Kokoe Tanaka-Suwan


Kokoe Tanaka-­Suwan ’03, violinist, has performed throughout the United States and countries abroad including England and Germany.

Currently the Music Director at the Bronx Global Learning Institute for Girls (BGLIG), Dr. Tanaka-­Suwan developed a music curriculum using the Suzuki Method where all 450 students receive violin instruction. Under her direction, BGLIG’s music program has received international recognition and been highlighted in The Daily News, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, New York Public Radio Station, The Strad Magazine, The Guardian, NBC News, CBS News, Pix 11, News 12, among others.

Dr. Tanaka­-Suwan and BGLIG’s music program are featured in the 2017 Academy Award nominated documentary film, ‘Joe’s Violin’, which celebrated its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, its international premiere at the Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival, and has been shown at film festivals across the world. Under the tutelage of Dr. Tanaka-Suwan, BGLIG is the recipient of two prestigious grants from Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation and is recognized as one of the leading public school music programs in the United States.

Dr. Tanaka­-Suwan performs with her BGLIG String Orchestra at various concert events including at New York Public Radio Station, Carnegie Hall, Montclair Film Festival, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yankee Stadium, among others.

Dr. Tanaka-Suwan has taught undergraduate and graduate students at Rutgers University and Columbia University.

Dr. Tanaka-Suwan holds a New York State Teaching Certificate and a Suzuki Teaching Certificate. Dr. Tanaka-¬Suwan received her Bachelor of Music degree in violin performance with a concentration in music-¬in-¬education from the New England Conservatory. She holds a Master of Music Education degree from Teachers College, Columbia University. She completed her Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees in violin performance at Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts. 

What motivates you in your work as a music educator? My motivation for being a music educator is a passion for teaching and incorporating music into the lives of my students. I think that it is so important to infuse arts education into the daily lives of our youth. This education helps them to develop the tools to tackle various issues in all subject areas and provides a necessary outlet to express themselves.

Teaching has truly shaped who I am as an individual and performer. Through my experiences, I have learned how to articulate and explain musical concepts then connect them with relevant ideas so my students can learn on multiple levels.

How did NEC affect the way you think about and make music? NEC gave me the foundation to be a well-rounded musician and the drive to always want to learn more. I had wonderful teachers, including Masuko Ushioda, who was nurturing, attentive, and instilled within me the work ethic need to reach a higher level of performance. The exposure to various musicians, students and educators who all shared a passion for music, motivated me to explore new ideas and creative paths.

What advice would you give to NEC students interested in teaching? I think that it is important to explore different teaching environments, observe various studios or classrooms, and immerse and familiarize yourself with many methodologies and practices as possible. It is helpful to have a strong base to grow from as an educator and always be open to new ideas to facilitate a creative, open, and safe learning environment for all students.

What is your most memorable music experience? As a performer, I will never forget the first time I played on the stage of Carnegie Hall. I can still remember how I felt with the music soaring through my body, to the tips of my fingers, reaching the very corners of the hall. The energy and excitement was indescribable! One of my proudest moments as an educator, was leading my students at an event for New York Public Radio Station. We had worked so hard to perfect this piece for the performance.From the moment we began playing, I felt how the world seemed to stop, and together we were immersed in the magical moment of making music. What an incredible memory!