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The Story Behind The Person: Suzanne Garriock, The Violin is a way of life


by Jonathan van Bilsen


Music is a fundamental trait, which many people experience, whether it is listening to your favourite tune, playing an instrument or simply singing along with the radio. I have had the pleasure of interviewing several musicians, and I am always excited to learn more about an industry, which is such a large part of our lives.

I recently sat down with Suzanne Garriock, a violinist, a drummer and an educator. Originally from the east end of Montreal, her family moved to the country when she was in her early teens. Suzanne grew up in a musical environment. “I have 27 cousins”, she explained, “All of which are musical.” It seems most of Suzanne’s cousins played either the cello or the violin.

“When I was eight, I was hooked,” she acknowledged.

Suzanne came from a modest home, so convincing her parents to buy her a violin was a challenge. I asked if her immediate family was musical. “My dad was a tenor, and my mother was tone deaf,” she said, laughingly.

The Suzuki music program was a major influence in the lives of many students, especially as there was a French version available. It encouraged parents to learn alongside their children, which is how most of Suzanne’s cousins learned to play. The violin is the most difficult instrument to master. The technique of playing a stringed apparatus takes many years of practice.

Suzanne moved to Ontario when she was in her mid-twenties, but with the intent of only staying a year. Her main determination was to learn to speak English. One year turned into two, which became three. Suzanne was teaching grade eight, hoping to become full-time. She was subsidizing her income by playing violin with the Ontario Philharmonic and the Scarborough Philharmonic orchestras, as well as performing at weddings and many other events.

“I always saw myself as a high school teacher, but they offered me grade one, and it sounded intriguing, so I took it.”

Suzanne had wanted to be a teacher for as long as she could remember. At 17, she decided to pursue a career in science, but when she ended up in Ontario, with a desire to learn English, she worked in a school to better her command of the language. “It also brought back my love for teaching.” For the next 33 years, Suzanne taught French immersion.

One day, during ‘Show and Tell,’ a student brought her violin. Suzanne explained to the first grader, she also played violin and suggested they play a little after school. They decided to practice together during recess, at lunch, and whenever the opportunity arose. The little girl went on to become a famous violinist and today plays professionally.

When other children saw Suzanne and her protégé practicing, those who played violin also joined in. That was how the R.H. Cornish violin club was born. Just prior to the pandemic, there were 60 students in the club, which Suzanne had been overseeing for 25 years.

When the pandemic first began, all extracurricular activities were cancelled indefinitely, so Suzanne asked for the violins, belonging to students, to be sent home. Others, which had been donated or had been purchased by Suzanne herself, sat in storage.

When Suzanne retired last year, she was left with 22 violins. There was no one who took up the gauntlet of mentoring a violin club, so the dilemma of what to do with these instruments became an issue. Several instruments were stored at the school board’s offices, which had to be moved.

Suzanne was approached by Strings Across The Sky, a not-for-profit organization, founded in 1987 by the late Toronto symphony violinist, Andrea Hansen. Their mission is to introduce youth to violins, guitars, and musical performance.

They took all the instruments, repaired those which needed work, and sent them, along with instructors, to Indigenous communities in Northern Ontario. Violins were instrumental in the early days of Indigenous and European interaction. “They were extremely pleased to receive the instruments, and they asked me to play in Parry Sound with them in a few weeks," Suzanne said, proudly.

Suzanne had always wanted to do more for children in music, especially those who, through physical challenges, were unable to play the violin. She began teaching drumming, which was another successful venture for this very giving educator.

Currently she plays with the Durham Chamber Orchestra and is very involved in the music scene in Durham Region. To find out more about Suzanne Garriock, watch the October episode of the Jonathan van Bilsen Show, on Rogers TV and YouTube.

Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award-winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. His show, ‘The Jonathan van Bilsen Show’, on RogersTV, the Standard Website or YouTube, features many of the people included in this column.

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