Many area residents may recognize the name Nina Karbacka, but only those who have had the opportunity to learn from her truly know how much love and inspiration she has to give.
Through her years as a teacher in the Jamestown Public Schools district she has taught at every school. But, most recently she spent the last 15 years at Washington, Lincoln, Love and Ring. And, although she has recently retired, the memory of her accomplishments will live on through the students, their parents, faculty and the entire community of Jamestown.
To celebrate her recent retirement, Karbacka traveled south to Florida to visit relatives and to enjoy the beach. Along for the ride were her husband Robert and her daughter Marie, who studied music at Mercyhurst University and graduated in May. But, before making her trip, she first received a few surprises from more than 100 of her students, alumni and guest artist Margaret Williams, a former Suzuki student, at the 36th Annual JPS Suzuki district concert on June 13.
Jamestown City Council Member Anthony J. Dolce and his daughter Amelia read and presented a proclamation from Mayor Sam Teresi declaring June 15 “Nina Karbacka Day” during the 36th Annual JPS Suzuki District Concert.
"I was absolutely flabbergasted by it," said Karbacka. "I am very appreciative of the recognition. It was a wonderful expression on the part of my students who planned that. But, I felt rather overwhelmed by it because I have enjoyed teaching for the past 40 years. I have enjoyed my students so much, and I've been blessed to have a job that I really loved."
The declaration of "Nina Karbacka Day" was made by Jamestown City Council Member Anthony J. Dolce, who represented Mayor Sam Teresi. Dolce's daughter Amelia, a student of Karbacka's, also helped make the presentation. The concert was Karbacka's final performance before retiring from the JPS district.
"It was much more exciting than I expected, and it was bittersweet," said Karbacka. "I love performing with my students, and I built the program for 36 years, so being the last concert was almost a sad experience. Yet, I'm very excited about moving on to new things."
Karbacka was also presented a portrait from the district by Board of Education President Christine Schnars, which will hang in the Jamestown Public Schools administration offices.
"It's going to be hung in a sort of hall of fame for those who have contributed to the JPS," said Karbacka. "It's a new addition to the building, and there are only two of us, Christine Schnars and I."
Although Karbacka has done much for the JPS district over the years, her journey to greatness started from humble beginnings. She had heard of the Suzuki philosophy of teaching in college, but she had never looked into it until the man who gave her her first teaching job, Russell Johnson, told her about a Japanese tour group with the Suzuki method at Allegheny College.
"He asked me if I would like to go investigate the program, and I was very excited to go and explore that concept," said Karbacka. "He and I were both very impressed by the performance of the children and the philosophy of the program. So, we further investigated it and eventually made a proposal to the board of education to start a Suzuki program in JPS."
Shortly thereafter the Suzuki method of teaching was adopted by JPS. The method is a philosophy of teaching students to play violin, that differs from the traditional manner. According to the Suzuki Association of the Americas, the method applies the basic principles of language acquisition to the learning of music, or the 'mother-tongue approach.' A few features of the Suzuki approach include: parent responsibility, loving encouragement, constant repetition and the idea that every student can learn.
Unfortunately, Karbacka is not sure what the plans are as far as continuing the Suzuki program at JPS. But, she did express her feelings on the importance of teaching youth music.
"Music is a very important part of every child's education," said Karbacka. "It teaches them many things which they can then use in their other studies. It teaches them focus, memorization and sequencing skills; it helps their reading, math and also teaches them that anything in the world is possible for them if they break it down into small pieces and work on it a little bit every day. So, through doing that with their music, they can learn that anything else that they do can be achieved in the same way.
Karbacka's beliefs in the Suzuki method even led to her having the opportunity to be a special guest of Shin'ichi Suzuki, the founder of the Suzuki method, in Japan at a national concert. She was seated next to Suzuki in an arena in Tokyo in the middle of 3,000 music-wielding children. She spent three weeks in Japan with her husband Robert, traveling to various cities to watch masters of their art in the process of teaching. According to Karbacka, it was one of the most memorable moments of her career, and a fitting plateau to enjoy the view of her accomplishments. And, as a result, she was inspired to bring much of that back with her to Jamestown.
The Suzuki philosophy teaches that given a positive environment, children will foster character. One of Suzuki's famous quotes states, "Where love is deep, much can be accomplished."
Karbacka supports that concept and believes that every child is talented in their own way. "It isn't a matter of taking a test to discover your talent," said Karbacka. "It's just a matter of putting them in an atmosphere where their talent can grow."
The success of Karbacka's choice to take on the Suzuki method cannot be measured in any one way. However, it is celebrated each and every time that one of her students accomplishes something they are proud of. One example is a previous student of Karbacka's named Jenna Anderson. She recently graduated from Cleveland Institute of Music with a master's degree in violin performance.
"I've had many students who have achieved and gone into music as their field," said Karbacka. "And, even more than that I have many students who have made music a major enriching part of their lives, even if it isn't their profession. One of the things that I tell the parents of students is that they are giving them a gift they can use when they are 65, and not much that you give your children will they be able to use in that manner."
The same holds true for Karbacka, who even though retired, continues to use her talents to enrich her life and that of others. She is already planning a new project, and invites those interested to attend an introductory meeting on July 11. For more information call Sue Ellen Carlson at 665-8090.
"I'm starting an inter-generational Suzuki program at Lutheran Social Services," said Karbacka. "I'll be teaching young children and seniors at the same time. It's something that's never been done before, and I'm extraordinarily excited about it. I think it will add a whole new dimension to their lives."
Karbacka is also the founder of the Chautauqua Regional Youth Symphony, a program committed to providing a fine orchestral and chamber music experience for outstanding young musicians, as well as enhancing the public school music programs and adding to the cultural offerings of our area. According to the current president, Tanya Anderson, Karbacka was a mentor, friend and teacher of a tremendous nature who provided her children with an outlet for their creativity.
"Nina has encouraged my daughter musically beyond belief," said Anderson. "She is just tremendous, and her commitment to kids and music is unparalleled in this community. I can't think of another person who has given so much of herself to one program and to so many kids. She will be missed in the public schools system."
Teaching children is in no way a one-way street. Children have much to offer the adults that surround them. And, Karbacka is a prime example of the importance of providing youth with a means to express themselves.
"Children come to a lesson, and to you, with such a wonderful, unique and fresh look on life," said Karbacka. "Learning takes place when there is mutual respect and love. So, if you listen to them and share with them, the best learning takes place. Because, if you give love to children, they give love to you, and if you love what you are teaching, wonderful things happen."