Virtuoso violinist returns to honor teacherLewis' mother, Alice Joy Lewis, was herself an accomplished violinist and teacher. But she wanted her son to learn from another instructor - in part to avoid conflicts - and was interested in the teaching method developed by famed Japanese violin teacher Shinichi Suzuki, which Allen still uses with the 20 students in her studio.
Starting in 1972 and continuing for 10 years, Alice Joy Lewis drove her son twice a week to Allen's house - once for a private lesson, once for a group lesson.
Special to the Journal-World
A young Brian Lewis takes a bow during a recital. Lewis, now 37 and a virtuoso violin player, has performed at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall and released seven solo CDs. He'll honor his former teacher, Eleanor Allen, during a concert Sunday at the First Baptist Church in Lawrence.
Allen says she could tell early on that Lewis would be successful. He would fiddle around with tunes he heard elsewhere, and at home he'd dance to the music his mother would play.
"He was a very enthusiastic little boy," Allen says. "He was excited about it. He was very quick learning. His drive to learn was intense."
Today, Lewis credits Allen for setting his musical foundation.
"Mrs. Allen was such an incredible influence on me," he says. "She was an amazing teacher for me. She had such great focus. She was very calm. She was very loving and nurturing but also knew exactly what she wanted from us.
"Your most important teachers really are your first teachers. They set you up. They set up your technique on the violin."
Alice Joy Lewis went on to found Ottawa Suzuki Strings. She and Allen would go to conferences on the Suzuki method, which stresses an early start on the violin and parental involvement. They'd often take Brian along.
"He always loved her, from age 4 to his current age," Alice Joy Lewis says. "She's extremely encouraging. The way she taught, she called for a right standard of playing to prepare people for a career in music."
Lewis, who started giving private lessons at age 15, continues to return each summer to teach at the Suzuki Strings' summer music programs, and he owns a home in Ottawa. Allen says it doesn't surprise her that Lewis continues to teach, considering the humble attitude he had growing up.
"I always admired the quality he had," she says. "He was better than the other kids in school, but he never made them feel like that."
Asked why she continues to teach at age 90, Allen replies simply: "I like it. I really enjoy working with children."
Special to the Journal-World
Ottawa native Brian Lewis is shown with his former violin teacher, Eleanor Allen, who still gives lessons at age 90. Lewis, who has released seven solo CDs, will perform a concert in honor of Allen at 4 p.m. Sunday at First Baptist Church, 1330 Kasold Drive.
Lewis figures his former teacher will never stop giving lessons.
"When you are such a dedicated teacher, it would be inconceivable to stop. Why stop?" Lewis says. "She is as active as she has always been, and sharp as a tack, and very much able to do that teaching. I imagine she probably will teach for at least another 15 or 20 years. Seriously."
Lewis' performing and teaching schedules keep him busy these days. He says he'll be home five weekends between September and the end of the year.
Playing on Sunday in the First Baptist Church sanctuary, where his parents attended while they were students at Kansas University, might not be as glamorous as performing solo with a world-class symphony. But he says every concert is important - especially when it's meant to honor a special teacher.
"It doesn't matter if it's in Ottawa or Lawrence or Lincoln Center or Abbey Road Studios," Lewis says.
"My violin has really helped be a great passport. Not too shabby for a kid growing up in the middle of Kansas."