Natalie DeJong holds a Master of Music degree from Rutgers University. She began her studies at the University of Calgary and the Vancouver Academy of Music. She has attended trumpet and brass workshops in Alberta, Quebec, Chicago, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and Sweden.
Ms. DeJong now teaches trumpet at Mount Royal University Conservatory in Calgary. She has performed with a variety of ensembles, including Altius Brass, The Calgary Creative Arts Ensemble big band, the Prime Time Big Band, and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. She has performed with the Rodney Marsalis Philadelphia Big Brass in Pennsylvania and China, and has played the natural “baroque” trumpet with early music groups Musica Raritana (New Jersey), Concert Royale (New York City), the Swedish Baroque Orchestra (Stockholm), and Per Sonatori (Regina). Natalie also performed as principal trumpet with the Philadelphia Camerata National Symphony on a month-long tour throughout China.
Ms. DeJong developed a class called Funfare TM for young children to learn the trumpet and went on to train as a Suzuki Trumpet Teacher in Sweden in 2013. She returned to Canada to launch the first Suzuki trumpet program in the Americas at Mount Royal Conservatory in 2014. She is a member of the International Suzuki Trumpet Committee and thrilled to be promoting and sharing the concepts with other trumpet and brass players throughout Canada, the U.S. and beyond. Natalie is also a “Suzuki Parent “ as her son studies in the Suzuki piano program at Mount Royal.
SC: Tell us about your background as a musician and trumpet player—who have been your big influences?
ND: I grew up in Calgary with my earliest musical influences being all the classical records that my grandparents played for me in their living room. They loved listening to everything from Bach, Handel, Mozart, and Beethoven to Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky, and anything that might get played on CBC radio! I started learning to play the trumpet at age 12 when there was a chance to join the school band, and eventually private lessons led to post-secondary music school (University of Calgary, Vancouver Academy of Music, Rutgers University). I’ve enjoyed opportunities to play in orchestras, in chamber ensembles, in brass ensembles and brass bands, and in big bands… and one of my favorite things to do is to play baroque trumpet in period music ensembles.
My biggest influences start from age 12; my earliest private teacher, Linda Brown played 3rd trumpet in the Calgary Philharmonic and not only set up amazing opportunities for me (such as attending masterclasses in Chicago with Vincent Cichowicz), but she also set an incredible example of hard work and diligence in striving for the highest playing standards for her role in the orchestra…and an example of really beautiful trumpet tone too! I was also fortunate to have the sound of Jens Lindemann’s playing in my ear from that age, as the first trumpet player I ever heard live!
SC: What got you interested in teaching—especially early childhood trumpet teaching?
ND: I’ve always admired all of my teachers and their creative and musical ways of tackling the ‘little mysteries’ of trumpet playing. I find it exciting to gain some new ability on the instrument. It’s also fun to be able to explain it to someone else. I find that once I can explain it…and be understood, that I also learn even more from it. And the fun part is that communicating is not always via direct language, but sometimes through imagery. It’s fascinating to always learn something new about playing a brass instrument, and helping others do the same is fun.
I became interested in early childhood trumpet teaching when I had started Doctoral studies at Rutgers University with Dr. Scott Whitener (author of Complete Guide to Brass). I was working on a project about ‘Tension in Brass Playing’ and began thinking about instrument size (I’m a small person). It occurred to me that brass playing tends to be delayed until we’re “big enough” to hold the heavy brass instruments… but it also occurred to me that children are missing the opportunity to start very young on the trumpet like their friends who play piano or violin. When I propped my two-year-old son up with my big B-flat trumpet, he could create quite a beautiful tone…he just couldn’t hold the horn by himself. So, I put a pocket trumpet in his hands…and from that point, realized that small children really CAN learn to play the trumpet from a very young age-if we give them the right equipment and the opportunity!
SC: When did you take the Suzuki teacher training for trumpet? What was that experience like?
ND: I had already started a pilot project called FunfareTM which was a trumpet class for younger children, aged 5-7 or so, in 2011. I was very excited when I found out the first-ever Suzuki Trumpet Teacher training course would be held in Sweden starting in the fall of 2013. I had been looking for Suzuki activity in trumpet land for a number of years, because I knew it was such a wonderful way to teach a musical instrument to young children. At last I had found a trumpeter who had begun developing the method for Suzuki trumpet. How could I not jump on board?! There was so much to learn, (and there still is)! I was lucky enough to find a way to get myself to Sweden to take part in this first teacher training event. We were a group of four student teachers from all over: Poland, Spain, Ireland, and Canada, and we later joined a group of Swedish trumpet teachers who were also training to teach Suzuki trumpet. As you know, it was wonderful to work with Ann-Marie Sundberg, the world’s first official Suzuki Trumpet Teacher Trainer. It was a very collaborative atmosphere and everyone brought fun and creativity to the studio… I’m sure I wasn’t the only one feeling the joy of being like a kid again… approaching the trumpet with fun, games, and good music! Combining that with gaining a deeper understanding of the Suzuki Method and philosophy, made for a life changing experience. It added to my reasons for teaching and even to my own reasons for playing music.
SC: How would you describe the Suzuki philosophy in general and how the trumpet teaching fits into the world-wide movement? How is the trumpet school different from the other disciplines, in your opinion?
ND: The Suzuki philosophy encompasses ideas that are much deeper and farther-reaching than mere ways in which to teach a musical instrument; Dr. Suzuki had the goal of creating a better world. He devoted his life’s work to fostering a sense of happiness in children, and felt that he could use music as a tool to do so. If children could learn to play music from a young age, they would be raised to have good hearts: they would know the value and satisfaction of hard work, sharing, empathy, perseverance, team-work, and a host of other noble qualities. In essence, it is an educational philosophy that can be applied to the teaching of any skill or subject… to students of any age. The notion that “Any Child Can” is a belief that every child—every person—can be nurtured to learn something toward these goals.
Suzuki trumpet teaching is simply the newest voice in the world of teaching instrumental music in the Suzuki Method way. The Suzuki Method began with the violin, but has been applied to many instruments since Dr. Suzuki first brought his ideas to the world. There is much crossover from the activities used in other Suzuki studios. I believe there is much for Suzuki trumpet teachers to learn from Suzuki teachers of other instruments, and I believe that the trumpet method, as we are developing it now, will also give ideas back to those same teachers. What will be exciting to watch is how the Suzuki Trumpet Method impacts the larger world of brass playing in general.
The Suzuki “trumpet school” is different from other Suzuki instrument schools, in that much time MUST be spent in the beginning getting students to actually CREATE a sound, let alone a beautiful one! It’s not impossible to create a good sound from day one or two…but it’s also possible that it can take weeks for a small child (or any new beginner for that matter) to even create a sound. In the meantime, there are many musical and physical activities that are introduced that lead toward the creation of sound and eventually toward beautiful tone.
SC: Can you describe the process of getting one of your beginning students to play the trumpet for the first time? What are some common hurdles in this process that you have to overcome with the student to get them to be successful in this very important beginning step?
ND: I always aim to have students begin creating trumpet sound for the first time in the most natural, tension-free way possible. This all starts with a strong concept of tone quality and musical concepts: listening and watching is key to young students. Any beginner needs an image of how it’s supposed to look and sound.
We always start by forming an easy posture and natural breathing habits. I like to “coax” the lip vibration to start, using simple blowing exercises rather than “forcing” a lip “buzz” to happen. A common hurdles for many beginners is getting over the idea of “trying too hard,” which only creates tension and back pressure when blowing into the instrument. Beginner students often hit tones that are in between proper pitches on the instrument, so finding the “resonating” spots of each pitch can be a challenge. Because this can all take time—to simply get a centered and beautiful note on the trumpet—it is a challenge to keep students musically engaged in the meantime. This is especially true for the very young aspiring trumpet players who really want to press all the buttons and make songs come out! We do a LOT of singing and moving, and playing just on mouthpieces.
SC: What have been some of your success stories in your Suzuki teaching?
ND: So far, I see every child as a success story. Each child who has been a part of the program has learned SOMETHING valuable—which is the whole point! Musically speaking though, I will have my first student graduating soon from Suzuki Trumpet School Book One. He is a sensitive, expressive player, with a beautiful and naturally produced tone on the trumpet! There are several children within the studio who have taken it upon themselves to perform (all by memory, I might add) at school or community events by their own initiative. There are several more who have struggled with this or that, be it trumpet playing or behavioral issues, but each has grown in some way through the process of practicing regularly and persevering. The biggest success I can see, when I look at the program as a whole, has been the little nurturing trumpet community that has formed between parents, children, and even other trumpet teachers.
SC: What did you learn about teaching young children during your teacher training with Ms. Sundberg?
ND: Besides all the things that you learn from the children themselves—some having nothing to do with trumpet playing or abilities, but to do with things like their attention span or confidence levels—I learned that the parent’s role plays a huge part in the success of the child and the method. Ms. Sundberg’s ideas and materials are wonderful and support the Suzuki Method beautifully, but it is the relationship between teacher, parent, and child that determines the ultimate outcomes. Everyone is a partner in learning…and everyone is learning. So that’s been exciting!
SC: How is your studio different from other Suzuki studios in the world?
ND: I can’t imagine that my studio is all that different from other Suzuki studios in the world. We might have a different set of instruments, equipment, toys, and songs to work with, but our goals and methods are all based on the same ideas. What IS truly different at this point in time, is that the method for trumpet is new. It is new within the Suzuki community and certainly new within the trumpet and brass community as a whole. It is still in the beginning stages of development and will be for a very long time. We are not in a rush to find the perfect ways to teach very young children. I envision that, like a growing child, the Suzuki Trumpet Method will grow and mature alongside the young children who are enrolled in these first Suzuki trumpet programs.
SC: Has your Suzuki teaching experience shaped your teaching of older students?
ND: Absolutely! Basically all of the same concepts in the Suzuki method and philosophy can be applied to older students. Listening is key. Playing without sheet music is key. As are the ideas of taking one small step at a time, repetition, and providing loving encouragement. Two days after returning to Canada after my first trip to Sweden, I began applying the ideas to junior high and high school trumpet classes, hour after hour at a festival where I was teaching. Without putting any music in front of these multi-level trumpeters, we set about learning the exposition to Haydn’s trumpet concerto (all on Bb trumpets). I didn’t tell them how high or fast the notes would go…we simply listened, watched, played and repeated until pretty much every player was capable of playing most or all of the passages with the exception of a few younger players missing high notes. But no one stopped playing the SONG. The key thing I noticed was how naturally relaxed everyone was. Compared to the results of putting printed music in front of students first thing—revealing to them the range of pitches and rhythms and causing a whole bunch of tension and doubt—this method was more successful by leaps and bounds.
There are many ways you can use the concepts with older and/or more experienced students.
SC: What do you like to do in your spare time?
ND: I love to get outside and be in nature, whether it’s hiking up mountains, camping, or cross-country and downhill skiing. I love to draw and paint, and I’m starting to dabble in writing short stories. Mmmm, and if I really have spare time I like to cook good food!
SC: What are your aspirations for the future of your Suzuki studio and your teaching career?
ND: I would love to see the students in my Suzuki trumpet studio grow and develop into fine people and skilled, musically sensitive players. As the studio is still young, I am looking forward to eventually having a wide range of ages within the studio to see how the older Suzuki trumpeters will influence and guide the younger students. This is already beginning to happen, as I have enough students to begin to separate them by age and ability, and bring them all together periodically. I would like for my students to continue to perform in public and become confident in their performing abilities.
I’m always aspiring to learn more as a player myself so that I continually have more to share. Teaching can become stale if the teacher isn’t also continuing to grow. Ultimately, I love to teach people of all ages; my oldest student is now 83. I also love to connect with players and teachers of all levels. I want to continue learning from my new Suzuki colleagues and students, and ultimately begin to teach other teachers to teach Suzuki for trumpet…and all of the the brass instruments!
SC: Thanks so much, Natalie, for your time!
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Continue the good work!