Voted best music teacher in Paris by the expatriate community this year, American expat Camilla Radford Furman has been teaching the violin in Paris since 2009.
What made you choose the violin?
My mother is a big violin teacher and I begged her to start teaching me when I was three. The Suzuki method was just coming to light and she was very interested in it. She actually had a special violin made for me that was less than 1/8th size. She found a teacher and I started when I was three and a half. By the time I was six I was really playing and winning my first competitions. It was quite a new concept to have kids that young be able to play. At that time, Dr Suzuki was coming to the States. I and another student were chosen to tour with him to teach teachers how to teach Suzuki. I was “The Suzuki kid.”
Can you tell us what the Suzuki method is?
It’s a by ear training method. It is taught as you would teach a language. You learn how to play before you do the theory. Students know the songs and when they get to play it’s a perpetual motion process where they get more and more involved because they can do it. It builds, like a ladder, one skill on top of another.
I also do a group class every six weeks or so. The group class is when students can perform for each other, play together and listen to each other. It’s a different thing playing by yourself and playing with a group, so I make sure that opportunity exists.
In a video of one of your workshops on the internet it looks as if all the children are having fun.
Each song has a particular game and I switch up the games so the students don’t know which one is coming. They may have to play with the bow upside down, or one group plays the eighth notes and the other group plays the quarter notes, so they really have to know the songs. It’s all by memory. The children think the games are fun, so they practice at home knowing that they are going to have to perform in front of their peers. It’s a very healthy sense of competition. They don’t want to come back to the next workshop playing the same piece, so they work to make sure that they can go on.
As there is nothing to show where to place your fingers on a violin a good ear must be really important.
Absolutely. I tell my students, no matter how much your friends and family love you, nobody wants to hear the violin out of tune – nobody! It’s so important to have that ear training, which is another reason why I like the Suzuki method so much. Students really learn to play in tune. It takes a while before you start sounding good though. You learn a lot of things besides just the violin: you learn patience with yourself, you learn that dedication and discipline have their rewards. You get something out of what you put into it. It’s a process. Dr Suzuki actually writes a lot about how music makes you a better person, how it’s for the soul and that you need to use music in a positive way.
Do you think that anyone can learn to play?
Everyone can learn how to play if they start young enough, because we’re wired so that by the age of about thirteen our coordination is set. With the violin, and string instruments in general, you have to have a certain amount of coordination. Left has to go first and right has to go second. You have to have patience, you have to connect synapses and work at it. It’s a muscle-memory thing, so if you don’t practice it’s not going to happen.
You seem to have a very good relationship with your students.
I’m proud of them. I don’t have children of my own, so they are my children and I follow them. A teacher and students have a unique relationship. Particularly a music teacher because it’s really an emotional attachment. You’re helping someone to blossom, to express their emotions in a structured way, so it does tend to make a special relationship.
You perform as well.
I do. I’ve played in three different orchestras here in France and I also play at weddings as a soloist.
What are your projects for the future?
I’m actually looking to rent a studio space so that I can take more students. I don’t just have a waiting list to have lessons, I have a waiting list for certain time slots! I would like to be able to accommodate everyone, but at the moment I spend too much time commuting between students.
To find out more about Camilla, her classes and the Suzuki Method visit her website