Eighteen talented Chicago youngsters, all students in Merit School of Music's Suzuki-Alegre Strings program, will pack their suitcases and string instruments for the trip of a lifetime to Matsumoto, Japan, where they will represent Chicago at the 16th Suzuki Method World Convention, March 27-31, 2013.
Merit's Suzuki-Alegre Strings' trip to Japan confirms international recognition for the program's unique blend of the Suzuki method of classical music instruction with traditional Latin folk music. In fact, more than half of Merit's world "delegates" are Latino, and many live in Chicago's Pilsen and Little Village communities, where Merit School of Music has concentrated its Latin-infused Suzuki Method instruction for more than 10 years.
The balance of students, ranging in age from 10 to 18, hail from Chicago neighborhoods ranging from Jefferson Park to Brighton Park, and Garfield Park to Ukrainian Village. One suburb, Berwyn, is also represented. More than half have received five or more years of training with Merit on violin or cello. Next March, they will join more than 2,100 young musicians from all over the globe in the birthplace of the Suzuki method to showcase their talent, and participate in lectures, lessons and master classes taught by the world's leading Suzuki instructors.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime honor for these talented, hardworking students to represent not only Merit School of Music, but Chicago and the U.S. at one of the most prestigious music education conferences in the world," said Thomas Bracy, Executive Director, Merit School of Music. "Chicago can be proud, because the Suzuki Method World Convention will put some of this city's most promising young classical string musicians on an international stage. This initiative will also bolster Merit School of Music's international reputation for our high quality music education as well as our strong sense of diversity and community."
One of the lucky students representing Merit in Japan will be Brighton Park's Andrea Aguilera, 13,an 8th grader at St. Barbara Elementary Schoolwho has been learning violin via Merit's Suzuki-Alegre Strings for the last three years. "I'm so grateful to have this opportunity" said Andrea. "There's really no way I can repay everybody who has gotten me involved in this trip. I guess the only way I can is by playing my best at the World Convention in Japan."
Christine Xu of East Garfield Park, mother of 11-year-old cellist Brandon Cheng, a 4th grader at Andrew Jackson Language Academy,added "This is a milestone for my son, and a step to open a big door to brighten his future and make him feel proud of himself. It's priceless."
As a nonprofit organization, Merit School of Music is devoted to giving all children, regardless of their financial abilities, the opportunity to grow through high quality music education. Merit's student body reflects Chicago's diversity with 44 percent of its participants of Hispanic origin. Eighty percent receive scholarships and financial aid.
Merit's Suzuki-Alegre Strings is a particularly rigorous program, with high expectations established for student attendance, practice and performance outcomes. It also serves as a national model, thanks to its singular approach to traditional Suzuki training with its incorporation of Latin folk songs. Students admitted to the program must make a commitment of at least two years, and parent participation is required throughout. Currently, more than 200 students across the city are enrolled in the program.
Overseeing Merit's Suzuki-Alegre Strings program is faculty member, teacher mentor and internationally respected Suzuki expert, Michele George. In addition to traveling to Japan with the students, George has been invited to teach at the convention. She has served on the Suzuki Association of the Americas (SAA) as a teacher trainer, and on the SAA board and teacher development committee. She is also executive producer of the award-winning documentary Nurtured by Love-the life and work of Shinichi Suzuki. Joining George on the trip will be Monica Lugo and HerineCoetzee Koschak, co-directors of Suzuki-Alegre Strings.
"Music has already given our students a world beyond their own communities, and shown them how much potential lies within each of them," said George. "Now they will have the chance to experience a new culture and to learn that people are people all over the world. There will be language barriers, but the kids will communicate with each other the only way that they can - through the playing of music. This will be a life-altering experience for them, with a refrain that will reverberate throughout our Suzuki-Alegre Strings program and the entire Merit community for years to come."