By Lauren Whittaker
Watching the devastation of Hurricane Harvey on the nightly news motivated me to seek a way help, but what was the best way?! Concluding that a monetary donation was the greatest help I could offer left me in a second quandary: where to donate? Red Cross? Celebrity phone-a-thon? (It’d be fun to talk to a well-known celebrity directly! Oprah?) Perhaps a local drive?
Then, as a Suzuki piano teacher at South Shore Conservatory, registered with the Suzuki Association of the Americas, I received an email from them with the subject line “Suzuki Hurricane Relief Fund.” They were suggesting that my students participate in a practice-a-thon, with the goal of raising funds, through pledges, to assist Suzuki teachers and families in the Southeast Texas and Louisiana area, while strengthening my their practice habits and making beautiful music in honor of those who affected by the storm. This was IT! A way to help a very real need in a way I hadn’t thought about before!
The fund’s priorities were to replace instruments ruined by the hurricane, and help to pay for lessons for those unable to afford to pay, due to the devastation. Of course, no piano is going to fit in a lifeboat, and when the boat came, those with smaller instruments would have had no time to run to find them, so this was a wonderful solution.
SSC knows that participating in music programs has the capacity to increase children’s sense of social responsibility so for both the SSC students and the music students in Houston, this practice-a-thon really was a win-win situation. The more my students practiced, the stronger their piano skills grew and the more they raised for the children who lost so much in the hurricane. Their practice time included home practice time, listening time, lessons, groups, and recitals!
The program included both September and October, a total of 61 days, at the piano. Students completed a practice chart then had a parent initial it every day. Then they added up the minutes. I pledged one cent per minute at the piano to each of my students.
Nine of my students, ages four-and-a-half to eleven, elected to participate, and did they ever learned some invaluable lessons! Seven-year old Lily, enjoyed recording her minutes and her mom reported that she practiced more regularly each morning before school. She told her mom that she felt “happy and helpful” to participate. Another five-year-old, a new student, had trouble grasping the idea of a practice-a-thon. But her mom explained it and the idea blossomed. Near the end, she exclaimed to her mom, “I feel great to help and practice and then give money for the people who don’t have any instruments anymore because I still have my piano!”
Another five-year-old, after only a short introduction from me, learned all of a new piece the first week of the practice-a-thon – on her own by taking the time to listen to her CD repeatedly! The bounce in her step as she came into my studio and the joy on her face with her new ability had me close to tears!
In the end, the students practiced over 4000 minutes and collected donations of almost $1000.
And they reaped the lasting benefits: while not required to practice more than their normal amount of time, many of the participating students did. Some are still maintaining their new habit. What a pleasure it is working with these children at their lesson. The joy of mastering something new – a new piece, a new scale, a new and difficult passage – has become the new normal! The “I Can!” attitude is going viral!
Learn more about SSC’s Suzuki instruction at http://sscmusic.org/suzuki/.