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Interview with Daniel Gee on Starting a Suzuki Summer Institute

Welcome to Rethinking Genius, Danny! And congratulations on your institute's inaugural year. Why don't you introduce yourself and tell us a little about why you decided to start the Greater Austin Suzuki Institute.

Thank you, Danielle. I am actually an Austin transplant. I grew up on Long Island in New York and came to UT Austin to pursue my Masters in Music and Human Learning and work at the UT String Project. Austin was so wonderful that I could not leave. I currently teach Middle School Orchestra in Round Rock ISD and run a private Suzuki program- Suzuki Strings of Austin with a few of my colleagues.

The idea to host an Institute was a group effort. Having an Institute in Austin was not a foreign idea. There had been a history of an Institute in the past run by Laurie Scott and Bill Dick. There was also a Suzuki Institute at Texas State in San Marcos under Paula Byrd. However, there has not been anything for a number of years in our area. The Greater Austin Suzuki Association was formed about two years ago by Austin area Suzuki teachers to host teaching and student workshops and other programs. The idea of having an Institute was shared among many of us who are active in that organization. Along with Shana Guidi and Tim Washecka, I accepted the role to help launch and direct the Institute in 2013.

Many Suzuki institutes have been around for decades. Were you at all worried about having to compete with some of the more established programs in other areas of the country?

The issue with a lot of families in Austin was that they were not going to Institutes around the country. Our main purpose was to service our community, and we knew that there was interest from a lot of our families in the area who would be interested. Many of my personal students were unable to go out of the area for Institutes due to work schedules, etc.

Tell us a little about the business of running a Suzuki institute. What are some things to watch out for?

Planning ahead was crucial. I have been to many Institutes where things were slightly disorganized or not planned in advance. We scheduled everything early, kept a timetable, and adjusted our course of action constantly. I don't think that every problem can be avoided, but I think that you have to do your best to think of everything over a long period of time, so that you can really evaluate decisions and give people the best possible experience.

Budgetting was of the utmost importance. We evaluated our budget constantly- estimating what are minimum running costs would be for the Institute based on registrants. The bottom line is that the Institute will not exist if it is not financially sound.

If someone were interested in starting up a Suzuki institute in their area, what would be a good starting place?

I would gain experience running workshops first. Our organization has hosted teacher training workshops, student workshops, parent workshops, etc. My personal studio runs three workshops each year. Once you have gotten into the rhythm of doing things on a smaller scale and have developed a mindset for budget, planning, hospitality for clinicians, etc., you will have more confidence in undertaking a larger project like an Institute.

We also got a lot of advice from existing Institutes. Debbie Bandy and Donna Davis at our nearby DFW WOW were so helpful in talking through issues, planning, etc. with me while we were in our initial planning stages.

It seemed like all of the students really enjoyed their time at the institute so I would say that's a job well done. In the end did you feel like it was worth the effort?

Thank you. It was definitely worth it, although it was a lot of work. My students have come back inspired and motivated. They have come back with new friends and renewed enjoyment in their music-making. There is nothing that can substitute being in a large community of people from different teachers, places, and backgrounds. In the end, if we can motivate a community of parents, teachers, and students to be excited about educating children, then it was well worth the time.


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