Eleanor Stanlis honored at Rockford College Music Academy's 20th Anniversary

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112550987031365.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jamie Johannsen’, ‘Leading the students at The Music Academy of Rockford College’s 20th Anniversary celebration, Rachel Handlin, is the string program director and co-director of the Chamber Music Camp at the Music Academy, where she has taught since 1996. ‘);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11255099191586.jpg’, ”, ‘Eleanor Stanlis: May 12, 1922 – Dec. 20, 2000’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112550999131377.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jamie Johannsen’, ‘The Music Academy of Rockford College Director Marti Frantz, Rockford College Distinguished Professor of Humanities, Emeritus, Dr. Peter J. Stanlis and Rockford College President Paul Pribbenow dedicate a bronze plaque in honor of Eleanor Stanlis, founder of The Music Academy at Rockford College. ‘);

On a perfect Sunday, Aug. 28, in our sublime Anderson Japanese Gardens, amid a program of students and faculty playing pianos, cellos, flutes, guitars, violas and violins, a memorial plaque was dedicated in memory of the late Eleanor Stanlis, founder of The Music Academy of Rockford College.

A perfect Sunday. Two artists, Nancie Kin Mertz and Kishio Shin Takeda, painted scenes of the musical late afternoon and evening, as the waters of Spring Creek lingered in the Gardens’ ponds and over the high rock waterfall. More than 450 people strolled the gravel and single-stoned garden paths, through the soaring wooden pavilion gate, and past the consummate tea house to three stages featuring solo, duet and group performances. The lone and clustered students, dressed in simple black and white, with their silver and wood-gold instruments’ hard-black protective cases, echoed the delicate Gardens’ superb arrangements and growth. Green flowering to mastery floated everywhere in the warm air, under wisps of cirrus clouds as the eye-shading sun set through the garden trees.

This bright occasion celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Music Academy was titled: “Music in a Japanese Garden: The Rockford, Kobe, Matsumoto Connection.”

On a trip to Japan next spring, Music Academy students will perform in traditional gardens and temples in Kyoto, Matsumoto and Kobe. In 1922, Rockford College and Kobe College established a sister college relationship and student exchange program. This trip will celebrate that unique connection, and Eleanor’s teaching of the Suzuki Method.

Eleanor’s bronze plaque, commissioned by her husband and Rockford College Distinguished Professor of Humanities, Emeritus, Dr. Peter J. Stanlis, reads:

Dedicated to the memory of

Eleanor Stanlis


The Founder and First Director of

The Music Academy of Rockford College

Violinist, Concert Master,

Suzuki Method Teacher Trainer.

believing life without music isn’t….

Rockford College President Paul Pribbenow gave the ceremony’s opening remarks, unexpectedly accompanied by his pre-school son, Thomas, who had to show his dad his toy cars. Pribbenow gracefully introduced Thomas and continued his thoughtful appreciation of Eleanor, as Abigail Pribbenow took Thomas in hand. Eleanor would have loved the humor of the sudden injection of more youth and smooth parental action into the program because parents and youth were her focus in her life and music.

Eleanor was one of the first teachers and teacher trainers of the Suzuki Method in the United States. She began to teach her daughter, Margaret Batjer, the violin, at age 3, along, with a few other students using the method.

As the Music Academy’s Web site notes: “Shinichi Suzuki called his method of teaching the ‘mother tongue method,’ and believed that children can learn to play an instrument as easily as they learn to speak their native language. A close parent-child relationship in an environment of encouragement, understanding, repetition, and imitation is necessary for this method to succeed. Children may begin at age 3 or 4.”

Talk about results! At age 13, Margaret soloed with the Chicago Symphony. She tours internationally as a violin virtuoso and ensemble member. She has been Concert Master of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra for seven years. She is also a professor in the Thornton School of Music at University of Southern California. She is married to Joel McNeely, who composes soundtracks for such movies as The Indiana Jones Chronicles, Flipper, Holes, Lilo and Stitch 2, The Heffalump Movie, and Terminal Velocity. She has two children, Claire, 6, and Joshua, 11.

Margaret said of the anniversary and her mother’s achievements: “I wish I could have been there. I think Marti Frantz has done a phenomenal job since my mother’s death. It has become a wonderful school. It has become evident how wonderful the school is as I look for schools for my own children in Los Angeles. She filled a great void in communities across America for children to fulfill their musical goals.”

The Music Academy has indeed grown magnificently in the last 20 years; but it actually began in 1974, growing from the small group of children taught in Eleanor’s house to what became known as the Suzuki Players of Rockford. Once she had 30 students, she decided to train another teacher.

In 1985, Walter Whipple, chairman of the Music Department, and Eleanor convinced Rockford College to sponsor the group, and The Music Academy of Rockford College was born.

In 1992, the Music Academy added summer music camps to the curriculum.

In 1994, Eleanor acquired the former dormitory Svenson Hall for the Music Academy. She enlisted students and parents into painting and renovating the old dorm into practice rooms and offices. Eleanor’s plaque would be displayed there.

The Clark Arts Center and, recently, the Emmanuel Lutheran Church are the sites for Saturday classes and performances. Including two full-time teachers, 23 teachers instruct the extensive curricula of strings, piano, flute, early childhood music, and Music As Pleasure for adults. The Music Academy now has a yearly enrollment of more than 740 students of all ages.

Considering the 740 students accents Marti’s achievement. At the time of Eleanor’s passing in 2000, enrollment had hovered around 400 students for several years. Yes, Marti has almost doubled that enrollment.

The Music Academy’s graduates continue their musical education with acceptance and enrollment at some very prestigious schools, says Marti, “One is at Oberlein College; two are in the Conservatory of Music at Indiana University; one is at New England Conservatory, and two are at the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music.”

This quality in quantity was the earmark of the anniversary celebration.

Before the event, cars were lined up on Spring Creek Road, waiting for parking. Overflow parking was provided by Keith Country Day School.

The garden docents were excellent and very helpful, especially considering the unusual format of the event and the large number of people in attendance.

Everyone enjoyed watching the works of the two internationally recognized artists, Nanci King Mertz and Kishio Shin Takeda, in progress. The paintings were offered at silent auction.

Marti gave the background for the events at the Gardens: “The parents of one of my former students, Sterne Roufa, came up with the idea for concerts in the Gardens. He is a docent there and had been talking long and hard to John Anderson about music in the Gardens.

“People have been stopping me all day about what a wonderful and sweet idea it was to have children playing music in such a pristine environment. For me philosophically, and as a teacher, the Music Academy asks students to play very sophisticated music. When I put them in that environment of music and the Anderson Japanese Gardens, it says I respect them enormously.

“There’s a deTocqueville quote, and I’m sure I don’t have it quite right, to the effect that Americans are very good about obeying their children. That was back in the 1800s.

“We have parents whose children obey them and me. We put very high expectations on our children, and we have turned around to have very good results,” Marti concluded.

Dr. Stanlis said: “I thought it was beautifully organized; of course, the weather was perfect. There was good cooperation between Rockford College and the Gardens. This was the second year they did this, and it was a historic event. Marti Frantz did an excellent job. She’s a very good organizer. That’s why Eleanor picked her out of all the musicians in Rockford to train, mentor and succeed her.”

Dr. Stanlis was Eleanor’s ultimate choice of quality. They knew each other as undergraduates at Middlebury College in Vermont. Years later, after raising separate families, they married, and Eleanor came to Rockford, when Dr. Stanlis was chairman of the English Department at Rockford College.

Dr. Stanlis studied on the undergraduate and graduate level with the poet Robert Frost. They became life long friends.

At the Univer

sity of Detroit, Dr. Stanlis put on the largest and one of the last public readings that Frost gave. Looking out into the sports stadium filled with people who came in by the busloads, Frost declared, “You’re an avalanche!”

Dr. Stanlis will be sending his ground-breaking book, with the working title of Frost: the Poet as Philosopher, to his publishers, Intercollegiate Studies Institute in Willmington, Del., this month.

Dr. Stanlis is also considered by many to be the foremost Edmund Burke scholar in the world. In 1968, he founded the American Society for 18th Century Studies; and in 1982, he was appointed to a six-year term on the National Endowment for the Humanities by President Ronald Reagan.

The following are his remarks at the anniversary dedication:

Tribute to Eleanor Stanlis

(At the unveiling of a plaque on Aug. 28, 2005, honoring her as founder of the Rockford College Music Academy)

By Dr. Peter J. Stanlis

In the course of my long life, I have known intimately about a dozen truly outstanding men and women, persons whose natural and acquired talents and achievements—in literature, law, politics, education, science, and religion—set them far above the ordinary, run-of-the-mill conventional people. Such persons leave their stamp upon the historical age in which they live. Such a man was Robert Frost. I regard him not only as the greatest American poet of the 20th century, but also as a philosophical thinker of considerable importance. Such a woman was my late wife, Eleanor. She had the kind of talent in music, as a performer and in the theoretical understanding of music, that we can encounter once in a lifetime. I had the good fortune and unique opportunity to experience her highly disciplined nature and humane temperament during the 29 years that we were married and lived in Rockford. And, I believe, it is highly significant that Eleanor possessed to a very high degree a basic conviction about art and life that she shared with Robert Frost.

The poet held that “belief is better than anything else, and it is best when rapt, above paying its respects to anybody’s doubt whatsoever.” He believed that in pursuit of any worthy enterprise, “you should go ahead on insufficient information” because “you’re always believing ahead of your evidence.” Beyond all knowledge, however inadequate, is our belief in ourselves, and in the value of what we wish to do. The ultimate faith, of course, is the belief in God, which belief gives us the moral courage and strength to persist in any worthy enterprise. In short, Frost believed in the power of belief itself. He once remarked that the founding fathers of the American republic believed our nation into existence. And by the same analogy, we can say that Jane Addams, in her works of charity and justice with the immigrants and poor in Chicago, believed Hull House into existence.

I would extend Frost’s analogy still further: Eleanor believed the Rockford College Music Academy into existence. To do this, she had to make full use of her immense knowledge of music. She also had to possess the moral courage and disciplined character to persist in overcoming the many obstacles that she knew obstructed her belief that Rockford College badly needed her vision of the Music Academy. Marti Frantz certainly can verify all that I say about Eleanor. After several years during Eleanor’s struggle to establish the Music Academy, she selected Marti to work with her. Eventually, Marti succeeded Eleanor as the administrative director of the Music Academy. They made an excellent team in giving shape to the Academy as it emerged in the unfolding future. Today, the Music Academy educates more than 700 students in music.

The Music Academy is Eleanor’s and Marti’s enduring legacy to Rockford College, and to the city of Rockford, and indeed to the entire metropolitan community of northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. From this broad geographical area, the Music Academy draws the best potential musical talents of our young people. But the Academy does much more. It educates its students in self-discipline; its students acquire the art of living in ways that endure for a lifetime. Eleanor shared with me my belief that the liberal arts and humanities provide the greatest kind of education available to human nature. As one of the liberal arts, music is a form of education beyond mere training for a profession or occupation to earn a living. Music includes an education that develops as an end in itself all that is best in human nature.

The Music Academy at Rockford College will provide present and future generations of students the best practical example of how the liberal arts and humanities create and enhance the normative aesthetic and social principles that are the foundation of a mature culture. The ancient Greeks valued music above other subjects and disciplines, because they recognized that like all of the liberal arts, music has the unique power to make war upon the chaos, anarchy, and depravity that constantly seeks to destroy or corrupt our civilized ways of life. Once we perceive the Music Academy in this light—as a vital instrument in the complex process of civilizing human nature—we will begin to understand and appreciate the importance of Eleanor’s achievement.

As President Pribbenow aptly said in his introductory remarks: “Eleanor Stanlis, founding director of the Rockford College Music Academy and Suzuki Program director, died as she lived, dedicated to her students and her chosen instrument, the violin.”

Eleanor’s dedication lives on and like Jane Addams, founder of the Hull House Community School of Music, the Music Academy will continue to seek: “to give thorough musical instruction to those children showing the greatest aptitude and to foster in a much larger group the cultural aspects of a musical education.”

Quotation by Jane Addams

Rockford College, Class of 1882

Nobel Peace Prize, 1931

Eleanor must be so proud.

You can continue to foster that pride by enjoying the upcoming Music Academy events in this anniversary year. Please go to their Web site at www.rockford.edu/music_academy for more information. Remember, the Music Academy is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit corporation, and any of your contributions are tax deductible. Help music, parents, students and Eleanor’s dreams continue to grow. Contribute today. The address is: The Music Academy at Rockford College, 5050 E. State St., Rockford, IL 61108.

For more history of Eleanor’s life, visit our Web site, www.rockrivertimes.com for an Online Exclusive reprint of our 2001 story, “Eleanor’s Song—1922-2000.”

From the Aug.31-Sept. 6, 2005, issue

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