Rosie Martin | Webster University

Rosie Martin

Rosie Martin

Rosie Martin is a Suzuki Violin teacher at our University City and Webster Groves branches.  She has been a faculty member for nearly 40 years and one of the original founders of our Suzuki String Program.  Rosie sat down to talk with me about her time here at the CMS, the history of the Suzuki program, and her musical background.  

When did you start working at the Community Music School? 
RM: In 1976. At that time it was the St. Louis Conservatory and Schools of the Arts (CASA), it was just the beginning stages.  I was brought in as a Suzuki violin teacher and started the program at the University City and Maryville College branches.

Tell us more about the history and the start of the program:
RM:  Before I started working at the CMS, I had just moved to town and had started Suzuki training in Florida and some work out in California.  

I met two people that were very instrumental in shaping our program and Suzuki method here in St. Louis.  One of those individuals was Eiko Kataoka, who played with the St. Louis Symphony and had been a student of Dr. Suzuki in Japan.  She originally came to America to be an ambassador of the Suzuki method.  She was one of the early Suzuki method teachers at Oberlin College and then moved to St. Louis to play with the symphony.  Eiko had a small studio she started.  My son, Peter, studied with Eiko and I had the opportunity to go through the method as a parent with Eiko.  Meeting Eiko made it possible for me to go to Japan and study with Shinichi Suzuki.  

The other individual was John Kendall, who directed the Suzuki program at SIUE.  John was the first American to go to Japan and bring the method back to the US.  He published books about the method to make it more accessible to US teachers. John was very eager to get the Suzuki program thriving here in St. Louis.  

The three programs - at the CMS, SIUE and Eiko's studio, would get together to have workshops with our students.  The workshops would alternate every year between our school and SIUE and this partnership is still continued today.  It was extremely interesting for me to be a part of this development of Suzuki method.

How did you get started studying Suzuki method?
RM:  I started studying the method when I lived in Florida.  There was a teacher there I was close to and I used to observe her lessons.  I went to California to study with Elizabeth Mills, who had written a few books about the method.  She allowed me to live with her, watch all of her lessons, and she arranged for me to go home with her students and watch the practicing in the homes.  That experience was very powerful. 

How did you get your musical start?
RM:  I grew up in Durham, NC.  My family was from Europe.  In the summers, we would go up to the North Carolina Mountains and shared a house with another German family that was very close to us.  They had a daughter that was six years older than me, who played the violin.  When I was about two, I would watch her practice.  And I just thought it was the most wonderful thing in the world to watch her and be a part of that experience.  My family and the other family couldn't get over the fact that I would sit there for two hours sometimes and just watch and watch her practice.  Her violin teacher from Atlanta would come up to the mountains and work with her from time to time.  And that's all I could think of was, that I wanted to learn to play the violin.  She gave me my first violin lesson up in the mountains.  She made me a violin out of cardboard, made a bow out of a twig, and put strings on it. In our early adult years we lost touch, but much later we reconnected and she had just started playing the cello on her own.  We have become very close friends.  I have her original violin that her father brought over from Europe, a nice Italian violin.

My father died when I was quite young, about nine years old.  We had a violin that my parents bought for me from France, which was a little too big for me, so he put it aside and I had to wait until I could start.  One day I came home from school and my father had pulled out that violin and asked if I would like to start and, of course, he couldn't wait.  And he said he figured out how to play the first few notes of a Beethoven Sonata on the violin.  He was a physicist and he figured out how to mechanically play the first few notes of the sonata.  So he showed me how to hold the violin.  Of course he was so excited and I was so excited!  He showed me how to press down my three fingers and what to do.  I was shaking with excitement; he was on the piano to accompany me and when it was time to play he counted, "Eins, Zwei, Drei!" We got through about a measure or so and that was the excitement of the day.  He died a few weeks later.  I think he knew the end was coming.  But the joy of starting out and his encouragement to learn to play has stuck with me.  There was so much joy and happiness in that moment.  I think about that a lot when I start new students.  It's something about the attitude of learning which means more than just the notes.  When I did finally learn that piece, it added special meaning to me. 

Describe one of your favorite teaching memories.
M:  One of my favorite stories was working with David Ramos, who is the son of former St. Louis Symphony musicians Manuel Ramos and Cathie Lehr.  David came in for his first lesson and he was so excited.  He already had his violin case.  He walked into his lesson as if he had been playing for years, in his mind he had been, probably been playing in utero.  David was busy getting ready to get his violin out, but before he did, he got a comb out and started combing his hair.  And that is exactly what Manuel does before he plays.  David had watched his father and seen him do that many times and thought it was just one of the things you did before you play, like rosining the bow.

What are your favorite hobbies?
M: Traveling.  Bill & I have been to Italy about four times and we're going again next summer!  I love spending time with my family, including my two children and five grandchildren.  Attending my son, Peter's concerts.  I love going to concerts and theatre performances.  I like reading.  Taking classes; I am currently taking a class on Italian history.  I study early music, play the Baroque violin, and attend the Baroque Performance Institute at Oberlin College.

Any final thoughts?
RM: What Suzuki method is all about is learning from others and adding all the experience together.  One thing that was really striking to me, when I went over to Japan and saw the high level of playing, the teachers explained to me that the level of playing and teaching gets higher all the time because of the experience of the teachers and what the kids have been exposed to.  I think that's definitely true in our program, the level is very good here.  I think it's because our teachers have a lot of experience. We've learned how to do things quickly.  Everyone just gets better and better.