violin themed gifts
Through Violettes' violin themed gifts store and children’s youth music charity ventures and competitions, I have been meeting some awesome people. From the competition volunteer judges, mentors and music teachers to parents who contact Violettes with questions.
Meet Wendy Karabensh, Owner of Treasure Coast Strings Violin Studio
Wendy Karabensh, who will be entering a couple of middle school students in the composition competition. Her unique violin studio has "themed recitals”! We all know that Suzuki string lessons are a serious time commitment from the students and parents. So, the students in a private violin studio tend to be very bright with great concentration skills. Wendy takes advantage of the parent support to have more fun with her students.
1. Violettes: You teach violin, viola and cello in your Treasure Coast Strings studio. Do you have Suzuki group lessons in addition to individual lessons? Do you hire assistants? Tell us a little about your teaching program.
I do have Group every month. High school students help me with the program. (We are fortunate to have a nationally recognized high school orchestra program here in Vero Beach under the direction of Matt Stott.) We do warm-ups like bow exercises and rhythms played on each string and simple beginner songs up to Twinkle, followed by a “Solo Time” where anyone can play a solo, then music theory games. The students are divided by age into three groups and the high school students have been trained to lead the theory games. I use a lot of “Music Mind Games” by Michiko Yurko. The last half hour of group class is geared toward more advanced students and depending on what we are working on it is either run like a string orchestra or like a performance group rehearsal.
In weekly lessons, we always do scales and music theory. I have developed a Spy-themed progression of music theory levels for them to complete and it keeps them (and me) motivated. I also do a Performance Challenge to prepare them for the solo recital so that by the time the recital rolls around they have PERFORMED (not just played) their piece a multitude of times. Each summer we do a different Summer Challenge to keep them playing even if they take a break from lessons. And sometimes I do things that have nothing to do with learning an instrument, but just make life more fun and build community. It is funny, because they still relate it to their lessons. For example we had this giant inflatable whale that we named and then dragged around town and took pictures with him. Then we had a huge map in the studio that we marked where the whale had been. After taking pictures by an airplane at an airport one student turned to her mom and said “That was the best violin lesson ever!” (No violin was in sight.) I find it builds student retention instead of student turnover.
2. Violettes: Your recitals are not just Suzuki tunes, but full blown productions with themes and costumes. How did you come up with this imaginative plan? It must take immense energy. Who plans and makes the costumes? Do you change themes from year to year? Or do stick with several shows that you have produced?
I am always looking for ways to motivate students. In 2003 in West Palm Beach I started a student performance group called “Pizzazz! ...it’s a string thing” that was inspired by the string group Barrage. Students ages 7-17 auditioned to get in and every number was choreographed and /or used props. That was the start of doing things out of the box. I was not afraid to hire people who were experts in their field to help where I felt I could use extra input. So sometimes we had a choreographer work with us, or a professional fiddle player come and teach a fiddle tune. Performances were professional, colorful, fun, upbeat, and included the audience. Students performed for people in the community rather than the obligatory family members.
In 2006 our family moved, the performance group ended, and I started over with my Treasure Coast Strings studio in Vero Beach. I have not started another performance group (it takes time to build up to that type of program), but I have incorporated some of the same tactics in our annual recitals. The recitals are still mainly Suzuki repertoire, but the set, programs and outfits are theme-related. Any large group or quartet songs are theme-related.
The first time I decided to have the students wear something other than the usual fancy dress clothes was for our “Treasure on the High Seas” recital and I wanted them to dress like sailors. I knew the boys would go for it. (Choking necktie vs. pirate attire? No brainer.) I wasn’t so sure about the girls because most of them liked wearing a special dress, but they were as excited as the boys. Now the recital barely ends and they ask what next year’s theme will be and what will they be wearing. I put parameters on their outfits and they are responsible to put them together, but frequently I will have certain items available like the hats or bandanas. I did make all the mermaid skirts for the “Treasure Under the Sea” recital. I have not repeated an entire show theme yet, but I have used songs that I previously did with the performance group.
Do you want to try something different in your studio? Earn the trust of your students; I never ask them to do something I would not do myself. Get their parents behind you too. Enlist the aid of experts. I also could not do all this without the help of my husband who does the majority of the set building. My own college-aged children have even returned home to help set up for performances. If you need some ideas where to start I suggest reading Philip Johnston’s book “The Dynamic Studio.”
3. Violettes: Tell us about your productions. Have you had any funny or special things happen at them that are fun to talk about?
That time I had a violin maker come to class to demonstrate how a violin made sound, complete with a peek inside a violin with the top removed, and then the kindergartener that went home, crawled under his bed with his violin and then COMPLETELY disassembled it. I thought he was very inquisitive. His mother did not think it was funny. He and I got together and I supervised as he reassembled it.
That time we did the theme from Star Wars complete with glow-necklaces strapped to our bows, in the dark, with black lights and fog. People, it was moisture in the fog machine, not smoke. We had performed this numerous times. So why on the SCHOOL TOUR did it set off the fire alarm? And then the fire trucks came. And the kids kept playing anyway, because the show must go on.
4. Violettes: I see by your studio photos, you take advantage of the beach to have fun with your students. Are you not worried about getting sand in the instruments?
We had a lot of fun with the beach pictures, but what you don’t see on the other side of the
camera is all the parents holding cases! So the instruments never came in contact with the sand. Humidity is more of an enemy than the sand is.
This year we were even more adventurous with our underwater shoot that included a junky violin that I hot glued sand, shells, and rocks on. It even had a crab for a chin rest.
These were taken in my swimming pool to promote our “Treasure Under the Sea” Recital.
Purchase our Violin Themed Gifts Now
Things 4 Strings® accessories for beginning string players was created with the imagination and determination of violist/violinist Ruth Brons, and her mother, cellist, Martha Brons. Initially developed for students in their own studios, their Bow Hold Buddies® and Cellophant® aids make easy the typically difficult to learn bow hand position. Because of this impressive music accessory entrepreneurial business, 2 local musicians recommended that I call Ruth Brons as I was about to dive into my Violettes by Becky endeavor. Ms. Brons was glad to share a gold mine of information from her experiences with manufacturers, wholesalers, music conventions, lawyers, shipping and social media. Several years later, I still contact Ruth with occasional business questions!
- 1. Violettes: I am always fascinated by stories about how people got started and grew up with music, and what made them passionate about it. My own grown children are very talented musicians, but are not picking up their instruments to relax and have fun as I grew up doing. What is your story? And why Viola?
Things4Strings: My great-grandmother gave piano lessons, my grandfather played banjo in a professional jazz ensemble throughout high school & college and, later, organ at church. My mother is a fine cellist, and my father enjoyed playing old-timey piano by ear. My brother loves playing blue grass guitar. Music is so much a part of who I am, it was a given. I enjoyed choir, handbells, piano and cello up through grade school. But in high school I discovered the viola, and loved both its sound and varied roles in orchestra and chamber music.
2. Violettes: Clearly, both you and your mother are award winning musicians and music educators. I’ll bet watching your Mom in action made it very attractive to follow footsteps. Are there any stories behind you becoming interested in music education?
Things4Strings: I actually went off to college thinking I would be double majoring in Viola Performance and Special Education. But progressing in music was an all-consuming path. Mom and I took quite a few Suzuki teacher training courses together during semester breaks, and I was hooked on teaching by the time I started working on my Master’s Degree in Viola Performance!
3. Violettes: You won several awards for your entrepreneurship. Can you tell us something about them?
Things4Strings: From the beginning of this project I have sought out – and heeded – the best advice I could find. A high school principal with a business background, who generously gave me a morning of his time within weeks of my “big idea” in 2008, greeted me with: “Congratulations! You have just invented yourself a full-time unpaid job.” So I was definitely warned about the work! Now approaching the fifth anniversary of our 2009 product launch, it has been an honor to have been awarded 8 US and international patents, and to be recognized as a top Leading Women Entrepreneur of New Jersey, an honored New Jersey Family Business and the winner of the Invention Lives in West Orange Contest.
4. Violettes: Do you have a favorite music teacher story?
Things4Strings: Gosh! Each lesson is its own great story of honesty, connection and growth - which is why I absolutely love teaching! A student once confided in me that when she plays music, she goes to a special place. I know that place too, and it is so satisfying to know that I helped her enjoy her visits there.
The above and beyond retired Knox County Commissioner, Bee DeSelm, is also a retired violinist from the Knoxville Symphony. She is recognized by the City of Knoxville for her outstanding work with the naming the Bearden Branch library in West Knoxville after her. In this video, she describes the functionality of violin bags from ViolettesbyBecky.com.
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