By Margot Jewell - Toronto, Ontario
Lance Stoney is the only Suzuki trained violin teacher in Fort St. John, a BC town of 20,000 on the Alaska Highway, a 14-hour drive from Vancouver. He has one Suzuki colleague in town, a pianist. The nearest Suzuki violin teachers are in Prince George (4 1/2 hours) and Edmonton (7 hours away). These distances make it difficult to collaborate with musicians outside of Fort St. John, although Lance and some of his senior students participate in a summer orchestra program in Smithers, BC (9 1/2 hours away).
At age 3, Lance started studying violin at a Suzuki program in southern BC. He kept playing through high school, and took some RCM practical and theory exams. Then when he started working at other jobs, music went on the back burner. Thirteen years ago Lance moved to Fort St. John for work. People in the community learned he played the violin and a child wanted to start studying with Lance. By 2018, his studio had grown to 60 students so he was able to give up his job in the oil patch. In a phone conversation, he shared the following thoughts:
About professional development:
* A few years after starting to teach, he decided that he would pursue Suzuki training. Almost every year Lance has taken courses at the Suzuki Institute in Seattle. He also appreciates the opportunity to watch a variety of teachers when at an institute. He feels that people who are “pioneering” need to find out if they are on the right track, and refresh themselves with new ideas. It is harder to access this when living in a more isolated community. He said “personal development as a teacher is a must for building the studio.”
* He has continued working on his own playing, successfully completing his grade 10 RCM exam last year.
About building a program from scratch in a small community:
* You have to be willing to work with all ages. He teaches students from age 4 to 65.
* You have to be open to different approaches. Some are people interested in fiddle music and others in sacred music. He explains that “the classical approach is the push-ups and sit-ups of learning the instrument.” Once you have a good foundational technique you can learn any style of music.
* Collaborate with the local musical community. He puts his intermediate and senior students together with the adults to make a string group that can accompany the local adult choir in performances of Handel’s Messiah, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Schubert’s Mass.
* Set teaching priorities. Don’t waste time on things that are not as important, or you will get frustrated and irritated by teaching.
* Teaching is fun when you’ve got a range of levels and ages.
* The goal is to “provide educational development for the local community; both amateur adults and children.”