Beloved piano teacher touched many young lives

A memorial fund has been set up in the memory of a beloved piano teacher who taught in Del Mar for more than 30 years.

Barbara Schneiderman, who taught the Suzuki method of piano out of her Del Mar home since the early 1970s, passed away in June from pancreatic cancer. Two parents of her students wanted to create a lasting legacy in her memory, so they set up a scholarship fund through the Coastal Community Foundation, an organization founded 20 years ago to be a resource for the coastal communities of San Diego to allow funds to be set up for a wide array of interests.

The Barbara Schneiderman Memorial Fund for Piano Enrichment, which now has more than $10,000, will be used to help economically disadvantaged but deserving piano students to attend a Suzuki camp or convention. The first scholarship will be granted in spring of next year.

Schneiderman began teaching piano in her junior year of attending Harvard University and continued teaching until her passing. She also received her master’s degree at UCSD and authored a well-known book on performance confidence, as well as wrote a regular column in the American Suzuki Journal.

Denise Stillinger, a parent of two sons, now aged 18 and 20 who took lessons from Schneiderman from second grade until they graduated high school, came up with the idea of a fund with another parent, Aileen Fricks. The two wanted to do something more meaningful in Schneiderman’s memory than buying flowers, according to Stillinger. She said Schneiderman was more than just a piano teacher to her sons, she was also a mentor and inspiration. Along with piano instruction, she talked to Stillinger’s boys about “being a strong and respectful human being” and “instilled a sense of integrity.”

“She was like a third parent to my children,” said Stillinger. “The lessons were more than just piano lessons.” Stillinger also said she hopes that her memory will live on through the fund so that even those too young to have known Schneiderman personally will know what a special person she was and how she impacted others. She also hopes the fund will promote the Suzuki method because there is currently a lack of Suzuki music teachers.

Tanya Schneiderman, Barbara Schneiderman’s daughter, taught alongside her mother, teaching younger students in the Suzuki method before turning them over to her mother when they became more advanced. She said that after her mother’s death she received letters from people who had taken piano lessons from Schneiderman years, even decades ago, explaining how they had used the skills she taught them in all capacities of life, not just music.

The Suzuki method of music instruction was originally developed in Japan for the violin and is now taught worldwide in many musical instruments. A child’s musical development is considered a three-way relationship between the teacher, student and parent. The parent is actively involved, sitting in on lessons. According to Tanya Schneiderman, it is called the “mother tongue” method because it is modeled after the way babies learn speech. Suzuki music students learn how to play by ear before they learn to read music. As a result, students know approximately 20 songs by memory at the end of the first book.

“It’s a very, very nurturing method which includes the parent as well as the student,” said Schneiderman.

A memorial concert was held in Schneiderman’s honor in Del Mar on Aug. 9. Four former students of Schneiderman’s performed, including a medical student just finishing her residency, a Web designer and a composer for the movie industry. The ages of the performers ranged from 10 to 36.

“It just shows you how far-reaching she was, how many generations she touched,” said Stillinger. “It was touching, to say the least.”

“She died way too soon,” says Schneiderman of her mother. “She had another 20 years in her at least. She made everybody feel like she was their best friend.”

To make a tax-deductible donation to the Barbara Schneiderman Memorial Fund, mail a check payable to the Coastal Community Foundation at P.O. Box 230415, Encinitas, CA, 92023. You can also contact Sharon Omahen at (760) 942-9245.