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Modern Life: An Extraordinary Musical Family

Lucinda Ali-Landing, 47, violinist, executive director of the Hyde Park Suzuki Institute; Adjedmaa, 17; Kai Isoke, 8; and Ifetayo, 14. 

“Music transforms lives—it transformed mine,” says Lucinda Ali-Landing, who grew up on Chicago’s South Side and attended public schools. “I had a pretty regimented schedule between school and music lessons. I was lucky to have had parents who would pull me back in if I was crazy enough to try to be hanging out on the corner,” she explains. “They helped me navigate life and provided guidelines. I always had something to do—school, practice, performance.” For young people who aren’t fortunate enough to have that kind of strong support, she believes music can help change the trajectory of their lives and give them the right kind of focus.

Lucinda is a professional violinist who started playing at age 6. Her earliest memory is of her dad practicing his violin late into the night. Her next is of being at a violin lesson, first with her dad and then with other teachers. According to Lucinda, her father, James Holland, was a Renaissance man. The full-time Chicago police officer and part-time Spanish teacher played for several regional orchestras. His heart was always in the music, a passion he passed on to his daughters.

“My favorite thing about Lucinda is her sense of humor. She has a contagious laugh that cracks me up.” —Gregory Landing, 54, IT network specialist

Now Lucinda and her husband, Gregory Landing, have given that same opportunity to their children, who all started out playing the violin. “My big sister Carmen, a cellist, lobbied to have one of the girls learn cello. That child was Ifetayo,” says Lucinda. “Carmen is like a third parent. She’s a large part of the decision-making process when it comes to her nieces’ musical education as well as their overall development.”

It’s a collaboration that has paid off. Kai Isoke won first place in violin in the Sejong Music Competition last year, Adjedmaa received an honorable mention in viola in the 2017 DePaul Concerto Festival competition and Ifetayo’s talent has helped her win some major awards, including first place in her division in the prestigious Sphinx Competition this year. “My joy came when I saw her take the stage,” beams Lucinda. “Her attitude was ‘Today I am going to slay!’ and everybody in the audience could feel it.” But whatever prize she earned, the family knew she was a winner. “Last year she won second place, but she wanted first, so this year she took it. She stepped up the work.”

“Practicing never gets easier because you are constantly learning harder stuff. You just get used to it. But it’s fun for me–I enjoy it.” —Ifetayo

Ifetayo, who practices anywhere from two to six hours a day, can still get nervous before a performance...until she hits the stage. “Then I calm down a bit,” she says, adding that she feeds off her audience’s energy. “Everything gets better when I walk out there and see people smiling. I just go for it!”

The family is not afraid to go for it in everything they do. For example, Lucinda, in addition to running her music school, teaching and performing, also homeschools Ifetayo and Kai Isoke, and she’s very serious about their work ethic. “If you don’t work, you don’t eat in this family!” she laughs. “We even put the motto to a song. Everything revolves around teamwork, chores and taking responsibility, with everybody pitching in and the family collaborating to meet common goals. So far, no one has missed a meal!”

"All my girls started lessons just as soon as they could stand up, and each began with the violin." —Lucinda

When asked if she sees a connection between the discipline needed to succeed at music and the ability to focus and achieve academically, Lucinda pipes up enthusiastically. “Yes, absolutely! It’s the same discipline, whether you’re learning a new language, a new sport—anything you want to pursue and be good at.” She notes that it takes a great deal of dedication and fortitude to excel at music, but her daughters are all willing to put in the work. That’s because they enjoy the results. And while Ifetayo is interested in being a cellist, she also loves computers and hopes to pursue her options in the tech industry.

Lucinda and Gregory are making it all come together, and well. Both have children from previous relationships; Gregory has three grown sons, and Lucinda has her two eldest girls. “We had Kai Isoke, our youngest, shortly after we got married in 2008. We are a textbook blended family with blended family issues but lots of love,” says Gregory. They are both proud of how they have all grown and changed.

When Lucinda first became a parent, her biggest hope for her kids was for them to be well educated, successful and well trained. Now she just wants them to be happy. “This is a new answer, but at this point in my life, I know what’s most important—happiness, peace and health.” And after a day filled with music, what does Lucinda like to listen to at home? “Silence!” she laughs.

Lucinda, tell us about the girls’ names and their connection to Africa.

When Ifetayo became popular with her 8 million–plus Facebook views around the world, Nigerians just assumed she was Nigerian. We’re happy to be adopted by the Nigerians, but we don’t actually know where in West Africa our heritage can be traced to. Because our family identifies with Yoruba culture and other West African traditions, all three girls have had Yoruba African naming ceremonies. I wanted my children to have some connection with African culture.

Gregory, what do you love most about your daughters’ personalities?

Kai Isoke is very caring and concerned about everything around her. Ifetayo is very focused. She’s going to reach whatever goal she sets for herself. Adjedmaa is very determined (okay, stubborn) and cares a lot.

Lucinda, what do you enjoy most about teaching?

That every student is different. If I taught a thousand students how to play “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” I’d have to teach it a thousand different ways. It’s never boring.

What is the mission of the Hyde Park Suzuki Institute?

HPSI is a nonprofit and a Smart Growth recipient from Chicago Community Trust. We offer lessons to kids ages 3 and up in violin, viola, cello and piano based on the Suzuki method. To accommodate low-income students, we keep fees low. HPSI needs a permanent home. I’ve been running the institute for more than 16 years, sometimes renting out space from local churches.

We believe in excellence and know that our students, no matter where they’re from, can excel anywhere. We place students in major competitions year after year, and they receive top honors, which proves our formula works. Ifetayo is just one child from HPSI who has been part of the Sphinx national competition. This itty-bitty school has sent three students. What other music school in Chicago can boast that they’ve had three Sphinx winners? Well, this little Southside program on the second floor of a church can.

One thing that makes HPSI different is that it’s very much like a family. Parents love to be here because their kids have fun. They bond with the other parents and form long-lasting friendships. HPSI is a lifestyle. We have pajama-rama play-ins, musical sleepovers, field trips, picnics, Halloween concerts where the kids perform in costume and lots more.

Tell us about the family work ethic.

The kids all feel a sense of ownership over their responsibilities. That’s spilled over into how they help at the music school. Adjedmaa is now an amazing junior faculty member; she’s teaching and she’s working as an accompanist. Ifetayo has taken on all kinds of administrative tasks in addition to being a practice coach, which is amazing. Even Kai Isoke is starting to do some routine opening-day tasks.

Who are your favorite composers? What are your favorite pieces to play?

I don’t have one favorite, but I do love Russian composers—Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky, Shostakovich. Their music has a lot of variety, it’s gritty and it’s rhythmically interesting. My favorite living composer is Regina Harris Baiocchi.

Ifetayo, who are your favorite contemporary artists?

Beyoncé, Little Big, Cage the Elephant, Twenty One Pilots, Chance the Rapper, Solange, Alabama Shakes and Tahirah Whittington, one of my former teachers and the lead cellist for Hamilton in Chicago.

Do you think you’ll continue with the cello?

Yes. Being a cellist will be one of my careers. I love computers, so I’m also hoping to pursue a career in the tech industry. I hope to get accepted into the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and the Julliard School in New York to study music and Yale University for computer engineering.

For more about Lucinda’s school, go to http://www.hydeparksuzuki.org