South Island Suzuki summer camp

January 2024


This morning we drove down to Waitaki Boys’ High School in Oamaru, where this year’s South Island Suzuki Summercamp is being held. This venue is new for most people because although the camp has been held here in the past it has been at a different school, in Timaru, for the last 10 years or so.

This school has wonderful architecture, as you’ll see in the picture, and it is much cheaper for accommodation and food than where the camp has been held for the last few years. It is also a lot more relaxed about things like meals and when the classrooms and auditorium can be open. The downside is that the facilities are much older and less well maintained. The food was more basic and quite a few things were broken or missing (e.g. there was no chair or drawers in my dorm room, the toilets kept running out of toilet paper and the audio system in the auditorium was broken). However, people had been finding the cost of the previous school prohibitive so this was an option worth trying.

I am on the committee so we arrived early and got a brief tour around the school. We found the room where registration would happen and set out all the lanyards ready for people to collect. We also found our dorm room and got settled in.

Registration was mid afternoon. Suzuki camps are family camps so in addition to the approx. 80 children enrolled, there are about that many parents and some non-playing siblings. Parents attend all the classes with their children. About 14 children had cello lessons, 6 had viola lessons, 4 had piano lessons and all the rest had violin lessons. Guitar usually runs but didn't this year. Most families stay on-site (either in the school dorms or tenting) but they can also stay offsite.

Some people had a class before dinner and I was one of these. I'm teaching piano and music mind games at this camp. The reason for the very low number of piano children (4) is that in the South Island at the moment there are no teachers with large Suzuki piano studios. It was nice to meet the piano students today and to do our first lesson. They all have an individual performance scheduled for later in the week so the focus of our lesson today was making sure they had all chosen which piece they are going to play and they know the routine of announcing “Hello, I’m ….. and I’m going to play ….” then playing their piece and bowing.

Most people had the provided dinner in the school dining room. It was spaghetti bolognaise (with all the usual gluten-free, dairy-free etc options).

After dinner was the play-in concert (pictured below). This is a casual concert for everyone to meet and for the whole group to play together. Three of the four piano students also play violin/viola so they did that. The other pianist hasn't been learning for long and wasn’t involved. In the future, I would love to see a group of pianists participating in the group playing, each with their own keyboard.

Usually the violins and cellos take turns in playing pieces with only a few pieces played together but today every piece was played with both instruments together. This was made possible by not playing any advanced pieces (where the repertoires diverge) and by the violins playing most pieces one string lower than usual. I think it was really good though, because all the children could play all the time (if they knew the piece). If they didn’t know the piece they just sat down where they were and listened.


Today is the first full day of camp. Most people had the provided breakfast in the school dining room, which was cereal and toast.

I am teaching 3 classes most days, the piano masterclass plus two Music Mind Games groups (pictured below). Music Mind Games are music theory games on the floor using big staves and rhythm cards. These classes are always popular because they are such fun.

To keep the children entertained in the evenings and to help them make friends, there is a teens program and a tweens program. The teens meet every evening after the evening concert/talk. Most evenings they play organised games/activities run by a volunteer parent and one evening they had fish and chips at the beach. The tweens meet for a shorter session on just two evenings (so they don't get too tired) and they do similar games/activities run by another volunteer parent.

After dinner today was the parent talk. I have been to lots of these talks but I still go because alongside the usual information there is always a nugget or two of new ideas. The reminder I took from today’s talk was that as well as setting goals you need to set a plan of how to get there and this will probably involve setting a habit. As it relates to music, the habit will probably be something to do with listening or practicing. We were reminded that habits are very efficient ways to get things done because once you have set them up they happen (almost) automatically. Any habit needs a cue. For your child’s music practice the queue might be a particular time, like 4pm, or it might an event like breakfast. Every time the queue happens, try to make it as regular as possible that practice happens next. The habit also needs to feel rewarding. This might just be the reward of feeling a bit of progress or it might be a hug or computer time or a snack afterwards.

At previous camps, during the parent talk, there has been a movie put on in another room to entertain the younger children but this year the teens looked after the little kids. I think this is a much better idea! Better for the little kids and good for the teens too.


Two families tested positive for covid and went home, but it wasn’t us this year 😊

One of the young pianists played at the junior concert today and both my children played in the senior concert (pictured below). All the children did very well. It is a big thing to get up on stage and perform by yourself!


Third full day of classes. Today was another junior concert in the afternoon and another senior concert in the evening. There were some wonderful performances as usual.

Another few people went home because of covid.

A bit more about the actual classes... As in previous years, the younger children have 3 (one-hour) classes each day and older children have 4 hours. They all do a masterclass, a group class and either orchestra or Music Enrichment or Music Mind Games.

The masterclass is a group of 2-4 children who each take a turn to do an individual lesson with the teacher while the others (including the parents) watch. This is a “polishing” lesson where the child plays a piece that they can already play and the teacher works on some aspect to improve their playing.

The group class involves a group of children who all play the same instrument at a similar level playing through pieces that they already know with the teacher. This works because (ideally!) all children can play the whole Suzuki reportoire (up to their working piece) from memory. As well as practicing playing together, group classes are a chance to have fun playing music. In the group below, the children had been told to follow everything the teacher did, even when she sat down and then lay down on the floor still while playing!


Fourth and last full day of classes. In the afternoon was the concerto concert, where the children play the solo part in unison and the tutors form an orchestra to play the accompaniment. They played 4 violin concerto movements and 2 cello ones. In the evening was the fun concert! There were skits, musical items and other performances. My family performed The Prayer together, with me on piano, my husband and daughter singing and our son playing violin. One of the best skits involved bananas that had been made into violin bows by collecting stray bow hairs from the classrooms and tying them onto a banana. The girls played a short piece on their violins using the banana bows. I wish I had taken a photo!


The last classes ran this morning, then after lunch everyone gathered in the auditorium for the play-out concert. This is similar to the play-in concert but the children all wear black and white and the performances are more polished because they have been practicing all week!

The orchestra played first...

then the Music Enrichment children did some dances...

then the whole group played...

After the concert everyone said goodbye and packed up their dorm rooms or tents and left to return home.

It was another successful camp 🙂

I think this must be our 7th camp, which sounds like quite a lot until you hear that one teacher has been to pretty much every South Island camp since it started, which makes this her 34th camp!

Maybe I'll see you there next year...

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