Jessica Altfillisch may not have started playing the viola until she was in fourth grade. But today some of her own students are just three and four years old.
Altfillisch is owner of Cedar Rapids Suzuki Academy in Cedar Rapids, where she offers private and group violin and viola lessons in the Suzuki method.
“The Suzuki method is early childhood education-focused,” she said. “It’s a teaching philosophy that nurtures the student and adjusts to the needs of the student.
“It builds character through arts education.”
In Japan, she noted, there are years-long waiting lists for students to participate.
“Parents often learn to play through this process so they can help their child learn. They are their first teacher,” she added.
Altfillisch said people are often surprised that children can start lessons at such an early age — her students range from ages 2 through adults.
“Teaching such a huge age range keeps me on my toes,” she admitted.
“I can’t teach a 4-year-old the same way I’d teach a 16-year-old or a 40-year-old. The sheer variety of it all is great and I enjoy working with all of them.”
Altfillisch has some 35 students taking private lessons, and she offers three group lessons per week.
In those group lessons, Altfillisch said, “We reinforce technique and play some games. But being surrounded by friends who do the same thing as you is affirming.”
Altfillisch has been teaching violin for the past 17 years — after studying music at the University of Northern Iowa and the University of Kansas — in a variety of school settings. She opened her own studio three years ago, and come autumn Altfillisch will add two instructors to her studio.
“It is transitioning from a single teacher to a real, cohesive school and that is really exciting,” she said.
Altfillisch — who has played in such unique places as St. Petersburg, Russia — said her own children didn’t realize not everyone played an instrument until they started elementary school.
“It’s neat to show students that when they learn to play the violin the can share that with anyone anywhere, that if they visited China they wouldn’t need words because they could play and have something in common.”