Buffalo Suzuki Strings: 'Music on Canvas'

Jun 15, 2017

Music and artwork will be blended this weekend at a north Buffalo home.  Buffalo Suzuki Strings will present "Music on Canvas". WBFO Senior Reporter Eileen Buckley says the event will feature Suzuki music students and the artwork of well-known Buffalo artist Robert Blair.

“At the very beginning it’s just five minutes. Dr. Suzuki use to say ‘five minutes with joy’,” declared Mary Cay Neal, founder of Buffalo Suzuki Strings.

Grailey Darby, 11, and harp teacher Kela Walton rehearse at a home on Woodbridge for the "Music on Canvas" event.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Neal started the program back in 1969 in her Kenmore home with two violin students, but over the last 48 years thousands of children and families have participated in the program.

“The very first thing they learn is to learn to learn and their parents help them do that. And that’s what also enhances their academic learning, too. You learn how to learn at a young age," Neal explained. "You learn how to focus, you learn how to repeat things, you learn how to master something before you go on to something else, so you learn a process.”

The music school is located on Webster Street in North Tonawanda. An endowment for the program is now underway. The Suzuki method teaches children how to play music by memorization and Neal said that's by design, developing their minds and memory.  

“The method allows the teachers to know how to appeal to each child and the way they particularly need to learn,” said Neal. 

That method is working well for 11-year-old Grailey Darby.  The homeschooled girl has been playing the violin for four years and the harp for one year.       

“Is there a challenge for you?” asked Buckley. “Yes,” responded Darby. “What was challenging?” Buckley questioned. “Learning how to read music,” Darby answered.  

Darby tells us she enjoys the harp the most and looks forward to her lessons. 

11-year-old Grailey Darby & harp teacher Kela Walton rehearse at a home on Woodbridge for teh "Music on Canvas" event.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

When asked why she enjoys the harp, Darby replied, “Well, because it’s beautiful and has a beautiful tone.”

Darby told us her favorite music piece to play is Lavender’s Blue.

“So the Suzuki method involves learning to read music just the way you learn to speak and write and read in a language, so you don’t start the alphabet and complete sentences you start by hearing what your parents say,” explained Kela Walton, teacher of the harp and Early Childhood Education at Buffalo Suzuki Strings School.

“One of the other things that really helps with the Suzuki method is that there is a triangle of the parent and the teacher and the student at the top and, so one of the reason it works so well is because we have such dedicated parents, just like Graily’s mom, and they practice with them every day at home – that’s certainly a large part of the success,” Walton noted.

“Is there anyone that you ever taught that couldn’t grasp it?” Buckley asked. "We believe every child can learn and it really is true. They all learn at their own pace,” Walton replied.

Chermeka Darby, parent, has all three of her children enrolled in Buffalo Suzuki Strings.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“Mostly she’s on the instrument every day, but if not, we relate the skills. She gets work sheets where she can practice her rhythm reading or chords,” said Chermeka Darby, Grailey’s mom.

Darby tells WBFO daughter Grailey and her two other children are all in the music program.

“Well the first reason was for academic reasons – to help with her academic development. I liked their approach with the whole student, as far as following the like the ‘mother-tongue’ method of being introduced to the sounds first, and then the rhythms and then reproducing the sounds and then reading it. It seemed very methodical where it could help her in a lot of areas,” Darby said.  

“The practicing parent, first of all, has to decide that they really, really want music for their child and that they’re willing to make a daily commitment of practicing with them so that the child can be allowed to learn in a natural kind of way,” Neal stated.

Darby rehearsed for this weekend's show inside a home at 125 Woodbridge Avenue in North Buffalo. It is where “Music on Canvas” takes place. 

Well-known Buffalo artist Robert Blair painting of his Woodbridge Avenue home where he grew up.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Susan Shea is current homeowner. The arts and craft style home was built in 1907 by architect Ulysses Orr for the Blair family. The Blair’s had two sons became famous for artwork and flying.

“Robert Blair, noted Western New York artist grew up in the home as well as his brother Charles Blair. Charles was an aviator, a brigadier general in the Air Force, married (actress) Maureen O’Hara, was the first to fly over arctic in a one-engine plane, so the house has some great history as does Buffalo Suzuki strings, so this was a great way to bring art, music – it’s sort of a fusion of everything,” Shea remarked.  

Artwork of well-known Buffalo artist Robert Blair.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Robert Blair's son Bruce has allowed Shea to feature many of his father's original watercolors for this weekend's exhibit, some that have never been seen, neatly displayed on the home’s walls as you enjoy the sounds of students on their string instruments.