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Remembering Theodore Brunson (4/17/26 - 6/7/09)

08/27/2018 9:41 AM | Anonymous

Written in 2009 by Glen Campbell, Suzuki cello teacher and friend.

The two times I had the good fortune to meet Dr. Suzuki, I was with Ted Brunson. Ted introduced me to Dr. Suzuki and to the Suzuki method, as he had done for so many other students and teachers in his long teaching career. Ted’s introduction to the Talent Education method was in 1959 when John Kendall visited Mankato State University where Ted was teaching in the music department and at the Campus School. Kendall shared his concern that financially disadvantaged children in the U.S. wouldn’t be able to afford true Suzuki instruction. Kendall proposed that they jointly develop an adaptation of the Suzuki Violin Method for use in heterogeneous string classes in the public school. Ted went on his own with the idea and started an adapted Suzuki method string class in the Fall of 1959 and by Thanksgiving presented a 12-member Suzuki string class accurately performing the Twinkle Variations-a thrill for the schools’ PTA. The success of the program inspired the school’s principal to write an article, An Administrator Views the Suzuki-Kendall String Method that was published in the American String Teacher, 1963.

Of course, Ted was no stranger to teaching. Following his discharge from the Navy after the Korean War, he developed an award-winning string program at the Junior high school in Rochester, MN where he taught from 1949-1959. In 1964, while at Mankato State, Ted received a grant to produce a film, “The Adaptation of the Suzuki-Kendall String Method for Heterogeneous String Classes: featuring the Wilson Campus School String Players of Mankato State University. Ted was subsequently invited to lecture and show the film at state and national education conventions in the U.S. and Canada. After a year’s sabbatical in 1965-66, spent at the University of Arizona where he finished course work for his doctorate, Ted accepted a job at SDSU (San Diego State University) founding a Suzuki String Program at their request, which began in 1967. During the years that followed, Ted continued to direct this program as well as teaching violin and viola, string classes (using his adapted Suzuki method), string pedagogy, Suzuki string pedagogy, string chamber music ensembles, string music education, thesis writing and research, and serving as violist in the faculty string quartet. He gave a recital every year as well as playing two seasons with the San Diego Symphony and Opera. 

The summer of 1968 found Ted in Japan studying at the Suzuki Summer School. During the summer of 1969, Ted organized and presented a 3-week SDSU String Pedagogy workshop. The three guest instructors were Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, Samuel Applebaum and Yoshiko Nakajima, each of whom taught for a week. Thirty students from his Suzuki program served as the basis for teaching and demonstrations.

Ted taught at and directed two of the first three American Suzuki Institutes-Southwest along with Elizabeth Mills. Approximately 1000 participants attended the Institute held at SDSU. Ted’s program at SDSU steadily grew and in 1974 twenty of his students appeared as unison soloists with the San Diego Symphony in the first movement of the Bach Double Concerto. This student performing group (ages 8-14) also performed at the 1974 MENC biennial National Convention held in Anaheim, CA. Ted taught at Institutes throughout the world.

In 1980, Ted was selected to give the first teaching and lecture demonstration of the Suzuki Violin Method on a national television network (The NBC-TV Today Show). Ted was invited to appear at the 4th and 5th (1979, 1981) International Suzuki Method conferences where he presented his students, his teaching and his own pedagogical publications. In 1983, Ted was honored by being selected by Dr. Suzuki as one of 17 non-Japanese Suzuki teachers to teach at the 6th International Suzuki Method Conference held at Matsumoto, Japan. Ted was also invited to teach at Conferences in Australia and Korea.

Ted was always interested in finding ways to help his students perform to the best of their potential. Through his brother, an educational psychologist, he discovered the Alexander Technique, introducing me and others to this technique by bringing Marjorie Barstow, the renowned Alexander teacher who had trained and worked closely with Alexander, to SDSU for a week of lectures and demonstrations. Following this he brought local Alexander teachers to SDSU to demonstrate the technique to both his college and Suzuki students, setting up regular training programs for each. Continuing along this line Ted invented the Brunson Practice/Performance Podium (a modified small trampoline) for improving the use of the body and, consequently, tone production, also encouraging his students to play while seated on Scandinavian Balans chairs. Ted’s inquisitive mind was always on the alert for new ways to help students perform better.

I will always remember Monday night group lessons with Ted demonstrating and correcting many cases of “collapsitis”, “droopitis” or “helium elbow”, the nights when he “lost” his up bow and we played our Twinkles with all downs. And who could forget the “health food” cookies for treats. Ted shared with me that a big part of the job of directing a program of this kind is moving furniture. And it was true. I spent many Monday nights after the students went home helping him move chairs back into place. He was the kindest man I have ever known. I never heard him speak badly of anyone. Many of his former students came to visit and play for him in his final year or two as he battled the effects of Alzheimer’s, a testament to their deep regard for him and what he had brought into their lives. I can think of no greater testament to the value placed on a person’s teaching than this. We are indebted to him for his pioneering work in the Suzuki Method. There would be no Suzuki String Program in San Diego without his work. He will be missed.

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