He conducted the orchestra while Sarah Chang performed the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto.  It was fun to play the accompaniment to a violin concerto. More importantly, Maestro Domingo conducted the concerto from a singer’s perspective by drawing out lyrical melodies throughout the piece. It reminded me of Dr. Suzuki’s intention to emulate the natural singing voice. 

A final unique experience occurred after filming a scene in the movie Home Alone 2 in which I participated as an orchestra member.  It was exciting to be part of a film production.  However, the best part occurred several hours later, after everyone had left the stage at Symphony Center.  The pianist Andre Watts arrived to rehearse for his evening concert.  I had been waiting in the balcony for my ride to arrive and was privy to his private rehearsal.  Listening to him play was moving and inspiring. 


What’s on your listening list?

I am constantly encouraging my students to listen to the Suzuki recordings and their most current piece, and I follow the same approach.  I am often listening to whatever piece I am learning for a performance.  Most recently that included Mother Goose Suite by Ravel and Petite Suite by Debussy.  I also recently collaborated on a choir CD entitled Hear Our Voice, Sh’ma Koleinu. I am a big Broadway musical fan and enjoy everything from West Side Story to Hamilton.  I performed in an original holiday musical called The Christmas Schooner, so I enjoy listening to that score in December.  To stay current, I use the app Soundhound to discover the pop tunes played in my fitness classes.

Teacher Spotlight on Aubrey Faith-Slaker, piano
Teacher Spotlight on Aubrey Faith-Slaker, piano

"Hiding a Nancy Drew mystery book in the piano bench while keeping one eye on the front room window so I could go back to practicing when my mom drove up was NOT effective practicing."