The history of the Copper Country Suzuki Association is an example of the ideal in the public-private partnership, assisted by a miracle or two, which has brought enrichment to our community and joy to our children for thirty-five years.
In 1971 the Copper Country Intermediate School District received a state arts grant to purchase child-sized violins (most of which are still in use) to be used in a Suzuki program. The teachers in the early years of the program essentially donated their time and put a great effort into recruiting young students. As a university community, we will never have a shortage of students.
Seventeen years later, both teachers were ready to retire. About thirty students were left in a lurch and Michigan Technological University was in need of a concertmaster who could lead the string section of the Keweenaw Symphony Orchestra. In cooperation with Michigan Tech, the CCSA commenced a national search for someone who could fill both roles. The local community was tremendously supportive and many individuals and businesses made contributions. Public schools provided lesson space, and churches hosted our concerts.
Once the CCSA had shown its determination and commitment, the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA) began to give major financial support. Eventually two full-time teachers were needed. A Suzuki-trained teacher was hired in order to increase participation at younger age levels while the concertmaster worked with older more advanced students. A youth orchestra was formed, which brought together musicians from several school districts. This was an important contrast to the small school programs and strong athletic rivalries in our area. Just after our 25th anniversary, the Houghton-Portage Township Schools brought a professional cellist to our area through an Artist-in-Residence grant. Early collaboration with this artist/teacher provided an opportunity for the CCSA to offer high-quality low string instruction along with its already strong violin/viola program.
The last few years have brought some changes to the CCSA, and we are headed for a bright future. The current director of the program is a violist and violinist with a strong background in composition and theory. After our former cello instructor (the Artist-in-Residence) left the area, we were able to hire a part-time cello instructor who also has expertise in conducting. In the fall of 2002, we established the Keweenaw Youth Symphony Orchestra (KYSO). This orchestra is comprised of our more advanced string students and students from the local public school band programs and, under the direction of our cello instructor, has grown to include more than 30 young artists. The KYSO provides two free concerts per year in the MTU Rozsa Center and at least two in-school programs per year. In the fall of 2005, we added Suzuki Piano to our program. Our piano instructor also teaches our new Music and Movement class designed for children 2- to 4-years old. An anonymous donor has set up an endowment for the CCSA through the Keweenaw Community Foundation, allowing us to look toward a more secure financial future.
Two great strengths of the CCSA are its flexibility and its collaboration with other community arts programs. It is not easy to attract teachers to the Copper Country, but we have consistently been able to secure high-quality artist/teachers who provide top-level musicianship along with learning opportunities for aspiring community members of all ages and abilities. Our children are enriched by each and every teacher who comes to us. The relationship between Michigan Tech and the Copper Country Suzuki Association involves cooperation and communication because we need each other. Like the children and the music, we are working together to create something beautiful.