By Dr. Zachary Ebin
‘Lazy days of summer’ means nothing to a group of 12 strings students in Toronto, Ontario. These 12 children, ranging in age from 8 to 14 comprise Arco Violini, an initiative of Etobicoke Suzuki Music. Arco is a small chamber orchestra that rehearses intensively over the summer and performs throughout southwestern Ontario. In its third season, Arco started as a pedagogical idea. I visualized taking students who work hard, putting them together with equally committed children, and providing exciting opportunities that inspired the students to increase their hard work and commitment. Three years later, I cannot believe what I am seeing. At a typical Arco performance, students walk into a venue only to be greeted with the all too familiar ‘not-another-school-group’ groan. More often than not, they finish to a standing ovation and requests for us to come back.
While I am thrilled that my original objective has not only been met, but far surpassed, I am more excited by the twists Arco has taken.While searching for performance opportunities for the students, I began to appreciate how much potential there was for the Arco students to give back to the community. After performing at a number of seniors’ residences during their Holiday Season last winter, the students and I saw just what our music can do for the community. Not wanting to stop after spreading so much holiday cheer, we have continued to find ways to share our music with others. Arco recently performed at the Toronto Western Hospital where the music brought joy to patients, their families and hospital staff. We are excited to be performing at a Foundation for Angelman Syndrome Therapeutics fundraiser, and for the Toronto Public Library. These performances are so much more than just an hour of music. They are a chance for the students to learn about the impact they can make in their communities, and an opportunity for them to cultivate a sense of humanitarianism and community spirit.
In addition to becoming an avenue for young students to impact their communities, the internal benefits to the group have also taken me by surprise. Challenging the students, raising expectations, and providing performance opportunities have had a profound personal effect on all of the group’s members. Over the course of our summer season one student transformed from being so shy she was unwilling to speak to me, to performing a solo in front of over 350 people. Another student started the summer wanting to compose a short piece for the group to perform. His enthusiasm for the group got the most of him, and his short piece developed into a three movement suite. Each and every one of the students has matured musically and personally over the summer. Friendships have been forged and there is such a sense of community within the group, I often hear about get-togethers and activities being planned outside of the program.
As our third season come to a close, I have an acute sense of how much I have also learned and benefitted from Arco. As both an educator and researcher, I am constantly looking for ways to facilitate improvement and increase excitement for my students. My experience with Arco has made me realize the integral part musicians play in the community, and also the vital role social conscience plays in pedagogy. I started out hoping to improve Arco’s playing level. Once their playing developed, I was able to provide them with community opportunities. In turn, these opportunities inspired the students to work harder and play even better. As a result, more and more humanitarian opportunities are presenting themselves. I cannot wait to see the cycle repeat and repeat as Arco continues its journey and continues to spread their ever-improving repertoire throughout the community.
Dr. Zachary Ebin holds a BA and MA from Brandeis University, an MM from the Boston Conservatory, and a PhD from York University. Active as a performer, researcher and educator, Zachary is currently on faculty at Etobicoke Suzuki Music and is the Artistic Director of the Belfountain Music Festival. To learn more about Dr. Zack, please visit www.zacharyebin.com