Mark O’Connor

  • String Section: Bach

    Mike Lawson | March 17, 2014

    Bringing Bach to the Future

    A hundred years ago, you would be hard-pressed to find an orchestral concert program that did not include something by Johann Sebastian Bach. These days, I find the opposite to be true. You may hear some Bach at a student recital, but on the professional concert circuit, interest in programming Bach seems to be dissipating. More than a few classical music managers have even told me that soloists who play much Bach these days are essentially shooting themselves in the foot.

  • String Section: Diversity

    Mike Lawson | December 16, 2013

    Racial Diversity and the Symphony Orchestra

    I have long been intrigued by the lack of diversity in classical music, in part because I think there are a variety of reasons for it, some of which are not at all obvious. I recently had a conversation about this topic with Dr. Aaron Dworkin, the founder and president of the Detroit-based Sphinx Organization, which encourages black and Latino students to participate in classical music. I am a member of the advisory board at the Sphinx.

  • End Note: The Great Suzuki Debate

    Mike Lawson | November 19, 2013

    As SBO readers will have noticed by now, this publication recently began running a column, “String Section,” authored by renowned performer, clinician, and educator Mark O’Connor. While unquestionably one of the great innovators in string playing today, as well as an eloquent writer, O’Connor can be somewhat controversial, particularly regarding his unflagging criticism of the Suzuki method.

    Hopefully some of the readers who responded to the String Section column’s debut with vitriol aimed at this publication will see that SBO has no interest in entangling itself in the debate about which instructional method is best – or worst, for that matter. SBO’s goal is to empower and support music educators through practical, accessible articles covering the array of topics that band and orchestra directors face throughout the school year. A discussion of the nature of string education, including how to prepare music students for success in a changing professional landscape, is relevant, but only in so far as it stays constructive. (And it bears mentioning that the String Section columns which have appeared in this publication have largely focused on positive examples of innovative performance and learning opportunities for young string players.)

  • UpFront Q&A: Marilyn Kesler, SAA

    Mike Lawson | November 19, 2013

    Today’s Suzuki Method: A Conversation with Marilyn Kesler of the Suzuki Association of the Americas

    Decades before El Sistema thrust the youth orchestra back into the international spotlight through its widely acclaimed achievements with underserved children in Venezuela, Japanese violinist and pedagogue Shin’ichi Suzuki revolutionized string education with his philosophy of early childhood music education. Emphasizing rote memorization and learning by ear with students as young as three years old, Suzuki’s method quickly gained a major following among music educators in the U.S. and around the world during the second half of the 20th century. While Suzuki success stories abound, the method has also faced its share of criticism, particularly in regards to its de-emphasis of the importance of reading music, limited repertoire, and a purported lack of creative development.

    After teaching orchestra in the public schools of Okemos, Michigan for more than 40 years, Marilyn Kesler now chairs the Board of Directors for the Suzuki Association of America. In this conversation with SBO, Kesler talks candidly about the strengths and limitations of the Suzuki method, while addressing some of the larger challenges that face music education today.

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