Photo by Peggy Sturdivant
Peter Williams (far right) and part of his Cello Ensemble at Ballard Farmer's Market

At Large in Ballard: An Ensemble

My daughter used to babysit for a family with a son, twin daughters and a dog. The girls were still babies and I loved hearing about this family because they I secretly wanted to belong. As they grew and if older brother was at a camp the girls would sometimes visit with my daughter and treat me to a dance performance. When the girls started kindergarten I got to see them go by on their school bus, always on the front seat, right behind the bus driver.

Over the years I learned that all of the children had taken up musical instruments, and that a bunny had joined the family. When in town my daughter would occasionally “babysit,” but the children are all so competent that they increasingly seemed to be hosting her instead, making her their “cheesy diner” specials. When I heard that Katherine’s cello ensemble would be playing at the Farmer’s Market I made sure to get there. Every child plays an instrument in this family.

I will never cease to be amazed by children with musical talent. Seeing Katherine with other students and her Suzuki teacher Peter Williams on a beautiful Sunday morning was lovely. Katherine’s mother introduced me to her teacher because he is about to launch his own teaching program here in Ballard rather than through the Suzuki Institute of Seattle.

I had heard of the Suzuki method but I didn’t really understand its history or principles. What I learned from sitting down with lifelong Seattleite and Ballard resident Peter Williams is that the core of Suzuki is the belief that just as most children learn their mother tongue through language so too can music be introduced to a child, such that it becomes almost another language.

Looking at it from this angle it would seem that perhaps the musical talent isn’t always genetic but part of child development, such as acquiring a love of reading and nature. Especially if a child is introduced to music, whether by parents or pre-school, or any combination thereof, they may become attuned to it and interested in the same way some kids have to seek out wolf spiders and others to illustrate their own books. Next thing you know a three to four year-old child might have a size appropriate cello on their back while hunting wolf spiders.

Peter Williams was a Suzuki student himself and now in the cyclical nature of things his mother is teaching Suzuki piano to his son and as a Certified Suzuki instructor he is teaching his nephew cello. How this begins is by ear, by listening and recreating the sound, working through the same songs and advancing through books until the child begins to read music. Reading music then leads to more of the Suzuki books, and in William’s program, to participating in Cello Ensembles in which he has arranged music outside of the usual repertoire.

Williams brings additional experience to his Seattle Suzuki Cello program; that as a Special Needs parent and teacher. His soon to be seven year-old son Troy is autistic and the support he’s found through organizations such as Boyer Children’s Clinic prompts him to say, “I fell in love with the Special Needs community.”

His after-school teaching schedule allows him to work as a paraprofessional substitute teacher for Special Needs in the Seattle Public School system. Approaches he has learned working with his own child and those with other behaviors aids him in music teaching. Twice weekly sessions include revisiting songs, working on new ones and games and activities to keep them inspired. When his Cello Ensemble plays at the Farmer’s Market they get to divide the proceeds: that probably motivates.

Williams will be teaching private lessons in his home and then holding Cello Ensemble practice at Greenwood Senior Center. He would like to be able to do this in the future at the Sunset Hill Community Association building, as a Thistle Theater attendee and longtime admirer of the space. There is always a need for a venue for recitals and concerts in addition to ensemble practice sessions.
Although his students come from all over Seattle, and even further north, Williams would love to be able to center his teaching in the neighborhood where he lives and his son attends school.

Dr. Suzuki believed in helping to build a child’s character first and their musical ability second. In this spirit Williams finds all Suzuki teachers to be extremely open to sharing their various insights and activities, as well as continually invigorated by adding very young students. Although Williams has performed extensively, as a member of the Tacoma Symphony and other engagements too numerous to list he doesn’t teach with an agenda of preparing his students to be professional musicians. What he wants is for his students to love and enjoy what they’re doing, to gain confidence.

As for my daughter’s former charge, “Katherine really loves the cello,” Williams told me. And I could tell by his smile that’s what his method is all about. I no longer need to be in awe of children with musical talent, just admiring of adults who are able to help cultivate an additional mother tongue, one that sometimes includes a bow and a very large case.

Williams’ classes are currently full. His forthcoming website will be SeattleSuzukiCello.com

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