Music, College and Life After

A number of my cello students are approaching that age of decision. They are rising juniors and seniors in high school and are being bombarded with that “what are you going to study in college/do with the rest of your life?” question.

For me, I wrestled with a few possible careers. I had three things I was debating at that time in my life. They were biology, journalism and music.

I had a kick ass biology teacher. I was not a huge fan of the maths and sciences (more of an art and English student), but I loved biology for some reason. Mrs. Lankford was to blame for most of it. Come senior year I took AP Biology (instead of AP Physics like most of my “smart” classmates). I did great on the AP exam (4!) and Mrs. Lankford took me aside and encouraged me to go into biology and consider becoming a teacher or the like. I briefly considered it, but too much math.

Journalism and writing was something I loved (and still do). I had been writing newspapers since like 2nd grade, and senior year was an editor of my high school paper (sports section!). I think the final deciding factor to take me out of communications was my lack of self-confidence. I wasn’t pretty enough to be on TV. (Remember, there was no internet in 1996 – at least no facebook, google or youtube. Dial up your AOL Nirvana fans!)

So that left me with music. I loved playing in Youth Symphony. I was already teaching private lessons at the local music store and loving it. So music education made perfect sense.

But this isn’t about me. What do you want to do, fair student? Most of my students have come to me saying something like, “I don’t want to major in music, but I want to keep doing it.”

So far, I’ve had a future vet, a future computer programmer, and a future engineer tell me this. And I have the answer: the music minor.

As I explained tonight, you don’t “do” anything with it. You study music, get to play in the orchestra (or whatever ensemble is appropriate), take lessons, learn some theory and history, and get out of whatever stuffy building your major is in to hang out with the completely awesome and fun music majors for awhile. Trust me, music majors have A LOT more fun than engineering majors. (And music majors, if they’re smart, will latch onto engineering majors knowing that they’ll make more money than a music major one day. And if they happen to be musical as well, then SCORE! No pun intended…)

Okay, maybe I didn’t get into the social aspect with my high schoolers, but they’ll figure it out.

But seriously, music can be a great stress relief and a chance to broaden your horizons. And being able to complete additional classes with your major always looks good to potential graduate schools/employers.

And of course, when all is said and done, you can continue playing in a community ensemble. When I got out of graduate school I started working in an office to pay my bills while I worked up my private student teaching load. After about 9 months I realized something was missing from my life. And it hit me like a ton of bricks. For the first time since 5th grade I wasn’t playing in an orchestra. And I missed it. Google in 2004 was a little more advanced, and I was able to find 3 community orchestras in greater Louisville. And I started playing with two of them. One I quit after about a year as my teaching load increased, but I stuck with the other until I started having kids in 2010 and my husband started working nights. I filled in occasionally, but definitely missed it.

Just this month, my husband starting day work after 6 years (and 3 kids) of being on nights. I immediately went back to my orchestra. It seems like a little thing, but to me it’s huge. Orchestra has been a huge part of my life. Granted, my kids are now, too, but being a mom doesn’t mean you give up yourself. If you do, you have nothing to share with your kids. I want my kids to go see mommy play in concerts just like I saw my mom play in concerts. It’s a family tradition.

So, can you still do music if you don’t major in music? HELL YES! So keep on playing!

What is Suzuki? (Not the motorcycles…)


I get this question a lot.


Suzuki is a method of teaching music that can be used with students of all ages, but is especially effective for children ages 3-6. For children, it also requires the active participation of a parent or caretaker to be truly effective.


As the owner of a music school and a parent, I understand that all parents believe their toddlers to be amazingly gifted. And they are. Babies and toddlers have unending potential and learn amazingly quickly (especially things you don’t want them to learn).

Starting at age 3 your child is eligible to start Suzuki lessons. We ALWAYS recommend that you check the credentials of any teacher you are considering, and only use a teacher who has taken Suzuki Teacher Training courses, not just someone who “uses the books.” There is SO much more to Suzuki lessons than you can get out of the book. To date, here’s the list of courses I’ve taken:

Every Child Can
Early Childhood Education Level 1
Violin Book 1
Violin Book 2
Violin Book 3
Cello Book 1
Cello Book 2
Cello Book 3
Cello Book 4
Suzuki Principles in Action

Each course requires a certain amount of class time and a certain amount of lesson observation time all with a certified teacher trainer. When I started my training in 2005 you could actually tell which of my students I started before training and ones I started after. There was that much of a difference. Just having a music degree, or music training, doesn’t necesarily make you a good private lessons teacher. There’s no classes in music school that teach you how to be a good lesson teacher. And unless you specifically get a music education degree, you don’t even take any education classes as a music major. (And of course the education classes are geared toward classroom teaching, not private lessons.) Because of this gap in a music degree, I have found all my teacher training to be invaluable. So much so that I help fund teachers who work at Notable Beginnings and are interested in Suzuki Teacher Training.

As a parent you need to know that a Suzuki Teacher has this specialized training, and knows how to apply it, especially to young children. Suzuki training involves learning about how preschoolers and young children learn and specific games to play to keep them involved. This is why the training is so important. You want to make sure your child gets started on the right foot, otherwise they may end up hating music because of the bad experience. Not all teachers are cut out for young children with short attention spans.

There are many different styles of Suzuki Teachers. I classify them as “hardcore” and “modified”. Personally I am modified, but can be as hardcore as the family wants. Most American families today are too busy to be hardcore Suzuki families.

Hardcore Suzuki lessons require daily practice and listening in addition to weekly private and group lessons. The parent is also required to be in the lesson and learns what the teacher is doing. The parent is then expected to be the home teacher and assure that the student is doing things correctly every day at home. It’s a big time commitment. BUT you get out what you put in. These students are usually fantastic players in a relatively short amount of time.

Modified lessons are less time consuming, but of course, progress is often slower, especially if there is not daily practice and listening. Also, often in modified lessons, a parent doesn’t always sit in, so you don’t have that accountability at home, either, which can also slow progress (especially in the case of a preschooler who won’t remember what they are supposed to practice once they put their instrument away).

Honestly, though, no matter which path you choose, the outcome is the same. The child will learn to play the instrument.

I hope this (relatively) brief spiel was helpful. I’m happy to explain anything further!

My Time in Youth Symphony

In an attempt to go semi-chronologically here, I thought I’d talk about my time in the Kansas City Youth Symphony (7th grade-12th grade, or 1991-1997).  They have a website now! (Websites didn’t exist when I was in it.)

I auditioned at the end of my 6th grade year when I’d only been playing cello about a year. I was at first turned down becuase I wasn’t quite ready, but then they started a younger string group (I think that was the first year of the Junior Orchestra, later renamed Symphonette) and I was accepted into that. Then going into the 8th and 9th grade I played in the Middle (Philharmonic), and then for 10th grade I made Senior (Symphony). At the end of my junior year, I actually auditioned on both viola (which I had started playing about 4 months prior when I got one for Christmas) and cello. My plan was to play viola in Middle and continue on cello in Senior. Imagine my surprise when they put me on viola in Senior! Here i was playing Suzuki book 3 stuff and was given the full orchestra part to Symphonie fantastique. I took lessons (Thanks Carl Cook) and muddled my way through some pretty impressive literature. Actually, all 3 years I was in it I muddled my way through impressive literature.

It’s hard to know where to begin explaining what an impact that Youth Symphony had on me. Without it I probably would have dropped out of school orchestra (too boring), which would have been horrible in retrospect as that’s where the majority of my good friends in junior high and high school came from. I also made some AWESOME friends in youth symphony – people that I am still friends with on facebook. They are people I would not have met otherwise.

I also would not have practiced nearly as much, as I HAD to practice my youth symphony music or face Dr. Block’s wrath. (Which I did anyway – “can’t either of you Harris’ count??” after my brother and I both managed to mess up Der Rosenkavalier.)

It also made me aware of what “real” music was. The first piece we worked on at start up camp when I made senior orchestra was Shostakovich Symphony No. 5. I fell in love. I had no idea what real music was until I started learning that. It made such an impact on me I even did my 10th grade joint English/Social Studies research paper on Shosatkovich and loved learning all about his compositional style and run ins with the communist government. (Little did I know then that I would eventually get a graduate degree in musicology. It all makes sense now.) During the 3 years I was in that orchestra we also did Berlioz Symphonie fantastique, Bartok Concerto for Orchestra, Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 or 5 (I did one in YS and one in college…), Saint-Saens Symphony No. 3 (Organ), Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, Sibelius Symphony No. 1, Stravinsky Firebird Suite, among a myriad of concerti and overtures, and of course the yearly Concert for Champions horse show (at which we always did the 1812 Overture). I have youth symphony to thank for me flooring my Music Lit teacher in college. We were talking about Symphonie fantastique and he mentioned it was written in 1833. I raised my hand and said, “Really? It sounds more like Tchaikovsky, late 1800’s. 1833 isn’t that long after Beethoven.” Needless to say he wrote me a GLOWING recommendation for graduate study in musicology.

I also got to go on 3 wonderful trips thanks to youth symphony, including my first trip out of the country. In 1995 or 1996 we went to Banff (in Canada) to play at a festival. I had an amazing time. Then, in 1997 I got to play in Carnegie Hall (and tour New York City, of course). It was a trip I will never forget. The following year, even though I was in college already, the symphony was asked to send some musicians for a youth orchestra to play in Carnegie Hall. They needed violas, so I volunteered (as I was still 19). (Thanks to my brother for still being in the orchestra!) Another amazing trip.

So, did youth symphony have an impact on my life? Yes. Just a few months ago I got all kinds of excited when the community orchestra I’m a ringer for called and asked me to play on their upcoming concert and told me they were doing the Organ Symphony. Who gets excited about stuff like that? Orchestra nerds, that’s who! Would I be a music teacher today without having been in youth symphony? It’s hard to say, but my guess is no. Chances are I would have gone into journalism or biology out of high school.

And I’d probably be making more money now, but wouldn’t be nearly as happy with my job. 🙂

How I Got Into Music

Most of my students have asked me at one time or another, “when did you start playing [insert instrument]?”  Well, here’s the long answer.

Like many of the composers I lecture about in my music appreciation classes, I was “born into a musical family.” My mother is a musician (a flutist/piccolist with a music ed degree). It wasn’t really a question of “are you going to play an instrument?” growing up. It was more “what instrument are you going to play and when are you going to start playing it?” I was actually shocked in school to find out that not everyone played music. I thought it was a given like eating and sleeping. (Not sure how I came to that conclusion since my dad doesn’t play an instrument, but you know – 5 year old logic.)

At 5 I started rather informal piano lessons with my mother, on the piano that is now sitting directly behind me right now in my studio at Notable Beginnings. I got through a blue or green Bastien piano book before she threw in the towel. To this day I distincly remember “Indian Dance” and wonder if they’ve renamed it to be more socially conscious since 1984.

After my stint on piano, my mother decided to try me out on flute. She even got me the curved headjoint. As you can probably surmise since I’m a cellist, that didn’t last too long. I have a bit more of a stronger personality than my mom and we didn’t mesh well as teacher/student.

So, the next step was to have me decide what I wanted to play. Mom took me “in the pit” with her for a summer musical rehearsal. My job was to look around and pick which instrument I wanted to play. I chose the violin, and thus, my bowed string career began.

Mom got me violin lessons – I was 7 years old, in a class of maybe three other 5 year old beginners. And I loved it. And I feel I was pretty good at it. 🙂 You’ll have to ask Mom about my practice habits back then, but I don’t have any bad memories about them. My teacher, I believe, was a lady named Miss Maria.

My school program started in 5th grade. By that time I’d already been playing for 3 years, give or take. I played with the 6th grade orchestra that year. Problem occured the next year, when I was in 6th grade, I had to repeat it since I couldn’t go the the junior high for orchestra. So, I decided to try out the cello instead of playing violin again. And that, as they say, is history.

After a year of cello in school and switching to cello lessons, my mom had me (and probably my little brother – I don’t remember) go to the local youth orchestra concert (Kansas City Youth Symphony). It was amazing. I couldn’t believe that those were all kids playing!! I tried out for the program, but was initially rejected – I just wasn’t at that level yet. But alas, they ended up starting a lower level string orchestra that year (for my 7th grade year) and I was invited to join it. Playing in a (good) orchestra was the beginning of my first, and longest running, love affair and introduced me to my soul mates Tchaikovsky and Brahms. (I’ll write about my youth symphony experiences another time – they deserve a separate post explaing WHY you NEED to join your local youth orchestra.)

Moving through to high school, I was once again bitten by the “I want to learn a new instrument bug” my junior year. I asked for a viola for Christmas that year. (Who does that? What other 17 year old wants a viola for Christmas??) Over the years I’ve also done time on tenor sax (to play in concert band in college), oboe (I needed another credit hour to keep my scholarships my last semester of undergrad, so I took oboe lessons), guitar (on and off and for a musical in 2005), and I own a mandolin and am really good at playing the Vivaldi a minor concerto on it, as well as anything from suzuki violin books 1-4. I’ve also sung in many choirs, church choirs, etc. but have never done voice lessons. I’m positive that I’m one of those annoying church altos who belts out random harmony parts (and is super-bitter that the hymnals disappeared).

I know I’m biased, but I really think that the arts (not just music) are critical to having a well-rounded education. Especially for someone like me who isn’t a STEM person. How horrible it would have been for me to go through school from ages 5-18 having to focus on subjects I really didn’t like and wasn’t that great at. But that’s another topic…..

And I have just begun this journey again, but as the parent of a 5 (almost 6) year old piano student…

A New Notable Beginning

So, here’s my attempt at blogging. I’m not sure how this will go, but my advertising/website guy says I need to update my website frequently to keep it “fresh” so it places better in google searches or some such nonsense, so congrats if you’re still reading.

At first I thought, “what in the world do I talk about?” Then he pointed out I’d been in music for just under a million years, so I should have plenty of musical stuff to talk about, 21 years of private teaching and two degrees just to start.

And thus, here it is, The (not-so) Notable Blog. I shall endeavor to entertian you with my wit and wisdom concerning all things music, music teaching, family-kids-school-health-work-life-sanity balance, and whatever else I feel like talking about.

And like any goals, if I tell you what I’m going to try to do, you can help keep me in line, right?  Well, I’m shooting for 1-2 posts per week.  (One is the real goal, two is a hey, this is a great week!)

Are you ready?  Did you practice today?

Adult Cello Day and other summer options!

Adult cello students! Come join us on Saturday, July 19 for a day of ensemble playing…Beginners Welcome!

See the event on facebook here.

Registration form and information can be found here.  Mail completed form and payment to 2309 Taylorsville Rd, Louisville, KY 40205.

Please email me at with any questions.

We now have two options of classes for you 0-5 year olds!

Summer Musikgarten classes will begin in June and be a short 8 week session.  Email Amy for more information:

Beginning on June 11, Brigid Kaelin will start a Family Music Jam class.  This is a drop in class at 9:30am; $10 per family.

The Suzuki String Institute at UofL is looking for more 3-5 year olds for their new beginners classes.  NO EXPERIENCE REQUIRED!  I will be in the New Beginning Viola class with my 4 year old!  This is a great way to jump start your summer lessons.

See their website for more information,

Want to learn a new instrument?  Kids need something to do this summer?  Summer lessons are a great way to keep the kids engaged in something other than the tv.  Call today for availability.  We also offer a flexplan so you only have to pay for the lessons you’ll be able to attend in June and July.

A Suzuki Teacher Training Journal – Oct. 7 – By Michael Hill

The class has finished discussing the works in Book 5 and have identified the many key learning points in each.

One thing that stuck out was the major shift in practicing requirements from Book 4 to Book 5 – a lot of technical advancement happens! It provides a lot of elements both in bow technique, left hand technique, and in general music development to explore outside of the Suzuki material as well.

For many students, Book 5 can appear as a road block on their musical journey but it really is more of a stepping stone to becoming a more advanced and intelligent musician. There is so much music that can be explored while working on the elements in Book 5. While there is a lot of technique to learn and practice, it is also a great time to use supplemental material – solos and etudes – to help strengthen technical needs as well as to vary the repertoire a bit. I have my preferred supplemental materials, and it was great to get some more ideas as well! I like to focus on short works from the Romantic era, students often get to develop vibrato and shifting technique in this repertoire, and we can have fun exaggerating these in a expressive way, too!

It is important to not allow any challenge to appear as an obstacle. If it is only looked at as challenging it may be easy to be put off by the material, but at any level a challenge is a great way to learn to break a problem into smaller parts that can be mastered and reassembled to their original work. In the end, I hope students are not only equipped to solve musical challenged, but apply it to demands in school and life as well – a calm approach to problem solving is always a valuable life lesson.

A Suzuki Teacher Training Journal – Week 1 (and 2) – By Michael Hill

A Suzuki Teacher Training Journal – Week 1 (and 2)

Admittedly the class has met twice so far, but I took two weeks to wrap my head around just what it was I wished to share with students, families, and even other teachers through this journal. With that in mind, I’d like to share the welcome to the Suzuki world I received from a fantastic fellow teacher: “Welcome to the journey.”

For those that don’t know me from Notable Beginnings, my name is Michael Hill, I am a proud native of Cleveland, Ohio, and I was not a Suzuki child. I started the piano somewhat young at age 11, the violin at age 13, switched to viola a little before college, and then the musical world swept over me through two degrees, music festivals, various orchestras, chamber groups, recitals, new and old music, and several studios, school visits, masterclasses, you name it! Several years ago a very good friend of mine suggested I look into taking the required coursework and becoming a registered member of the Suzuki Association of the Americas if I was really serious about teaching. With some encouragement, I registered for the Suzuki teacher training course through the University of Louisville with Dr. Terry Durbin. I have completed and registered books 1 – 4, observed many lessons, classes, and workshops, and I’m going back for more! I wish I was a Suzuki child. From a very young age, students can learn, and it is very comprehensive, so it can be adapted for students of all ages. Every child can.

This year I will be completing and registering books 5 – 10, and I’d like to share my journey with you. Whether students are experiencing a very “Suzuki” lesson or a more traditional based approach for older students which incorporates many of the philosophies and pedagogical principles of Dr. Suzuki, this journey and experience has shaped the way I guide every student through their lessons, other musical education, and the world beyond.

What did you miss in books 1 – 4? The Suzuki Talent Education or Suzuki Method combines music education with a philosophy that promotes the total development of the student. There are many goals of each song, book, and supplemental exercise/song, and every teacher/student is different. I will say that for me, throughout these first 4 books (the first several years) students will have developed the ability to listen and learn new material, read and learn new material, and will have the technical ability to continue throughout their education. Personally, I hope to help them find a love of learning, of facing the joys of a new challenge, and along the way they will be awesome violin/violists, too.

There is a lot more, but that would involve a blog detailing the entire year I took the course. I am happy that this course started very similar to the last years ago with Nurtured by Love – there’s a new translation, and I highly recommend checking it out, parents and teachers alike.

Thank you for reading this introduction! As I have now been introduced to my course work for the year, I hope you will follow me throughout this experience. I was very happy to have two friends come to town to take their Every Child Can course a week before I started book 5 – 10 class. What did I share with them? “Welcome to the journey.”

Musikgarten Fall Semester

Our new semester of Musikgarten is set to begin soon. Miss Amy is offering 5 classes this fall for children age 0-6. Personally, I’m excited that Lucas will be starting the toddler class this fall – he’s graduated from te baby class!

Classes are Tuesday evening, Thursday evening and Friday morning. Ask me or check out Miss Amy’s page at for more information or to register.

Fall Recital Date!

Mark your calendars now! Our fall recitals will be on November 5 at Immanuel UCC (across the street). Recital times are TBA right now, but will be in the afternoon. We will again feature 3 recitals, with receptions after each.

Remember, there will now be a sign up process for recitals, including a form to be filled out with your recital selections for inclusion on the programs. These forms will be available from your teacher, and need to be turned in to Kim by Wednesday, Nov. 2 with the $5 recital fee ($10 per family).

I look forward to this fall’s recitals! And don’t forget your costume!