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Jasper A Santoro
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Birth: Aug. 28, 1914
Montgomery County
Pennsylvania, USA
Death: Dec. 16, 1980
Lehigh County
Pennsylvania, USA

"I want to make good citizens. If a child hears fine music from the day of his birth and learns to play it himself, he develops sensitivity, discipline and endurance. He gets a beautiful heart."

—Shin'ichi Suzuki

Jasper Santoro was my violin teacher in the Suzuki method. From second to fifth grades, six students in my elementary school were privileged to study violin under his tutelage.

As the first such class in the school district, we were an experimental lot. Students of the "right" age (7 or 8) received various tests, and we were not told what they were for. I can remember only one of the tests - it involved listening to tones over headsets (headsets were very novel back then so it made an impression) and having to judge which tone was lower or higher, signaling which was higher by raising the hand that coordinated with the side of the headset it was on.

When it was all done and graded, we selectees and our parents were invited to a meeting where it was explained that we apparently showed some musical aptitude, and were being offered the opportunity to learn violin in this very new method. Developed in Japan in the 1940's and 1950's, the Suzuki Method itself was not new, but it was new to the United States in the 1960's. The district would supply the violins and Jasper Santoro would be our teacher. I cannot recall how many were there, nor if we all accepted, but my parents and I surely did, along with the parents of Timmy, Steve, Kevin, Amy and Liz.

It took time for the six of us to become the little stars of the school district. Mr. Santoro sized us all up, literally and figuratively, to help choose violins that would fit us. I remember befuddling Mr. Santoro a bit, he was smiling and kind, but evidently had some fit issues with me, saying I had a long swan-like neck. The problem was resolved with some adjustment of a violin with a higher chin rest. No doubt we all remember these fittings. It was thrilling to have a violin tucked under your chin, to have a bow placed in your hand, and being told how to assume the correct stance - it was a foretaste of the day to come when we would hold our instruments and actually know what we were doing.

Ultimately, we were excited to get our violins, all neatly packed in cases, with chunks of rosin wrapped in soft cloths inside a box in the case. I remember if you looked inside my violin, there was a peeling label that said it was a copy of an Antonius Stradivarius, and a three-quarter size.

You know how a child learning to play the violin sounds, screeching away; multiply that by six, and recognize that any teacher taking that on was a brave man.

The first years of the Suzuki Method center around learning by ear, not by reading notes. This was fortuitous for me because it helped develop my already good ear, and stood me in good stead when I would later sing and play guitar. Our first challenges were simple songs. I well remember the first time I played "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" flawlessly at home. Mom was doing housework while I practiced, and I realized three quarters of the way through that I had made no mistakes, and bit my lip while I sawed my way to the end. "Did you hear it Mom?" I yelled, and she yelled back that she had. Learning was work, but when the reward was perfection, you didn't mind too much.

Doing music by ear forces you to pay extra attention and respond quickly - if you noticed your note was slightly off, your finger would instantly roll or slide to the right place on the violin to correct that. With unmarked necks, violins are fretless instruments, and thus have no visual guide to show you where your finger should go, which again pushed your attention to sound, and not sight.

True Suzuki goes beyond simple "by ear" dictates - it is intended to create students who can recognize beauty upon hearing it, and who want to achieve and create it themselves. Initially you copied the sounds of recordings that came with your Suzuki books, but within time you learned on your own what sounded rich, mellifluous, and lyrical and could do it yourself, not in imitation but from your own heart. It made music a joy because it was about knowing and improving yourself, and not being corrected or disciplined. This corresponded with how Mr. Santoro taught.

From that simple beginning with "Twinkle Twinkle", we moved on to rhythmic variations of the song, and then onto simple gavottes, baroque, classical tunes and old folk songs like "Long, Long Ago". Even today I will hear Bach pieces and remember the fingerings.

Mr. Santoro was an excellent teacher, something I recognize better now in retrospect than at the time. He was an energetic, kind man, blunt, good-humored and patient. I didn't know the word for it back then, but he was a "Type A" - a very nice Type A. He had much of his Italian heritage in his mannerisms and way of speaking. He was, if memory serves, not a tall man, somewhat round, with a spirited grin. Though not a large man, he gave the impression of being physically strong. I later learned he was from Norristown, Pennsylvania, and had gone to Temple University. He appears on the 1920 census as a five year old boy with his family at 220 Ford Street in Norristown, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. His parents are Alfred and Josephine, both born in Italy but naturalized United States citizens. His siblings are Emma, Carl, Elizabeth and Vincent. Their father is a moulder in a foundry.

Mr. Santoro worked with us and with our parents. Parents were important to the process, since they were to reinforce what had been recently taught. If I remember correctly, at least one parent (usually moms in this "stay at home" mom time) had to be present at all the weekly group sessions where we learned bowing and picking (pizzicato) techniques, and learned how to play songs together in perfect unison. We became the chosen ones, the ones who were singled out to play at school programs, and even got to travel to events as an example of what our progressive school district was doing. I still remember going by bus to Harrisburg for the statewide educators' association conference, where we performed for the attendees. We tiny musicians were well received, and pretty excited that adults found us pleasing.

My ear served me well in those years. I was a decent student and kept up easily. In fact, I began taking pleasure in teaching myself new songs by ear. I remember being very pleased when I mastered the theme song from "The Banana Splits Show" (a Saturday morning show for kids) and "Shortnin' Bread" among others.

After some years, violin playing stalled for me as we moved into reading music. For some reason I found that nearly impossible to master - notes looked all the same to me, sort of floating around on the page, and I couldn't slow them down and count fast enough to figure out which line or space they were on. It wasn't until high school that another music teacher would catch my eye difficulties in an audition for a choral group. It wasn't until college that I would have tests that showed the difficulty my eyes had in working together. All I knew was that playing the violin went from fun to frightening, as I struggled to read music.

I don't recall how the group ended, if we all ended at once as we finished fifth grade and were ready to move on to the city's next school, or if we dropped out bit by bit, but I think the former is true. For the prodigies that we were, none of us went on to become famous violinists, but most of us (that stayed in my schools and I knew) stayed with music. Amy and Timmy went off my radar when they moved before high school, but Steve went on to play French horn and still plays guitar in a local rock band, Liz was the band teacher's daughter and stayed with music, Kevin was in band and orchestra, and I stayed with singing after guitar. If Mr. Santoro's goal was to make us accomplished violinists, that failed, but I think his hope was to enrich us with the joy of music, the feeling of notes and pitches and beauty, and give us an appreciation for all music - and that he accomplished soundly.

Family links: 
  Alfredo E. Santoro (1886 - 1954)
  Josephine (Giuseppa) La Bella Santoro (1893 - 1977)
  Kathryn T. Subranni Santoro (1917 - 2001)*
  Emma Santoro Martella (1911 - 1955)*
  Jasper A Santoro (1914 - 1980)
  Elizabeth E. Santoro Buchinski (1918 - 1991)*
  Vincent H. Santoro (1918 - 1993)*
  Alfred E. Santoro (1921 - 1976)*
*Calculated relationship
Saint Patricks Roman Catholic Cemetery
Montgomery County
Pennsylvania, USA
Plot: Section L-D, Lot 101, either grave 546 or 547
Created by: sr/ks
Record added: Oct 09, 2010
Find A Grave Memorial# 59856430
Jasper A Santoro
Added by: Jim Santoro
Jasper A Santoro
Added by: Jim Santoro
Jasper A Santoro
Added by: Jim Santoro
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