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The Story Behind PSS

Updated: Jan 24, 2023

The Pineland Suzuki School for students age 3 to 18 was founded in Augusta by Kobayashi and Ellen Gawler, based on the principles of Sinishi Suzuki, in 1994.

“Ellen and I got our students together in our living rooms,” Kobayashi said. “That was the real beginning.”

Kobayashi said she started teaching music in Buffalo, N.Y. Then she studied for two years with Sinishi Suzuki in Japan where she met her husband, Naoto Kobayashi. She stayed five more years in Japan before moving to Maine.

Kobayashi said Suzuki, who lived to be 99, believed “all children could play music just like they could speak their mother tongue. If all Japanese children can speak Japanese, and all English children can speak English, then all children can learn to play music, he believed.”

“There’s a lot of listening at first. Then you play without looking at music,” said Kobayashi. “They continue to play the first pieces that they learn. Depending on their age, they probably wouldn’t read music for a couple of years. They start to read music separately.”

She said, “They learn to hold the violin. They learn to hold the bow and make a beautiful sound.”

Pineland Suzuki students take private lessons that cost from $30 to $50 per hour and group classes that cost from $245 to $370 per year. They can rent or buy their instruments. “We try to make this available for everybody,” said Kobayashi.

“With the economy the way it is, we have many more people who need scholarships,” she said.

Pineland Suzuki has students who come from as far away as Orono and Portland, though most are from the Augusta area.

“It’s really heartwarming to see how well kids can play,” Kobayashi said. “I think this is just the best investment people can make. It’s just so much more than music that the kids are learning.”

In a letter to benefit concert-goers, Kobayashi writes of Suzuki students, “They learn discipline, responsibility and teamwork. They learn humility. They learn the confidence that comes from knowing how to solve really difficult problems. They learn that attention to details really matters. They learn that preparation really matters.

“They learn that love, respect and kindness make a more beautiful sound.”

The benefit concerts will include a Christmas carol sing-along and will culminate with “Lord of the Dance,” which will involve all 100 students and feature dancing and singing as well as music.

Michael Warren of Augusta has a 10-year-old daughter, Georgia, who has been a Pineland Suzuki student since she was 7.

“My wife and I consider music a gift we can give to our daughter,” said Warren. “We are just amazed how far she has come in three years. They’re not just playing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.’ They are playing Beethoven and Bach. It’s like learning a language. We couldn’t be happier with the way she has progressed. When you have children at a young age working with music, it lends to creativity in other areas.”

Georgia Warren said of playing in concerts before a big audience, “It’s fun, but sometimes I get a little nervous. It means a lot to me because I really like playing it. It’s fun and enjoyable. It’s challenging sometimes, but it varies, too.”

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