Suzuki Talent Education Partnership 2020-21 annual report

From Director Lani Bortfeld ~             

Dear Friends, Families & Supporters,                   

This year the theme for our year together was “Nurturing Empathy”.  The picture above, from our pre-concert rehearsal, is of Arjana and Govinda Kunanele with their grandmother, Nubia.  The Kunaneles are a living example of showing empathy, taking their grandmother into their home after she contracted COVID at her previous residence and working to help her regain strength, fine motor skills and speech after brain surgery.  Sondra Kunanele has made masks for many of us at STEP, and given them away to the churches we use for classes.  This is the kind of greatness of heart Shinichi Suzuki wrote of as his goal for his students in his book Ability Development from Age Zero, where he describes hearing from a student’s performance that he was egotistical.  He gave him this prescription:  “Stop playing the violin for a week.  There is something you must learn besides the violin.  It is the spirit of doing things for other people…Live by looking for things to do for other people.  This is your homework for the week.”

The fact that STEP was able to continue giving concerts throughout this pandemic is due to the selfless efforts of not only STEP’s families, but many others in the community.  When South Congregational remained closed to groups, we had classes in students’ backyards and homes; also, Rev. Graham Van Keuren and Congregational Church of Somersville welcomed STEP to their space, making it possible for us to livestream not only last year’s benefit concert for the Open Pantry, but also STEP’s October 2020 Open House. STEP students and parents stepped up to the mic to talk about our program in a video which you can still view on the STEP Suzuki Strings Facebook page.  We were also able to record the pieces for our annual interfaith holiday sing-along in Somersville, where the Rev. Eric Elley produced our concert video which is still up on the Springfield Library’s Facebook page, thanks to librarian Matthew Jaquith: videos/151444153427575.

Our Mission ~ The Suzuki Talent Education Partnership (STEP) is a multigenerational interfaith music ministry whose mission is to combine high-quality music instruction, accessible to all, with outreach to and partnership with the Greater Springfield community through free family-friendly concerts, instrument loans and its scholarship fund. It is STEP’s vision that students of diverse ages, genders, backgrounds and cultures will thrive by experiencing the joy of making music together using Shinichi Suzuki’s step-by-step approach – where teachers, students and families work and learn together in an environment nurtured by love.

The Springfield Suzuki Partnership, Our Parent/Teacher Organization – 

The SSP has defined STEP’s core value as valuing all kinds of diversity, and celebrating commitment, accomplishment, respect and confidence, in a nurturing atmosphere which allows teachers, students and families to struggle, evolve & grow, in learning as in life.  The SSP sets program goals for the year, supports parents and families in their musical and personal goals, organizes and coordinates fundraising efforts for the STEP Scholarship and Instrument fund, helps teachers with concert details and organizes social events like potluck suppers, concert receptions, the vacation get-togethers, and field trips to inspiring live concerts which we hope will resume in Fall 2021.

Getting through the past 16 months together has bonded us in a way that has made us a better team. Our November 2020 SSP meeting focused on the theme of empathy for each other as we shared stories of how we personally faced some of life’s biggest challenges.  Many STEP families have endured difficult times in their countries of origin, and struggled to make the journey and then the transition to life in the U.S.  Others have struggled with racism, special needs children and issues with their own parents that make parenting their children more challenging.  We didn’t solve our problems, but it was a very special evening together that helped us keep in touch when we had to go back to remote meetings, lessons and classes after Thanksgiving. In early spring 2021 the SSP decided to present the 31st annual Suzuki String Serenade benefit concert, SSP’s main fundraiser, as a hybrid event with limited in-person seating along with a paid livestream event on Facebook. Thanks to Rev. Elley and St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in East Longmeadow, we were able to hold our benefit concert, a wonderful mix of classical, jazz, fiddle and folk songs and solos, on May 22 in the church’s sanctuary. 

STEP alumna Christina Leung, above right, performing on a violin loaned by the STEP Scholarship & Instrument Fund

The STEP Scholarship & Instrument Fund ~ Through the generosity of its mission partners – the SSP, the Congregational Church of Somersville, South Congregational Church and community supporters in Greater Springfield and Northern Connecticut – STEP continues its mission to give need-based financial aid and loan string instruments in the Greater Springfield/Northern CT area, where only Longmeadow and Enfield have free public school string programs open to all students. STEP again was blessed by a generous donation in March from South Church’s Benevolence Fund, which has made such a difference in supporting our scholarship fund.  The Congregational Church of Somersville Missions Board’s donation helped with maintaining our instrument lending library, and St. Mark’s gave us encouragement with a donation after our concert there. This support is particularly important for students of color, who are traditionally under-represented in professional orchestras and chamber ensembles.  STEP’s Fund and the SSP have helped our program to be a welcoming place for families from all over the globe. Below is this year’s aid and fundraising summary:

STEP Scholarship and Instrument Fund

    SSP Donations 2020-21                                    $     432

    South, Somersville and St. Mark’s                  $  1700

    Other donations & ticket sales                        $    647.79

    Concert Ads                                                         $    525      

    Net Funds Raised by the SSP in 20-21:          $  3679.69

Total available funds 7/31/20:                        $ -2582.28

Financial aid in 2020-21:                                    $ -3687.60

Instruments and expenses                              $   -636.25

Balance STEP Scholarship & Instr. Fund =   $-3226.44

The negative balance in the STEP Scholarship and Instrument Fund sometimes occurs because Director Lani Bortfeld is willing to absorb the loss so that no family is turned away. 

STEP could not provide this outreach without South Church’s generosity, allowing STEP to make nominal utility payments in lieu of rent for classroom space, which is a vital component to keeping STEP costs low and scholarship opportunities available. 

As part of STEP’s ongoing commitment to diversity, we focused this year on music with African roots.  Well-known gospel and jazz musician Kevin Sharpe, father of STEP student Kadence, taught the STEP trio about the blues and improvisation to prepare them for their performances of Erskine Hawkins’ Tuxedo Junction and Bert Ligon’s arrangement of Gershwin’s Summertime from Porgy and Bess on our May 22 benefit concert.  STEP is also indebted once again to its good friend Anne-Gerard Flynn, whose great article on Masslive spread the word about STEP’s mission and May 22 benefit concert:

Community Outreach Performances ~ STEP Suzuki Strings students and teachers continue STEP’s tradition of outreach to the community through free performances, despite the pandemic.  In addition to the interfaith holiday sing-along recorded free of charge for the Springfield City Library in December 2020, we gave a free Solo Concert on Zoom in Februrary 2021, our first concert in this format.  Prepared by the wonderful January master class given remotely by Allen Lieb of the NYC School for Strings, who studied extensively with Dr. Suzuki, students recorded their performances with just one rehearsal accompanied by Sam Longley on the South Church Steinway. Then they submitted “happy pictures” of themselves, printed on the back cover of this report, for Lani to insert in the concert video which we viewed together on Zoom.  It was a great evening of connection and celebration of student musical growth; it was inspiring to listen to each student and think about how far they’ve come since last year at this time, despite all they have gone through.  Our children have suffered effects from the pandemic which will last a lifetime; let us pray for resilience and healing for all of us.

STEP students continued to give informal concerts during the pandemic, sharing the healing power of music with family and friends, and gave a very well-received performance of fiddle tunes and folk songs as a thank you to the Congregational Church of Somersville during their recent July 31st Ice Cream Social on the church green.    These performances highlight STEP’s nineteen years of service to our community and the regional arts scene. 

Director Lani Bortfeld had her article on STEP’s efforts at inclusion and welcoming a diverse group of families, “Working Toward a More Nurturing Suzuki Community”, published in the American Suzuki Journal in January 2021.