Mark O’Connor’s “Parting Shot”

Carol Gwen said: Mar 11, 2013
Carol Gwen Kiefer
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Washington Crossing, PA
75 posts

“Basically the message from the violin-teaching studio has been that students can pick up their creativity through sports, building a fort, drawing and coloring and riding a bike. When it comes to violin, sometimes they dress up while they play Twinkle. Perhaps Suzuki teachers go rogue, and show a handful of fiddle tunes to their students as electives by wrote, as Suzuki studios attempt to hold on to their student’s interest. But when it comes to classical violin activities, the approach has been the same for too long. The current violin track for students is sequenced technical acquisition via German music from the 1700s, cased in a Japanese learning philosophy born out of Shinichi Suzuki’s WWII era experiences in Japan and Germany during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. I guess from that perspective, it is no wonder he didn’t want anything to do with American music, because there is not a single piece of American music in his method, and at a time when American music was enjoyed throughout most of the world.

The militant Japanese worldview philosophy of their WWII era learning regimen, was probably not the way to go for an American citizenry, a population that is amongst the most creative, diverse and most individual the world has ever known. The identical standing positions complete with foot charts, the insistence on the parent taking the violin lesson too, the violin robotic wind up before beginning to play, and the children standing in straight lines when they played in their violin group performances, instead of the natural and more musical semi-circle formations, were but a few of the dead giveaways we should have immediately recognized as something we just were not, and could never be. Alas, we drank that Kool-Aid. Let’s face it, those nearly identical looking Japanese students whose appearances made them seem even younger, were about the cutest things we ever saw 50 years ago, even though the film reveals that they were playing along with a recording making them sound much better than they would on their own. (Beyonce look out!) Yes, with a wink and a nod, we were on our way!”

Anyone care to comment? Aside from his ability to sell himself by steamrolling all commentary contrary to his opinions, which are in truth, “facts” if you look at the comments at the end. It isn’t a discussion, it’s a rant.

Jennifer Visick said: Mar 11, 2013
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

Yes, I would agree that it sounds like a rant. Rants are welcome, as they may contain valid points but more importantly, they contain emotional feedback that is valuable. What makes him seem so anti-Suzuki teaching style? Is it possible for a Suzuki teacher to imagine his perspective —without bitterness or irony or “ranting” on our part?

We have nothing to lose by honestly looking at his method books, his ideas, and his anti-Suzuki-ness and finding out if his criticism of Suzuki teaching has any hint of a valid foundation in how we teach; or in finding out if his contributions to pedagogy have something valid to offer us in our teaching studios.

The Suzuki Method is not static—nor are Suzuki teachers. Granted, my first reaction to reading his blog was to have nothing to do with him. But that’s the kind of reaction that throws the baby out with the bathwater. Do I agree with his assessment of Suzuki-style teaching? No; I think it’s lopsided. Do I see validity in some of his pet peeves? Yes. Can I teach out of his books, use or be influenced by his teaching ideas, and still use Suzuki’s teaching ideas too? Of course.

Celia Jones said: Mar 12, 2013
72 posts

There’s a same-topic thread in the General forum.

Kelly Williamson said: Mar 12, 2013
Kelly WilliamsonTeacher Trainer
Suzuki Association Member
Flute, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Cambridge, ON
248 posts

Thanks for bringing this up. I sent two responses, which I hope were being moderated, rather than completely disappearing! Though it is so completely negative, there are points that are worth paying attention to, in my opinion. As RaineJen said, dialogue is valuable.

Here, in case it never shows up on the blog, is my second reply.

“I just wrote a long and considered reply, emphasizing how I (and other teachers) do teach with the Suzuki method, and also introduce improvisation, composition, and an appreciation for popular and other musical genres. When I tried to preview my response, it disappeared.

So let me just say this—I was introduced to your music, Mr O’Connor, by hearing it played at Suzuki festivals. By kids who were taught using the Suzuki method. (I am a Suzuki flute teacher.) So they must be playing something other than the classical repertoire at some point. PS They played it beautifully.”


Danielle said: Mar 12, 2013
Danielle Turano
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools, Viola
Wallingford, CT
4 posts

I read the whole article last night and this morning woke up to my mentor, world renowned jazz Violinist/ Composer/ all around great guy, Christian Howes’, blog post from his website with the Title, “Why the Suzuki Method is Important and Irreplaceable”
So I called him this morning and wanted to let him know that I was going to be sharing his article on the SAA discussion board because I believed it was coming at the perfect time. Enjoy.

Heather Swanson said: Mar 12, 2013
Heather Swanson
Suzuki Association Member
3 posts

Good Morning, I was happy to read all of these response comments from Mark’s blog. I came to the Suzuki method in my 40’s. Yes , I feel very old in your company! My childhood method books were not too much fun let me tell you. Mark says that the Suzuki method has been the dominant method for 50 years!!!! I don’t think so. Many teachers use the method books but not the method. I have heard of many people that use the Suzuki books without ever having attended a teacher institute. That’s not the method. We know that it’s how you teach more than what you teach and you don’t get that out of a book.

What bothered me the most as I read Mark’s comments was the complete and utter disdain which he expressed for a method that has done so much good. So, I may be psyching him out but he’s had some bad experiences with Suzuki teachers/Suzuki method. There is a kind of battle going on here. Folk musicians vs. Classically trained musicians. We don’t like one another. I’m sure that Mark is fed up with the put downs geared at folk players. Yeah, because so many of “them” have never had training so their posture is horrible. (Sorry to my dear folk friends.) In addition, he hates seeing the name Suzuki on all of those materials that we keep on buying. I noticed that he describes himself as a Violinist, “Entrepreneur”. That’s the second word! That helped me understand what he is trying to do. If he could convince us all to drop the Suzuki method and switch to the O’Connor method he’d have to come up with new hot topic to spur us into writing to each other as I am doing right now.

I appreciate Brian Wicklund and his books, The American Fiddle Method” which I have used along with the amazing foundation that the Suzuki method, properly taught, provides. I wonder how Brian feels about this.

By the way, I just took in Suzuki Principles in Action with Mark Mutter. Unfortunately, I had to miss the second half due to a snowstorm. It was fantastic!! The video, the accompanying booklet, Mark’s facilitation was great. So I will take this course again when it is offered in the Boston area. Reading Mark’s blog caused me to review his method books which I had purchased when they first came out. It’s a good resource. Wish we string players had more social aspects to our playing. Even as teachers, when was the last time you stood around and played through the Suzuki rep “play out” style with other teachers? Folk/jazz players get together and play “just for the joy of it” without a monetary attachment. That’s what I want to do. Do you think that I could find two or three Suzuki teachers on Cape Cod that would want to get together and play….just for fun? “Fool around” a bit with melodic/rhythmic figures to create/improvise on our repertoire or other genres of music???? Probably not. I have to go to the Island Merchant on Main st. and learn jazz tunes. I have to go to O’Shea’s in W. Dennis to play Irish tunes to get that kind of stimulation. We are social beings! That’s why “groups” are so important for our students. I want to say, “Thanks” to the first generation Suzuki teachers in the US for all of their work!!! Thanks for showing us another way to learn, to play and to be with our instruments and our world. Thanks for reading my thoughts. P.S. I just listened to Danielle’s posting of G. Bolkosky’s interview. How wonderful. Thanks.

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