Music programs, classes open to community

By Keisha Howerth

Locals can sharpen their music skills and participate in concerts through programs offered at NIU.

The courses are available through the Community School of the Arts, and children can also join the school’s choir.


Music lessons using the Suzuki method for children are taught on violin, cello, piano and guitar.

The Suzuki method is an approach of teaching created by Japanese violinist Shin’ichi Suzuki.

Ann Montzka-Smelser, director of NIU’s Suzuki Strings Program, said students can start “as young as 3 or 4 years of age because [they] create a ‘language learning environment.’”

Proponents of the Suzuki method believe everyone is capable of learning how to play an instrument from their own environment.

“Dr. Suzuki believes that talent is not inborn; it is up to the parent and teacher to create the best environment for the child to thrive musically, emotionally … it is about the whole child,” Montzka-Smelser said.

The Suzuki method combines private and group lessons to create the best environment for the student to succeed.

“Our goal is to give a lifelong joy of music with a family-centered approach,” Montzka-Smelser said.

Montzka-Smelser said the students in the Suzuki Strings Program have several opportunities to perform for the community.

The Suzuki Strings play at Kishwaukee Community Hospital, Ellwood House, Gurler House, Corn Fest and on a float in Sycamore’s Pumpkin Fest Parade.

“I hope all our students feel a connection to a musical community,” Montzka-Smelser said. “It doesn’t matter whether a student goes on to become a professional musician or just plays for their own enjoyment, everyone has a song that needs to be shared.”

Children’s Choir

The community school also offers ensembles that community members can join, from orchestras and bands to choirs.

Mary Lynn Doherty, director of the Community School of the Arts’ Children’s Choir, said the school’s ensembles allow students to collaborate with a wider community.

“Kids with different backgrounds can come together for the same goal,” Doherty said.

Auditions to be in the Children’s Choir take place at 4:45 p.m. today and are required for new and returning members.

Members in the Children’s Choir will develop their music skills through diverse music from all over the world, such as folk songs from Israel, Scotland and the United States.

“At least two languages are sung at the concerts,” Doherty said. “They sing songs in Latin, English and one other language.”

In the last two years, the choir collaborated with composers to create new songs.

“It’s special [for the children] to sing a song that’s never been performed, and for the composers to hear their songs sung for the first time,” Doherty said. “It’s a once in a lifetime experience.”


A workshop will be held in April, and it will be led by internationally renowned composer and conducter Nick Page.

“The concert is meant to be participatory, and we welcome singers of all ages, ability levels and interests,” Doherty said. “Mr. Page will teach all of the music that day, so no preparation is needed.”