Adriana Zoder: Music students benefit from UT violin festival

Apr. 25, 2014 @ 11:08 AM

The University of Tennessee at Knoxville may be orange, but it has shades of violin brown, too.

Recently the newly opened Natalie L. Haslam Music Center, a very modern architectural piece, hosted this year’s UT School of Music Violin Festival. By the way, this building warrants a tour on its own. Parking for the event was free in the lot behind the building. On the festival’s last day, events moved to the Alumni Memorial Building on the UT campus.

Participants pay only $40 to attend the festival, an incredible bargain for all the workshops, lectures, concerts, and group lessons they receive in return, over four days. Not to mention that they get a pretty tote bag and a UT folder.

My children are beginning violin students, but I feel they really benefited from the workshops and the atmosphere. Hanging out with other violin students for a few hours creates the right kind of peer pressure.

First, beginners took a class called Rhythm Olympics with my son’s violin teacher, Anileys Bermudez. Originally from Spain, Ms. Ani plays in the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra. She has an infectious smile and a great presence with children. With games and a healthy dose of competition, the children reviewed note values and names.

Next, we moved to the concert hall on the main level for a workshop with Emanuel Borok, a legendary professor from Southern Methodist University. Two students performed advanced pieces. Mr. Borok took notes. After each performance, he gave them pointers on how to improve.

One of the pieces was by Beethoven. Mr. Borok told the student and the audience, “Bach glorified God, while Beethoven challenged Him.” He recounted how, as Beethoven was dying, a storm was raging. When thunder boomed, Beethoven sat up and shook his fist at the sky, still angry that God allowed him to go deaf.

Such details are important, because this particular Beethoven piece had happy, airy tunes throughout. The performer must emphasize such rare feelings in Beethoven’s music by playing loudly yet keeping it happy.

The third class of the day for beginners was downstairs, in a lovely studio with lots of mirrors. Kathy Hart, one of the Knoxville Youth Symphony Orchestra conductors, lead the students in a Suzuki play-in.

Suzuki is a violin teaching method started by a Japanese gentleman named Shinichi Suzuki. This method is popular in the U.S. for other instruments, too.

Ms. Hart corrected the students’ posture and encouraged them to smile, to show they are actually enjoying themselves.

“If you don’t,” she said, “you look really scary. Besides, you look like you are here only because Mom and Dad make you play the violin.”

After a lunch of pizza, Suzuki students split into smaller rooms according to the book they worked through. Julie Swenson took great effort to accommodate everybody’s needs in our room, with Book One students. Some knew the songs by heart, others needed to look at the book, while many did not know the songs at all and just sat down to listen.

It is so difficult to teach a multi-level classroom, but the teacher managed to keep the children engaged.

As we were leaving, my daughter asked to come back. We will definitely plan to be there next year. This exciting event cannot come soon enough.

Adriana Zoder, a Gatlinburg resident, is a writer and homeschooling mom. She and her husband have two children. She maintains the award-winning blog Her book, “101 Tips for Preschool at Home,” is available on Amazon.