By Sahara Lyon
For a child, playing an instrument has long been established as an excellent way to improve cognitive ability, strengthen memory skills, and improve self-esteem. Children can be exposed to vocal and instrumental music at school, but some want to take their lessons outside the classroom, too. Music Lessons Express is Tallahassee’s most prominent music school. With over 230 students currently enrolled, it has been a pillar of the music community in Tallahassee for nearly 20 years. Founded first as a private music studio providing after-school lessons in the classroom, Music Lessons Express has since shifted to offer private lessons to students in their homes and at the Music Lessons Express studio.
In addition to the lessons offered, music-loving kids have something new to look forward to from Music Lessons Express. Natasha Marsalli, Executive Director of the organization, spoke to COCA about an exciting new expansion the organization is undergoing. For years, the program at Music Lessons Express has been built on the principles of the Suzuki Method, referencing the teachings of Shinichi Suzuki, a Japanese violinist and philosopher who lived and practiced throughout the twentieth century. Recently, the school decided to build out and add to this traditional program. It now has its own look and feel as the North Florida Suzuki School, housed under the umbrella and studio of Music Lessons Express.
The Suzuki method is taught more commonly in the northern United States and has stood the test of time, with Music Lessons Express being the first music school in the North Florida region to open a Suzuki School. Marsalli elaborated that Suzuki’s pedagogy is grounded in the idea that every child has musical potential, meaning that Music Lessons Express does not require auditions to enter their Suzuki program. Suzuki’s philosophy also states that music education is a way to develop character, and Marsalli affirms this as a primary goal, too. “When you’re working with a 4-, 5-, or 6-year-old, some of that is coming down to building focus, learning how to follow directions, [and] learning how to lead,” stated Marsalli. “That’s not something a 4-, 5-, or 6-year-old gets to do often.” Suzuki’s methods are less about creating professional musicians and more about developing students’ perseverance, teamwork, and other vital characteristics. However, developing a student’s musical ability comes with the territory. Marsalli concluded, “As a result, the kids become really good at music, too.”
The Suzuki Method includes a core curriculum centered around Western classical music. At Music Lessons Express, all students first learn these traditional pieces. As they get older and reach a higher level of performance, they are introduced to duets, trios, and additional musical repertoire they can perform in an ensemble. Marsalli said, “Having that core curriculum is wonderful.” She went on to elaborate, “when all the students are learning the same songs, you can travel anywhere in the world and play with other Suzuki kids, and they all know the same pieces and can play them together.”
Music Lessons Express offers the opportunity for their Suzuki students to perform in two recitals a year. These recitals are structured as play-downs, Suzuki-specific formats that start with the oldest students playing by themselves before adding each level below until every student is playing together. The final piece that every student plays together, spanning from 4-year-olds up to high school-aged students, is “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” which is the foundation of the Suzuki music curriculum. Marsalli stated that the 4-year-olds love playing with the big kids, and the older students love the nostalgia of playing one of the first songs they learned in the program. Their fall recital occurred this past October at Cascades Park, and their next recital will take place in the Spring.
When asked about the importance of arts education, Marsalli stated, “A lot of times, the things that truly make us human are the things that get neglected.” She elaborated that the arts and arts education connect people to being human and one another’s experiences, which is incredibly important, especially for students. The North Florida Suzuki School, Marsalli’s self-professed passion project, makes this connection happen every day. The school officially launched the program’s new offerings and brand on Monday, October 23rd. Check out their website to learn more about the program and sign up for lessons.