The Bristol Suzuki Group
In 1976 a tour group of young Suzuki violinists came from Japan to perform at Bristol University. They gave several concerts around the country at that time and wherever they went attracted great interest. One of the local teachers astounded by the children’s ability and musical understanding at such a young age was Richard Thorn who in 1980 became one of the first violin teachers to train in the method in England. He began teaching Suzuki pupils at Badminton School where he was already on the music staff.
Shortly after he started, Diana Dixon joined the violin course, and Lavinia Ferguson, amazed to discover Suzuki for the piano, also began training. It was an exciting time for them. Inevitably there were ups and downs as they experimented with the new method but they had encouragement from each other and from the enthusiastic parents of their first pupils. This was the beginning of the Bristol Suzuki Group.
Richard, Diana and Lavinia were all fortunate to benefit from the British Suzuki Institute policy of sending teachers to study in Japan when they finished their training in this country. They each spent three months working closely with Dr Suzuki, and with Haruko Kataoka who directed the piano course. It was a wonderful experience and they all returned to teach with renewed confidence.
Gradually more teachers took up the Suzuki training and started teaching in Bristol. Debbie Kingswood, Rosanna Fea, Matty Holmes and Natalia Gittings taught violin, and Kay Silverman, Anna Millett and Lynda Stahl piano. The first St George’s concert in 1988 demonstrated and celebrated the early achievements of the group.
As the numbers of students grew, the Bristol Suzuki Group organised all sorts of activities for them. There were workshops at Badminton School, group lessons, informal concerts, busking at Christmas time, and exchanges with Suzuki groups in North Carolina and Ireland. Groups of students went to London and Birmingham to take part in the National concerts.
Twenty years on, the BSG is still flourishing and adapting. Diana Dickerson has introduced Suzuki Flute to Bristol with great energy and enthusiasm, and now Gill Gordon is working on adapting the method to brass instruments. The group has expanded to include the outlying areas of Bristol and now boasts 9 piano teachers, 2 flute, 2 violins, 1 cello & 1 brass! All Suzuki parents and teachers in the area are members and the committee meets once a term to discuss the latest ideas and to share the work of putting them into practice.
Hundreds of children started their musical lives with the Bristol Suzuki Group. Some have gone on to be professional musicians, some are playing for fun, others play only occasionally now, but it is largely due to the dedication and support of the teachers and parents who make up the group that they now have the capacity to enjoy their music. Long may it continue!