Donna Lim

Donna Lim and student

Donna with her former violin student at Davies Symphony Hall, 2023

In 1979, Donna Lim took her first trip to Japan. She stayed there for 60 days because she thought it would be the only time she would get to study with Dr. Suzuki. She discovered the kindergarten there and spent non-practicing hours watching Yano-sensei. One day, Suzuki gave her a tasseled calligraphy scroll that he wrote by hand saying “Man is a son of his environment.” It started her thinking that there was minimal music in Covelo though she had a small Suzuki violin program.

Acting promptly on your thoughts is one of the tenets of Suzuki’s philosophy. A couple of chapters in Nurtured By Love are:

He stressed the importance or acting on one’s thoughts. And since the calligraphy was taken as a sign, Donna went home and started the Music in Round Valley Concert Series (mostly San Francisco Symphony musicians) to expose the community to music; and every Christmas, she convinced the choir and orchestra of the Old First Presbyterian Church of San Francisco to come up to play a concert, donating their time in exchange for being housed and fed with the good folk of the valley and donating all proceeds from the concert for music scholarships to Round Valley students. During the days, she was the kindergarten teacher for the Round Valley School District. She joined the Symphony of the Redwoods in Ft. Bragg, Ukiah Symphony in Ukiah, and played in the Mendocino Music Festival.

In 1984, she went to Japan to study violin and earned a teaching credential from Dr. Suzuki. After graduation in 1985, she went home and started a string program at the elementary and middle school. Then because the school nurse only came one day a week, she went and got her Emergency Medical Technician certificate and soon was a part of the Fire Department ambulance and fire crew for seven years. While there, she designed the fire department patch, won two Fireman of the Year Awards, was the first female president of a fire department in Mendocino County. She moved back to San Francisco after 17 years and took a job in the Dominican University Suzuki Program under Barbara Wampner and then got a job in San Francisco Unified School District as an orchestra teacher and joined the Disaster Medical Assistance Team CA-6, a federal agency designed to deploy to communities after a major disaster (think Hurricane Katrina and 9/11). After 9 years, she quit her public school job and got offered a job the following month to be one of the conductors for the Golden Gate Philharmonic, a job she held for 12 years. She sang for a year in the San Francisco Bach Choir. She played violin and viola in Symphony Parnassus.

She retired after 29 years from the directorship of the Northern California Suzuki Institute (held for a week each summer) in 2022. She plays lots of chamber music. She has a veggie filled “victory garden.” She is now one of the team leaders for the flower committee for the Fine Arts Museum, decorating the Palace of Legion of Honor and the deYoung Museum once a month. She enjoys doing agility with her dog, Gwynnie, who is constantly learning new tricks. One of the best things about having a dog is the violin students remarking, “She gets better every week!” It’s a trick because she gets to reply: “Guess who practices every day?”


You Play What You Are

Lessons from Matsumoto are not about just playing the violin, they are about being a complete person, who changes and improves the world, one who recognizes that we are all in it together, someone who realizes that the world is hard, and we must never sell out by giving up on ourselves or others.

Suzuki used the violin as his vehicle because it was what he knew, but his heart was ever with his kindergarten program. One of the requirements for graduation from Talent Education was to learn by shadowing a sensei. I chose Yano-sensei, who ran the kindergarten. I hope I did her proud when one of my kindergarten classes asked me to be the commencement speaker at their graduation from high school. Here is the excerpt from the speech I gave, encapsulating my interpretation of Suzuki’s ideas for a better world:

Excerpt from Round Valley High School Commencement Speech:

…I know that you can't wait to be adults. Some of you think that you are all grown up already. But adulthood isn't an age, it's a threshold of understanding:

Now you sit before me, ready to graduate from high school. To the class that dared a great many things, I dare you two more:

First, I dare you to dream. I dare you to dream of the kind of world you would like to live in, and then I challenge you to change yourself into a tool to find the ways to help you to realize that dream. It will be hard, and I know that some of you will fall down many times along your road. But I also know that all of you fell down and got up, fell down and got up, many, many times before you finally learned to walk. You had this determination before you were three years old. You can have this determination now.

Secondly, I dare you to care. I dare you to care enough about yourself to keep yourself safe and healthy both in body and soul. In a world where words are cheap, I dare you to care enough about your family and your community to show them that you can and will help. I dare you to care even though the price of caring is often pain and sorrow. I dare you to care because the price of not caring will turn your heart to stone…

Photos in Japan

Donna in shuji class

Donna’s graduation recital