Tag Archives: Suzuki Association of the Americas

The Erie Chamber Orchestra Will Rise, Again.


Some things must never be said.

And, other things must never be done.

After last night’s performance of the Erie Chamber Orchestra, I can contain myself no longer. Having been urged to keep quiet about everything until now, it is time. I must speak.

I come to you as the principal cellist of the orchestra whose inception took place in the mind of one Bruce Morton Wright. An Erie boy, raised by faithful parents, he grew to express musical talent early on – earning enrollment at our local Mercyhurst College as a music major, on tenor sax. After completing his degree and spending several years “playing out” at various jazz clubs, he found himself in the audience of a symphony orchestra.  As he sat, listening, Bruce had an epiphany.

I can remember him telling us about it.

Bruce could always tell you about it. The man had stories, each more vivid and hilarious than the last. This one was fairly straightforward; as he sat there, in the audience, the thought occurred to him: “I could do this. I could start an orchestra.”

Never daunted, that is exactly what he did. Bruce traveled, first to Vienna, Austria and, from there, to Colombia, South America, to study conducting and gain experience. Upon his return to the states in the late 1970s, he and his wife Merja came home to Erie to establish his first orchestra. And – ever the maverick – the new maestro took his newly formed ensemble one step beyond the norm; Bruce vowed to make his performances available to anyone who wanted or needed to hear them. No admission charge. None.

Nearly 40 years hence, through a couple incarnations ( originally named the Erie Bayfront Orchestra, housed at a local urban center and, in its second decade, enjoying a CNN special feature interview broadcast world wide), Bruce’s orchestra still breathes life into the works of the greatest composers, living and dead. And, March 3rd’s concert was shimmering testament. We performed the Barber Adagio, Dvorak’s Serenade for Strings, and – incredibly – the entire Vivaldi Four Seasons with none other than the brilliant Buffalo Philharmonic Concertmaster, Dennis Kim, as leading soloist. And, we did THAT in a 15 minute Tutti read and one 90 minute rehearsal.

N.o.b.o.d.y. does that.

The Erie Philharmonic doesn’t do that. I would wager that even a top ten tier orchestra doesn’t put Vivaldi’s Four Seasons out to the public on one rehearsal.

If you were in our audience, you heard the outcome. Thank you, so very much, for coming.

Now, here’s the ugly part.

Though the ECO was being sustained by both the Musician’s Trust Fund and the generous endowment of one Clarence Byers, about twenty years ago Bruce entered into an agreement with Gannon University. Founded by Catholic Bishop John Mark Gannon, it would become the region’s primary science and technology institution, attracting a long history of pre med students( in a partnership with Hahnemann Medical School) and  an ever increasing multitude of potential engineers of every persuasion, many of them foreign students. Gannon agreed to subsidize the orchestra.

From Gannon Bruce commanded comparatively little by way of compensation, and received for his musicians not a penny. As for staff, well, Bruce was everything: musical director, baton, librarian, publicity agent, and stage crew. Many a conversation in trusted confidence occurred after rehearsal, as Bruce stocked chairs and stands into their proper storage. As a single, self supporting woman teaching music in the public schools, I had no more valued an advisor or counsel than that of my chamber orchestra maestro.

In 2011, Bruce succumbed to multiple myeloma. We grieved, deeply.  But, in keeping with his vision, we pressed on; hiring a new musical director, as well as a general manager (knowing full well that Bruce could never truly be replaced), we never missed a beat. By fall, we were ready with our season. And, we thrived; our repertoire expanded, and our audience burgeoned to 800+, creating a lovely problem: we needed a performance space large enough to accommodate our audience!

Therewith the following six years.

According to the story we were given, in the fall of 2017 Gannon discovered that they could no longer support us financially. We aren’t entirely sure when, as an institution, they came to this conclusion; we only know that the news came to us, as a professional organization, when we read about it in the local paper.

Yes. Forty years of collective professional commitment and artistry, and we received the equivalent of that which a parent experiences when he/she first hears of a child’s death on the televised news.

Not a single one of our section principals was consulted. Our newest Maestro, Bradley Thachuk – also totally ignored. We were never even apprised of the ongoing financial concerns, yea the threat, of dissolution as it emerged; instead, we found out by reading the published announcement that our beloved orchestra would fold at the end of the season.

This act, on the part of Gannon University, was unconscionable.

Not only does it reflect badly on Gannon’s management but, far worse: their action represents a sin of omission, a complete abdication of the precepts upon which they, as a Catholic institution, were founded. What they did to us was callous, low class, and professionally unforgiveable.

Had any number of the orchestra’s membership been contacted with any degree of warning, we could have done several things. We could have set about to solicit regional support; we could have appealed publicly, via the news media; we could have prepared for the worst, in order to save our orchestra.

Instead, we were left high and dry, offered only the option of accepting the venture created by the one person Gannon contacted, allegedly on our behalf: our former general manager, who now worked for another orchestra!

Gannon actually promised our remaining funds to this individual, who created a chamber series (quartets/trios, et al) and went public about his plan. The only problem with this series is: the vast majority of Erie Chamber Orchestra members, both recent and of longest standing, are set to be displaced by this venture, which will only be utilizing contracted members of the other orchestra. At last count, there were only a handful ( I count eleven) of Erie Chamber orchestral musicians (total membership: 40+ ) holding contracts with the other orchestra.

I am among those displaced.

As fifteen years’ principal cellist with the Erie Chamber Orchestra, and member since 1986, I performed cello continuo last evening to Buffalo Philharmonic Concertmaster Dennis Kim’s Vivaldi. As of April 29th, 2018, I and dozens of others are officially without a position in a professional orchestra.

The blogosphere is world wide. You, dear readers, are hearing this story because it is a.) true; b.) worthy of your ears, and c.) of critical importance to the entire artistic community. We cannot let our educational institutions behave like hostile corporations. We cannot permit them to play with lives as if these are mere pawns on the chessboard of their own, self serving interests. And, we must preserve those entities which consistently produce the beauty and truth which the highest art embodies.

We need to start, from scratch. We need a new name, the funds to pay a conductor, plus enough to cover basic musician’s wage and advertising. Yes; we are already taking the steps to regroup. If/when we re-emerge, we hope to have your name proudly attached to those who care most about the ideals we bring to life. We hope for your support.

We have never asked much. Four rehearsals, plus performance, plus the unlimited number of hours in private practice preparation for a paycheck not exceeding $250 per musician. That is a pauper’s wage, in our time. If you were to step up to help us, our love for you would grow with every breath.

And, Bruce Morton Wright, from his spirit, would thank you.








To all the skinny girls, this was a woman “of size”.
Birkenstock sandals held solid feet, the kind that bore the frame of a woman focused entirely outside of the body which carried her. Her movements were slow; her mind, constantly active, always engaged by whomever was nearest to her at any moment. And, that one was almost always a student.
 It didn’t matter if you were already in the room, or just entering; Gilda Barston was already in the chair. And, once seated, she became who she was: a master teacher.
 Gilda was a Juilliard trained cellist, a mother, and an educator devoted to the Suzuki philosophy. You didn’t call her Dr. Barston; she’d spent her energies as Chairwoman of the Suzuki Association of the Americas (SAA),  presiding over numerous Board sessions planning and revising the pedagogic literature and, I believe, ultimately founding what I am remembering to be the Music Center of the North Shore in Chicago. I first met her at Ithaca College in the early 90’s where, attending only my second Suzuki Summer Institute, I was lucky enough to be among the teacher trainees in her class.
 That year, my being a relative newbie, most of the SAA teacher trainees were seasoned, having either attended multiple summer institutes or been established in communities where the Suzuki philosophy enjoyed a thriving presence. And, the institute clinicians were, to my narrowly informed observations, a mix of New England blue bloods, liberal Jews, and lesbians. I was totally outclassed.
 Up until the year before, I had been a pupil of the traditional studio mentality – averted by endless etudes, practicing the day before my lesson, and squeaking through each weekly session with negligible progress under the stern standard imposed by critique of my every shortcoming. Gilda was different. She actually wanted to know her student.
 For her, the process was all about recognition. She regarded each of us teacher trainees with the same dedication she gave to her private students. Earnestly and keenly observing – watching, listening – really learning everything about us, she looked for strengths and, when she found them, always told us what they were. And, each of us was as important as the next; there were no stars in her firmament shining any brighter than the rest. But, whenever they shone, she eagerly sang their praises to all around.
 Gilda was completely selfless. She always drew attention to the needs of the student, and taught by example what it meant to respect each one. Never once did any of us ever hear her talking about anybody in anything but a positive, supportive context; this woman was inherently incapable of spreading anything but good will.
 I can still see so vividly the smile as she spoke, hear the youthful vitality in her voice, and watch the eye contact that sparked between her and the young player having the lesson. She related to everyone with equal enthusiasm, be they parents, students, or teachers; hers was an agenda of nurture, nothing less. And, the nurture didn’t end when the lesson was over; time after time, I’d follow her out of the room and down the hall and outside toward the dining hall, listening to the continuing conversation she was having with, you guessed it: her student.
 That summer, I learned so much about myself. In one week, I discovered that I could be both enthusiastic and encouraging, and get results without ever pointing out a single flaw simply by modeling after her. Most importantly, after struggling in the public schools with every aspect of the profession, Gilda made me believe that I could be an effective teacher.
 Over 20 years have elapsed since that summer yet I cannot count how many times, during private sessions in my studio, she would come to mind. Whenever a particularly successful lesson would unfold, I would always find myself thinking: “I wish Gilda were here, right now. I hope she would be proud of me.” This actually became a recurring fantasy – Gilda Barston, watching me teach. I realized that she had set the standard; in my heart and mind, she was the Queen.
 Rachel Barton Pine just posted news today that Gilda had passed away. When I saw the words, my heart started. I realized that I had missed my final opportunity. I had missed my chance to express to her my gratitude, for being the beacon in my firmament, the guru of my graces, the all time best, most dedicated professional – the most beloved teacher.
 Thank you, Gilda. Thank you for recognizing me, for wanting to know me. Thank you for nourishing us all with your remarkable gift for truly loving.
your student, Ruth Ann.
 © Ruth Ann Scanzillo  6/26/16    All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. Thank you for your respect. Please note Gilda Barston’s bio, below:
 *From the SAA page:  GILDA BARSTON – dean emeritus of the Music Institute of Chicago, artistic director of the Chicago Suzuki Institute, and CEO of the International Suzuki Association. She has served as board chair of both the ISA and SAA. A student of Leonard Rose, Gilda received BS and MS degrees from the Juilliard School of Music. Gilda received a Distinguished Service Award from the SAA for her work with the SAA Cello Committee, and was the recipient of the American Suzuki Institute’s 2005 Suzuki Chair Award. A registered teacher trainer of Suzuki pedagogy, Gilda has taught at institutes and workshops throughout the country and in Canada. She was a faculty member and soloist at the International Suzuki Teachers’ Conference in Matsumoto, Japan, taught at the World Conference in Edmonton, AB, the Pan-Pacific Suzuki Conference in Adelaide, Australia, the Melbourne Autumn Festival and at the Korean Suzuki Association Winter Camps. In 2006 she was an honored guest and faculty member at the 14th Suzuki Method World Convention in Turin, Italy. In 2010 she and her daughter Amy were the guest master class clinicians at the 14th SAA Conference in Minneapolis.

The Importance of Being First (Take Two)

The First and Last.

Whether we realize it or not, we’ve all been both first and last. The first, or last in the check out line; the first, or last one chosen for the new product survey at the mall; in first, or last place in Monopoly; or, first or last to finish dessert. One ends up being last for a host of reasons, and first, either randomly or because, occasionally or persistently, one excels (at Monopoly).

Yes; way back in the ’60s, when all good music was live, I came of age. And, my embodiment seemed to be one of extremes: having never crawled like a “normal” baby, I could not seem to organize my arms and legs. So, in school recess, I learned early on how it felt to be the last one chosen – for kickball, for relays, for any team. Absolutely, dead last. In fact, not even actually chosen, I was simply the one left; any team whose captain didn’t select carefully was stuck with me, like a second, immature, flabby bladder budding from a blowfish.

But, as nature, ever equilibrious, would have it, and due to a certain cerebral bent and what my generation stubbornly called inherited “talent” I was also known, to an increasingly grating degree, to be somewhat of a first. My student profile dragged a moniker with it like a Hello! sticker at the annual sales convention. The smarty pants. The gifted girl. The weird, annoying child. I also hailed from a particular neighborhood in a small city, a verrry small pond where the gene pool was, shall we say, gracious. And, perhaps due to repeated experience with playground rejection, I found a private solace in finally being considered first choice – to play the piano, to draw the picture, to sing the song.

[*Important Aside: This is, by its nature, a sensitive topic. One calls to mind the blonde Brit who fancied herself so physically appealing so as to determine, in her own mind, the litany of reasons why her coworkers treated her badly. That story was rather sickening. Do not equate this halting attempt with anything addressed by her monstrosity.]

Over time, I grew not only familiar with being the first, but worse: to expect it. And, expecting to be first brings its own, strange burden. In fact, it becomes a real load.

For the past nearly thirty years, I have been fortunate to make my living, in part, as a professional musician. When orchestral instrumentalists convene, they create a room full of firsts. The energy, present in that isolated space, is tremendous. Nobody even gets a seat, in a professional ensemble, without proving mettle to a very high degree that is concurrently physical, mental and – often forgotten – emotional. And, those seats are a visible hierarchy: principal (first); second chair, third chair, etc. And, as we all know, human behavior can be curious. Taught by well meaning and often well cultivated parents to be polite, civil, interested in others, socially sophisticated…….the bee dance begins.

Nobody really knows how to act. Who is going to be supremely “first” in this room? To whom do we owe allegiance? And, where do we fall in the line-up? Most importantly, will we accept our position when our rank becomes clear? What if that with which we either expect or feel familiar is not our lot in the calculated draw?

And, why is this even a problem?

Well, and here’s the theory. Perhaps maintaining the status of being first actually becomes not merely an expectation but an emotional  n e e d. Yes; some no longer merely want to be, or expect to be. Some   n e e d    to be  – to feel stable, to feel whole. And, sometimes, individuals beset by this matrix of need present themselves in ways that leave an awful lot of chaff in their wake.

Now, this isn’t meant to be a treatise on self-importance (it works though, doesn’t it?). It’s simply about the learned belief that, if one does not come out “on top”, then something is inherently wrong – not with the system, but within the mind and heart of the one who has come to believe that, in every scene, there is always a first place to occupy.

There isn’t. And, dispensing with the notion can be life-altering.

Two years before attending my [first] Suzuki Summer Institute (Stevens Point, WI)  as a trained string player, I accepted my [first] music teaching job in, of all locations, the public school system wherein I was raised. The position as advertised was choral, but the district had, apparently, more pressing needs. In a rush of self-possessed confidence, I heard myself declare to the high school principal on the interview committee, in satin plaid skirt and white pumps: “Yes! I would love to teach marching band!

After all, my outstanding father, lead bugler for the 3rd Armored Division, 9th Field Artillery, US Army, had led his unit in a parade for the dignitaries. This had earned him the rank of Corporal. Surely, “daddy’s little girl” could follow in those footsteps. Ten hut. That’s all it took. Yes?


Enthusiasm for the shiny new job, and the fantasy of leading a parade, faded within a week. I learned so fast and so hard, there are no words to describe it. Yes; well, here are some: Teenagers; “F horns”; graduated bass drums and quad toms; flag-making( thank y.o.u., Mum); float-building; floppy graph paper drill designing; parent booster club organizing; and, that cultural phenomenon with which the film community has its own field day: “band.camp.” All for fifteen minutes of live music, performed seventeen times in nine and a half weeks. This, from a fledgling who never took so much as the weekend marching band mini-course in college. My students, who came from the most underprivileged sector in the entire county, had almost no background in holding their instruments correctly, let alone presenting themselves in front of a stadium full of football fans during half time.

The slog was first hot, then cold and long and wet, and it went on for weeks. Any notions of personal grandeur were soaked to the bone under pole lights and sleet. I was so terribly proud of my students, many of whom are my friends to this day, but the competitive marching band association in our region was ruthless and provided for them not so much as a wall plaque for Most Developed in the Shortest Amount of Time. We, according to everybody else but ourselves, came in profoundly, and completely, last.

Becoming a Suzuki-trained educator changed the whole scene.

Here, I was introduced to the concept that every child can not only learn, but excel. Imagine my amazement. Gone was the “best” in the room, and, with it, the expectation. Everywhere one turned, there were bests of every description — really young children, from all over the country, performing at a standard my generation used to call masterful. And, they were genuinely happy human beings. I was floored – and, subliminally, relieved.

Competition, for me as an artist, is a paradoxic state. In fact, in my heart, I do not even see it as a legitimate arena for art. Cinematic director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, in his acceptance speech at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, echoed my sentiments almost to the letter; if art, by its definition, is an expression of the soul’s experience, the mind’s eye, the heart’s beat, then placing oneself on a block in a formidable space and performing a work of art on demand against that of others’ offerings seems counter to its intuitive intent. The requirement can be alienating, distancing, interruptive, like blood flow stopping for a clot.

Nearly two decades ago, I inherited a position of leadership in an orchestra from a very gracious woman who had occupied her seat until an encroaching physical condition prohibited her from continuing. She was a lovely musician, and an even sweeter person. There was no competition for this chair; rather, I simply slid across to assume the position at her leave taking. To this day, I honor both the chair and the responsibilities required of it to the best of my ability. But, every so often, during a reprieve in our process, I look around and remember the days when hormones drove every decision, nigh every thought.  I recall how many times I wondered whether I truly made the cut, whether there was someone in the wings with an eye on my spot.

And, now, this. Over the past decade, reality television has provided for our culture a strange and riveting phenomenon: The Bachelor. Some twenty five eligibles appear in front of camera to vie for the prize – a future spouse. And, over several months of episodes, the world watches as the pack is narrowed down to one, final “rose” – the winner, the one deemed most adored by the prize waiting to be offered up.

Who will be first? Who will be last? Who decides? And, why? How important, pray tell, is isolating a “best one” in matters of the heart? in matters of anything, for God’s sake? How many more decades will our society persist in preening its feathers, ready to declare absolute preeminence?

I’m not sure I care to find out. The winter may end, after all. There is a garden waiting to be nourished and nurtured. Soon, there will be vibrant growth everywhere. Some blooms will be large, some small, but all will be beautiful. Every single flower, every ripe berry. The first one, all the way to the last.






© Ruth Ann Scanzillo

3/6/15  all rights reserved. Thank you for enduring.