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Expanding Students’ Vision and Opportunity at the Pascale Music Institute

Warming up for a PBS show outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (courtesy of Pascale Music Institute)

Warming up for a PBS show outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (courtesy of Pascale Music Institute)

Susan Pascale uses music to expand her students’ vision and opportunity.

By MARIO BOUCHER, Images courtesy PASCALE MUSIC INSTITUTE

Susan Pascale’s spirit soars when she teaches the violin and helps make a meaningful difference in her students’ lives. Those personal connections are the heart and soul of her work at the Pascale Music Institute. “Changing their lives through the music and changing for the better is absolutely what I would say is my life’s work,” Pascale says. “I provide a level of education that allows kids to play very well.”

She describes teaching her students, who range from 3-year-olds to retirees, as a challenge and a pleasure. She takes great satisfaction in seeing them succeed, gain confidence, and even a little swagger. “Every student is taught with the same techniques,” Pascale says. “I knew I was affecting their lives and that they would gain self-esteem, make friends, and that, even if they had challenges in language skills, they would use music to communicate with other kids just by playing their instruments together in groups.”

Music and art were a part of Pascale’s life growing up with artistic parents on Long Island. Her father played the trumpet while in the Army and later became an amateur violinist who inspired his daughter to learn the instrument. Mom was a painter, leading Pascale to draw ­ figures and become a cartoonist.

Pascale studied the violin at a conservatory in New York and graduated from the Parsons School of Design with a degree in illustration. When her marriage ended, Pascale worked four jobs to make ends meet while raising two children who faced their own challenges.

Pascale later remarried moved west in 2001 with her two children and new husband. The dynamics of her life changed after learning that the South Pasadena School District did not have an orchestra for her 8-year-old daughter to join.

“I knew that for my daughter to be successful she would need other kids to play with, so I offered a free violin class at Arroyo Vista Elementary to anyone willing to learn,” she says. “Twenty-­ five kids signed up. I guess you can say that was the unofficial start of my business.”

Flash mob orchestra in New York City (courtesy of Pascale Music Institute)

The South Pasadena Middle School hired Pascale in 2003 to form an orchestra and, a year later, she made a tape to enter a competition against high-schoolers at New York City’s Carnegie Hall. Pascale, 60 children, and 150 parents flew across the country for the event. “We worked super hard and ended up winning the gold,” she says. After the concert, the students marched downtown with an impromptu police escort.

Since its inception in 2001, Pascale Music Institute has taught the violin and other stringed instruments to people of all ages. “The beginning violin classes have no age requirement, so I can have a 5-year-old and an adult in the same class and they all learn the same way,” Pascale says.

“The program kept growing and growing,” she continues. “I ­first recruited young teachers from USC and, as the level of the program got higher, members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic (Michael Larco, Oscar Meza, Mitch Newman, and Tao Ni), LA Opera, and the L.A. Chamber [Orchestra] joined our faculty.”

Pascale is the author of Pascale Method for Beginning Violin Workbook and Practicing Is for the Birds: The Ultimate Practice Organizer with Reward Stickers. Her systematic approach is based on Ivan Galamian’s techniques designed for children. “I feel that music and art are very tied together so I designed the books with whimsical illustrations, colorful stickers, and worksheets to make it fun for kids to learn,” she says.

On America’s Got Talent (courtesy of Pascale Music Institute)

Pascale’s students have been featured on America’s Got Talent and in local and national TV commercials. “I feel good that I’ve broadened my student’s view of the world through these experiences,” she says. “It’s not about winning but the fact that they tried and went through the process. It’s the climb and the process that I’m interested in.

“In the end,” she adds, “I hope I’ve inspired music teachers to set up programs that make a difference in children’s lives. Years later, I found many of my students going to school in New York and doing things they never thought possible. My goal is to see that music can change anybody’s life.”

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