Who was Dr. Suzuki, why is there a community of teachers following his vision, and what ideas can apply to teachers anywhere? We talk with his former student, Winifred Crock, to answer these questions and more.

Music in this Episode

“Sun Up” composed by Steven Katz and Derek Snyder and performed by the Snyder cello army.

Partita in E Major” by J.S. Bach performed by Karen Gomyo

Want to talk about Building Noble Hearts? Find us on Twitter @SuzukiBNH or join us in the Suzuki Forum. Winifred Crock will be available to answer questions until 5/8/2017.


MWR: Winifred Crock was a young violin graduate student living in Illinois in the 80′;s—Poofy bangs, midwest farms, and lots and lots of hours in practice rooms.

She loved playing the violin, was becoming skilled at conducting, and knew she wanted to dedicate her life to teaching.

But where did her professor, John Kendall, send her to continue her studies? Not to the classical music master teachers in New York or Europe, but to Japan. Why did she make this transition from the homey midwest to an unfamiliar foreign culture across the globe to learn more about teaching children?

You’re listening to Building Noble Hearts, a podcast from the Suzuki Association of the Americas. I’m your host, Margaret Watts Romney.

To consider why Winifred picked up and moved to Matsumoto, Japan, let’s first consider our own lives as parents and educators…

Why do we give endless amount of time and money to our children’s academic, sports, and arts education?

Yes, it’s rewarding to see a child master difficult technical skills, perform well, or even receive a scholarship, but there’s something more that drives us. When a child displays empathy, determination, excellence, or artistic sensitivity…this is what fuels our dedication to children.

But…how do we create environments in which children and also the adults around them are encouraged to become fine individuals?

To explore the answers, we will focus on the community started by humanitarian violinist Dr. Shinichi Suzuki. He saw that by teaching children to play music in the same way that a baby is lovingly taught to speak, he could not only create excellent musicians but build noble hearts in children as well.

What was it about Shinichi Suzuki’s teaching that inspired Professor John Kendall to send Winifred Crock to Japan to study? What did Winifred learn that has value for teachers and parents everywhere?

In 2016, Winifred gave a talk at the conference of the Suzuki Association of the Americas remembering her time in Matsumoto and exploring what she learned there. I was lucky to see her talk as well as ask her some questions….like how did she get the chance to study in Japan?

WC: I was incredibly lucky. I had studied pedagogy with John Kendall, at SIU Edwardsville, and this was the next step. Of course, it was a very expensive to go, and I was fortunate enough to get a Rotary Foundation Scholarship which paid for everything. Which was just…like I said…I was so fortunate. I was able to go, and one of the other things about this scholarship that was so amazing is you had a year before you went…after you received the scholarship…and they insisted on conversational Japanese as part of the whole experience. So I studied Japanese very intensively before I went, and then when I was there, and it really made the experience just so much more personal, because I did have that language connection with the people, with Dr. Suzuki

MWR: You could integrate

WC: Yes, it was very magical and I was very very lucky.

MWR: Winifred could connect with language, but was surprised by other parts of Japanese culture

WC: I can remember I was so tall…I mean I’m almost 6 feet tall. I remember having a permanent bruise for several months because the door of the practice room hit right at my forehead, and if I didn’t duck, every single time, I would crash into the top threshold of the door.

And even just going out in public, because little kids would say, (Japanese words) which means very tall foreigner. There weren’t very many tall foreigners, and certainly not six-foot ladies with tall curly hair.

And then, Japanese manners…. at one point the Rotary club got me a manners teacher because I kept doing the wrong thing. I was trying to be polite, but I just didn’t know all of the ways to be polite in Japan, and there were many…

MWR: And that was when you were there, they gave you a manners tutor once you were already there?

WC: She’ll just need a few lessons…

MWR: “We just need to tell you a couple things…”

MWR: But grappling with culture shock wasn’t the reason Winifred traveled to Matsumoto. She was there for the music, and to learn from Dr. Suzuki.

But who was this man? Why did Winifred learn a new language, fly to the other side of the globe, and endure extreme physical and cultural discomfort just to study with him?

She gave a talk at the Suzuki Association of the Americas conference in 2016 and explored who he was.

WC: But who was Dr. Suzuki? What was he really like? Most pictures and videos and conference appearances show him smiling and laughing and playing games. He was fun and generous and joyful, but also very intense, focused and exacting. He was a man of vision, wisdom, and understanding, and he was always searching for a better way. He was incredibly disciplined. He woke each morning at 3 am to listen to graduation tapes from across the country, write comments for each and send them back to each child. By 8 am he was in school.


Winnifred remembered his unusual teaching methods, his high standards, and his nurturing ways as well…

WC: We met for group lessons once or twice a week for several hours of instruction. These lessons centered on playing together and games. There were focus games, memory games, tone comparison games, balance a hundred yen coin on your hand while playing Fiocco—don’t drop it! You have to start over! It was hard. Hop on a platform while playing a concerto and answer questions in Japanese. Don’t stop playing, and do’t start talking! It was crazy. We really learned our repertoire well. Trade the bow, backwards bow, weights on the bow, panda bow hold…games were serious business. They were always challenging, and each had a specific teaching point. Dr. Suzuki was always smiling, but his expectations were through the roof.

Another famous game was the chocolate tone. Everyone played a melody, and Dr. Suzuki would rate your tone; One chocolate tone, two chocolate tone, or…the prize…three chocolate tones. Occasionally he would also have us play the same piece on the same violin. This was fascinating. The comparison was amazing. Everyone’s sound was very different and very personal. It was an incredible exploration of sound.

WC (from interview): When I applied to go to Talent education. I sent in you know, tapes of my playing, here I was halfway through my graduate degree, here’s this sonata, this concerto.

When I got there, one of the first days the secretary handed me this bundle, and said, “Here’s your tapes!”

She said, “We weren’t quite sure why you sent them. I said,”What?” She said, “Oh, no one ever listened to them.” And I said, “What! You accepted me as a student!”

And she said, “Dr. Suzuki will accept anyone who is willing to work and willing to learn.”

There wasn’t an acceptance in terms of my playing level

I know! Again, I was just shocked!

MWR: You were just accepted

WC: Yes. I was accepted.

MWR: Dr. Suzuki’s environment for children included things like being immersed in listening, moving forward in tiny steps, and a warmly nurturing environment…but there was also variety and individuality in each of the lessons. Whether he was showing his own new idea or exploring the personal sound from a particular student…he was constantly trying new teaching ideas.

WC: Well, that story’s very funny because he’d tried this new idea with his Japanese class the day before, and then there were three of us that were very tall that year, and he did it with a couple of the students who were short, and it was working, and then he got to the three of us who were tall, and we were kind of pretty close to each other in our lesson order. I just remember this one girl, and he said, “Well, that won’t work!” and he was just so….it was… he just laughed, and he said, “Well, don’t do that.” It was so easy to see that, (he was) just so intent and almost desperate desire to find a better way

MWR: But without judgment

WC: No, just….let that go….or, that won’t work with these students. The day before it had worked beautifully, then he got to the tall ones and said, this is not for you.

MWR: Dr. Suzuki was intent on the growth of his violin students, but also in the growth of the teachers studying with him. I asked Winifred about a specific statement from Dr. Suzuki she’d mentioned in her 2016 conference talk…

MWR: “Students must be better than the teacher, or we will be back to the cavemen in a few generations.”;

Oh, that stunned me, because as a teacher I found this to be actually kind of terrifying, from both sides. If I’m better than the teachers around me, who will lead me, and how can I support my students to grow beyond me, if what I am is all I’m familiar with now?

WC: He would say this question periodically or make this comment periodically, and I’ll never forget the day he looked right at me and said it. I thought, “Oh my gosh…he’s expecting me to be better than Dr. Su…” ….I was just overwhelmed… but this is what he is saying. This is…you have to move ahead. you have to go on, you have to grow. That is so fundamental. Which why he came back to this—we will return to cavemen—because you see teachers who really almost prevent their students from moving ahead, or must be the top of the top of the top. He really….no…do something better than I have done. Grow. Was just constant.

MWR: Winifred was immersed in Dr. Suzuki’s philosophies about teaching, and this became the foundation of her own teaching through her career. I asked her if there is one guiding principle that stands out a little bit more clearly for her when she works with her own students today.

WC: I think, for me, the most important…and there’s so many…I think the idea of the positive environment is so fundamental. Children learn if they’re afraid, and children learn if they’re loved. If you learn in an environment of fear, what happens is… you can move ahead, you can really be very excellent, but… what happens when the element of fear or the cause of the fear is removed… what is the motivation to continue? If you learn in an environment of love… there is a real possibility to love what you’re doing as well. There is nothing that needs to be removed. You really develop a love of what you’re doing,

MWR: Where is Winnifred now? 30 years after her adventure in Matsumoto, Winifred Crock is living and teaching in St. Louis, MO where she has been conducting orchestras, teaching her own students, writing books, and lecturing at music conferences across the globe.

Now, after all these years, after all the concepts she absorbed from her intense time in Matsumoto working with her mentor, I asked Winifred what inspires her now? What concepts from Dr. Suzuki are guiding her own progress forward?

WC: This is truly, truly an incredible human being. And his humanitarian efforts are the same way…the idea that he really believed that through the language of music children could get together and to be together and communicate, without any other barriers.

And that was so fundamental to what he was doing. This idea that music for just….to make a beautiful human being is just a beautiful, beautiful concept. But then at the end of the day, he was just ..this man who loved us who was just working so hard to do it in a better way.

Winnifred grew and flourished in the environment Dr. Suzuki created. Not only as a violinist, but as an individual as well. Some elements of Dr. Suzuki’s teaching that stuck with her were… having expectations through the roof but with a smile…inviting everyone’s chocolate and individual sound… accepting anyone who is “Willing to work and willing to learn,”;… trying new ideas—or discarding them when they clearly “just won’t work”, and finally—creating a learning environment of love.

Now Winifred is using these same elements in her own studio to built the environment where students learn not only excellent musical skills but are encouraged to also become fine individuals.

Join us in our next episodes as we continue to explore the ways we as parents and teachers can create these rich learning environments that can transform our students, and perhaps fuel our own growth as well.

Thanks for listening to Building Noble Hearts, a production of the Suzuki Association of the Americas. I’m Margaret Watts Romney.

Our music, “Sun Up” was composed by Steven Katz and Derek Snyder and performed by the Snyder cello army. The Bach Partita in E Major was performed by Karen Gomyo. We received significant and invaluable production assistance from Methusaleh Podcast Productions.

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