Michelle Chinn Cannon and Dale Cannon operate the Community Suzuki Music School, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, that provides violin lessons to children and adults of all abilities, and specifically specialize in autism and children with disabilities. It was when two of their children were diagnosed with autism that the Cannons discovered the incredible power of music when it comes to connecting with children with disabilities.
In 2005, the Cannons moved to North Carolina for grad school with the goal of only spending two years there so that they could come back to Idaho, which is Dale’s home state. “We love Idaho,” shared Michelle, and they never thought they would end up staying in North Carolina for 15 years. But plans did change. It was in 2006 that their relationship with music and children changed. “I would play my violin at home for my graduate program, practicing four to six hours a day, not including time spent in the classroom,” Michelle shared. When her son would hear the violin music, his mood and behaviors would drastically change! “My youngest has the more severe form of autism and it would have this calming, soothing effect on him,” she explained. He would sit down and sway to the music as if he entered a brand-new world of peace and tranquility.
The Cannons were inspired to bring their music to the classroom, so they visited their son’s preschool classroom and began teaching violin to 21 students with autism. Of the 21 students, 19 of them learned how to play the violin. Michelle shared her amazement as she saw kids of varying abilities blossom with the magic of violin music. It was in 2009 that they created the Community Suzuki Music School.
Now Dr. Michelle Chinn Cannon has a BA in Music from Boise State University, an MM in Violin Performance and Suzuki Pedagogy from East Carolina University, and a PhD from the University of North Carolina in Greensboro where she researched music and the developmental neurobiology of autism. Dale Cannon earned a Graduate Teaching Certificate from East Carolina University and completed his Suzuki teacher training certificates. With their oldest child graduated from High School, the Cannon’s saw their opportunity to move back to Idaho and bring their nonprofit music school with them!
So, what is the Suzuki Method? On their website communitysuzuki.org, folks can read about the Suzuki Method and how it is based on a principle that all children have the ability to learn and develop through a nurturing environment. After World War II, Dr. Shinichi Suzuki studied children and observed how they learn to speak language, as well as how learning is applied to other skills such as music. Michelle and Dale Cannon teach violin with the Suzuki method. Lessons have always been in-person until the pandemic hit. For more than a year, they have taught strictly online. They still have many of their North Carolina students taking lessons from them online, but they are in the process of transitioning back to in-person lessons only. They are currently taking new students in the Weiser, Idaho area.
Michelle explained that children with special needs are often drawn to music, and the results they have seen over the years are truly incredible. One quick story she shared was about a student of her husbands that was 15 years old at the time and unable to write. After years of instruction and special help to develop this skill, teachers almost gave up on developing his writing skills. After beginning violin lessons with Dale Cannon, this student miraculously began to write. “Music can transfer to other skills,” said Michelle, and with a loving and encouraging environment that doesn’t focus on developmental scales, students are able to build on accomplishments with pride and celebration.
Michelle and Dale are currently in the planning process of creating a “Family Fiddle” class through the Bee Tree Folk School here in Weiser. They have this idea to bring affordable beginner lessons to those who wish to learn. Families would be invited to come down and receive instruction by donation and make some new friends, too! The nonprofit music school has 30 violins that would be available to use during instruction. “With Weiser being such a great community that loves Fiddle music, we thought this would be something fun to bring to town,” Michelle shared. When plans are finalized for this potential project, they will share that with the community to generate some interest. So be on the lookout for more information this coming Fall!
For more information on the Community Suzuki Music School, be sure to “like” their Facebook page “Community Suzuki Music School,” and visit their website at communitysuzuki.org. Folks can also call Michelle Chinn Cannon at 208-550-9740 or send them an email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
*Photos courtesy of Michelle Chinn Cannon