​Violist is ‘master’ at drawing out best in Suzuki students


Forty years ago, Dave Becker wanted to be a professional violist. Several hundred music students are glad he expanded his repertoire.

“If I had just done that, I would have had a much more one-dimensional career.” Instead, Becker combined his love of playing with his keen interest in teaching and “helping others love this as much as I do.”

Becker has been a successful performer in chamber groups and symphony orchestras from New York City to Victoria, British Columbia. He’s performed with violinists Itzhak Perlman and Joshua Bell, with singers Luciano Pavarotti, Marilyn Horne and John Denver and with the pit orchestra for Joel Grey’s Cabaret.  A highlight of his career was performing Dvorak’s cello concerto with Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich.

Throughout that time, Becker taught viola and violin. For the last 20 years, he’s focused on teaching at the Aber Suzuki Center at UW-Stevens Point. He will retire in June.

“Mr. Becker is a master teacher,” said Pat D’Ercole, director of the Aber Suzuki Center, during a tribute concert April 27. “He is the consummate artist. Everything he does – his teaching, conducting, accompanying—is done with perfection and is always first class.”

The Julliard-trained musician returned to his hometown of Stevens Point after he and his wife, Patti, independently decided to be closer to nature and family. Jobs opened in their respective areas of expertise at UW-Stevens Point just as they explored the move.

The music education methods developed by Shinichi Suzuki emphasize musical and personal growth through individual and group instruction. The Aber Suzuki Center uses these principles to nurture and inspire students from an early age. As they develop technique in violin, viola, cello, bass, piano, harp, guitar, voice or dance, students incorporate this philosophy into their lives.

Parents play an important role in reinforcing and motivating their children to embrace Suzuki philosophy.  As a result, Becker has gotten to know parents, siblings and extended family of his students. Some trained with him from age 4 to 18, and strong bonds developed over those years.

Becker knows how to draw out the best in his students and to improve their performance, D’Ercole said. “His calm demeanor, artistry and attention to detail have developed the musical skills of a generation of students.” 

Becker founded the Central State Chamber Orchestra in 1999. The goal was to further develop skills of advanced string students in junior and senior high school from throughout central Wisconsin. “I wanted something as inclusive and high level as possible,” he said.

Becker also coaches the Aurora String Quartet, which has had many different members over the years.  He has been an accompanying pianist for students on monthly recitals, senior recitals, solo and ensemble festivals as well as with faculty on viola and piano. He will continue accompanying students.

“Music is meant to be shared,” he said. “That’s always been one of my favorite parts of the job.”

Many of his students have won the Central Wisconsin Symphony Orchestra concerto competition, performed in master classes at Suzuki Association of the Americas conferences and gone on to prestigious music schools such as Oberlin, Yale, UW-Madison and Rice. 

Some of his students have pursued performance careers, like Jane Mitchell, who will return as a guest artist with CWSO next fall. Others are studying to be doctors, attorneys or other professionals. “They take the skills, the perseverance and hard work they developed in Suzuki and it helps them achieve in their chosen fields.  I couldn’t be prouder,” Becker said. “In all cases, music is something they’ll hold dear for the rest of their lives.”​ 

Chamber group plays finale

The Central State Chamber Orchestra will present its final concert Saturday, May 10, directed by founder Dave Becker. 

Free and open to the public, the concert will be held at 7:30 p.m. in Michelsen Hall in the Noel Fine Arts Center at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. A reception will follow. 

In its 15th season, the orchestra is made up of advanced, junior high and high school-aged string players from central Wisconsin. Next fall, the CSCO will be replaced with the Central Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra Program. This group will include winds, brass and percussion for grades 9-12, a string ensemble for grades 6-8 and a junior wind ensemble for grades 7-9.