Music & Clips

Radiolab “Sound as Touch” episode

Sun Up by Stephen Katz and Derek Snyder

Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky played by Alexander Ghindin.

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Margaret Watts Romney:
If you could go anywhere in the world and share a musical experience with the people there, where would you go and what would you do?

Joan Krzywicki:
Well, …..this can be anything, right?

Yes….anything…sky’s the limit!

MWR: Joan Krzywicki

JK: My name is Joan Krzywicki

MWR: …is a pianist, teacher,

JK:…in a suburb of Philadelphia, PA.

MWR: parent, grandparent and more…

JK:…I’m currently the chair elect on the board of the SAA.

MWR: And she’s been playing piano…for a while…

JK: The earliest thing I remember was I was about 5, and my mom bought a piano. Before that I had been somewhat precocious and I had sort of Taught myself to read words. Just by asking a lot of questions, nobody formally taught me, I just figured it out. When my mom bought the piano she also bought this book “Teaching little fingers to play” and it was sitting there on the piano, and so I crawled up and started reading the book and teaching myself how to play the piano. So my mother thought, well, I had better get you a teacher. So I was either about to turn 6, or had turned 6. She was a young woman in the neighborhood that I started taking lessons from. I still keep in touch with her today. She is in her late 80’s and we still correspond. But that was where I began. And then I took to it very quickly. I progressed very quickly. I think I was about 10 when I knew I was going to be involved with music for the rest of my life.

My childhood idol was my elementary music teacher. She wheeled her piano from classroom to classroom. She came in and gave us music classes. I joined her choir and I joined her autoharp choir, and I played the piano for the 5th grade chorus. She was my idol. And from there on, anything that had to do with music, I was involved in.

MWR:Since those days idolizing her elementary school music teacher, Joan has a lifetime of experience performing and teaching, but still she dreams of her next musical adventure.

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

Here, we’re taking a look at the learning environments in which children, parents, and teachers gain new knowledge and are encouraged to become fine individuals as well. We’re talking with members of the Suzuki music community inspired by humanitarian violinist Shinichi Suzuki, and finding themes of good teaching everywhere such as listening, community, creativity, and more.

So, what musical experience does Joan wish for?

JK:Well, my very favorite pianist right now in the world is a man named Krystian Zimmerman. He’s just an incredible pianist. He was originally from Poland, but right now he lives in Switzerland. He refuses to come to the US anymore for political reasons, it’s a long story, um, but,, and he’s very elusive, I can’t find on the internet anymore, where is he performing…but if I could find that out, I would hop on a plane and go hear a concert

The last time he played here in Philadelphia, many years ago, I just remember walking out of that auditorium and feeling like I had had a religious experience. It just…it just transcended all of us in the audience to another world. THe tone, the just the musical expression, was totally beyond what I had experienced before

MWR: Joan experienced transformation from listening.

But not for the first time. Her life was first transformed by the music from the elementary school music teacher she idolized when she was a child. Just seeing the teacher walk into the classroom wheeling her piano gave her a thrill. She knew music would fill the room, and all she wanted for the rest of her life was more of it.

She also saw the difference that listening made in the lives of her own children. When they were young, they played violin and studied with Suzuki teachers. Their lives were immersed in music from the listening that all Suzuki teachers expect of their students, and they lived in a house with musician parents as well.

JK: My own children are adopted, they are not biological, so I love to tell people that, because they both became excellent Suzuki violinists. They played beautifully in tune, they had beautiful musical expression, they played in orchestras, chamber music, they really had great experiences musically. It had to come from the listening. My husband’s also a musician and people easily could have said, well, they’re good because you’re both musicians. Well, we couldn’t say that.

MWR: Her children became excellent musicians, not because of the possible DNA music talent passed on to them, but because of the environment they were immersed in. Score one for nurture. Just like a child listening to and learning the language of their parents, Joan’s children learned the language of music by first marinating in the sound.
As a teacher, Joan also saw the effects of listening immersion in her students, one in particular…

*JK: I ended up taking a couple of students with me to Japan to participate in a 10 piano concert there. Well, both of the students were put in a home for two weeks with a Japanese family and their daughter was participating in this program. That mother was very very devoted to the whole Suzuki philosophy, and my student was in book 5 and she heard this child in that home playing a particular piece in book 5 for two to three hours every day, and when she wasn’t practicing, she ..the mother had the cd on going over and over again.

I mean when she was there, she was playing a totally different piece, on this concert, and but you know, this was a piece somewhat in her future, I hadn’t even planned on her learning it yet.

And when that student came home and came to my house for a lesson, she sat down and played that whole piece, and I had never given her a lesson on it before, and It’s like a 12 page sonata, and I thought, well this really shows, if you have that intense listening, it works. *

MWR: Joan saw that listening transformed her children, her students; and she sees how listening expands her community today.

JK: Well, one of my favorite things to do is attend recitals where my students perform, or other students perform as well. In our Philadelphia area we have a Suzuki graduation program where whoever reaches certain levels… they just submit a video to show they are at that a committee, and then we have an afternoon of recitals, a and this included not just piano, but violin and guitar. So we divide the students up into three recitals, it’s a long afternoon, but it is to me just one of the best afternoons in the whole world, just hearing all those students perform.
What draws me to it, I think, …those particular students have an opportunity to polish a piece, a little more than they would otherwise, knowing it’s going on this videotape, going to this committee, and then they have the opportunity to perform in this recital, and we even have a rehearsal, we make a big deal about this, and it raises the level, it raises the standards for all of the teachers in the area and so for me, it just keeps me always searching for another level of excellence with my students.

MWR: In addition to raising the bar among the community of teachers and students, Joan enjoys these graduation recitals, because they change her own perception of what is possible, what excellence she aims for with her own students.

But…Why is listening so powerful? How does it engender a feeling of transcendence in the listener? How can it accelerate a child’s musical development, or bring excellence to a community?

Well, probably because sound is powerful. We can close our eyes, but not our ears. We hear our mother’s voice from before birth even though we don’t see clearly until days after.

To understand how intimate sound is, here’s a clip from the RadioLab podcast Episode “Sound as Touch.”

FROM RADIOLAB. from about 5:00 to 7:40

Robert K: Sound waves literally touch the bones in our ear and set them to vibrating. These waves of air can be felt through our whole body and can touch us very deeply physically and emotionally. Actually, sound is touch at a distance.

“AF: Actually sound is kind of touch at a distance…

RK: That was Anne Fernald, director of the center for infant studies at Stanford. And when Anne says, “Sound is more like touch.” This is something I learned from Jonah Leherer…..Thinking about sound as touch, how does sound touch your brain? Take us on that journey.

Jonah Leherer: Waves of vibrating air. Your voice box compresses air, air travels through space and time, and into the ear. Waves of air are focused and channeled into the eardrum which vibrates a few very small bones, and the little bones transmit the vibration into this salty sea where the hairs are, and the hair cells become active when they are literally bent by a wave. Bent like trees in a breeze. When these hair cells bend, charged molecules flood inward and activate the cell.

RK:The sound triggers the bones, the bones disturb the fluid, the fluid rocks the hairs, and then the hairs set of essentially electricity?

JH: Yes, that’s the language of neurons.

RK: all those changes from waves to bones to electricity were a trip on their way to being heard. it’s only when the electricity finally forms a pattern in your brain. Only when it’s deep inside, that’s when you hear something.

AF: It feels to me more like touch. Sound is kind of touch at a distance

MWR: In this episode, Anne Fernald’s work is focused on the sounds mothers make to connect with their babies. It’s as if the mothers are keeping a connection, keeping in touch with their babies even if they are not holding them. Through sound, the mothers can touch at a distance.

This is why the Suzuki method is so successful. Because there is no more intimate interaction than that of physical contact. And as we just heard, sound is just that.

Listening and music can transform, but words between people touch and influence deeply as well.

Joan told me many times that listening had influenced her life. Most recently, she experienced how listening influenced the culture of the board of the Suzuki Association of the Americas.

JK: We all spend a great deal of time just listening to the ideas of each other and along with that is the safe environment that we are all in at that time. We are free to express our ideas without criticism, without feeling unimportant. It seems that all of us support each other both in listening to each other and in respecting what we each have to say. So to me, that is all very Suzuki.

MWR: Joan finds deep listening in all aspects of her life from the boardroom to the classroom to the recital hall. And while she dreams of experiencing Krystian Zimmerman in person and relishing again that feeling of transcending to another world, she finds little moments of transformation everywhere.

If we are quiet and listen…………if we allow ourselves to be touched from a distance by music, or words, Perhaps we can welcome transcendence…Perhaps we will let ourselves be transformed…perhaps we can personally grow and progress.

As Joan said in an educational video commenting on listening

JK: This is perhaps the single most important element for making steady progress, and progress leads to joy.

MWR: Do you have an influential educator in your life like Joan that you would like to recognize? Nancy Modell, Christie Felsing, and John Kendall are some of the people who have stars named after them on the Giving Galaxy of Stars on the Suzuki Association of the Americas website. Go to to dedicate a star to your influential educator, and we may acknowledge them here on the podcast as well.

Our theme music, “Sun Up” is composed by Steven Katz and Derek Snyder and performed by the Snyder cello army.

Thank you to WNYC for the use of RadioLab’s explanation sound from their episode, “Sound as Touch.” You can find their ear-candy shows anywhere you get your podcasts, or at

The excerpts from Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky were played by Alexander Ghindin.

We receive artful and essential production assistance from Methusaleh Podcast Productions.

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