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Mr. Starr surrounded by a sea of Boulder Suzuki Strings students.

As the years pass, I grow more appreciative of the privilege of being a member of the Starr family. My parents, Bill and Connie Starr, were always searching for more effective ways to learn, teach, and parent. Accomplished performers, writers, teachers, and parents of eight children, they came to Talent Education with a unique constellation of skills that helped spread Dr. Suzuki’s innovative ideas throughout the world. 

While Mom was already an accomplished pianist by her teens, Dad’s fascination with the violin began relatively late. In order for him to become a professional violinist, he needed to accelerate his progress. He wore out his record of Yehudi Menuhin playing the Bruch Concerto while trying to emulate his tone, phrasing, and vibrato. With endless curiosity and determination, he analyzed problems and broke them into components to master. This skill was a benefit to countless teachers and students in the years that followed. Unwittingly, Dad had made use of two important elements of what would become Suzuki’s Mother Tongue Method.

I have an early memory of standing atop a toilet lid with my violin—not the easiest place to practice. But the added height allowed Dad to supervise my left hand while shaving. His voice cut through the buzz of his electric razor. 

“Good! Once again. Can you watch the high second finger this time? Tell her to stay stretched over the fingerboard so she’s ready to play. Much better! Only five more times to go!”

For a seven-year-old, ten repetitions seemed an eternity and I finished the last one in tears. How could he be so cruel? Dad stayed calm and encouraging throughout. Helping me down to the floor, he said, “I knew you could do it!” That was real-life Suzuki teaching in action. Yes, practicing could be frustrating at times, but being immersed in our fledgling Suzuki program was fun and rewarding. I’ll never forget the thrilling ovation we received at our first concert at the University of Tennessee. 

By the time our family of ten boarded the ocean liner bound for Yokohama, Japan in 1968, we were looking forward to the adventure ahead. Dad’s sabbatical meant that both he and Mom could observe and study Suzuki’s teachings in-depth and we kids would have an experience of a lifetime.

Nothing could have prepared us for the culture shock of arriving at the four-room house among the rice fields outside Matsumoto. There was little privacy and at night we slept on a floor that was covered wall-to-wall with futons. It was daunting to face the dozens of neighbor children gathered by the front door waiting for us to appear each morning. Despite the language barrier, it wasn’t long before we played together easily. 

I treasure these memories of my first Japanese friends who were so welcoming: rosy-cheeked Noriko; her cheerful grandma whose back was bent from planting rice; her adorable kid sister, Yoshimi, with the elven grin; and Motoko, the milkman’s daughter.

Our next house in town was a two-story company dormitory with plenty of room. It had been challenging for Mom and Dad to find—no one wanted to rent to an American family who would wear shoes in the house and ruin the floors! With winter on the way and no central heating, electric blankets were essential in the frosty bedrooms.

The Talent Education Building, or “Kaikan,” where Mom and Dad were both busy observing, recording, and teaching, was a short walk from our new home. After finishing our schoolwork and violin practice, we would go and join the thriving musical environment. It was a safe, welcoming place full of laughter and friendship. We had some wonderful times with Suzuki-sensei and his teacher trainees. In those days, Suzuki would listen to all the graduation tapes himself and record comments for each student. I can still hear his gentle voice after my Bach “Bourrée,” saying, “Very nice tone! You can play very well. But you can practice more. More and more! Every day!” It was a magical year for a nine-year-old and I was truly sad to leave.

After Japan, the early 1970s were golden years in the University of Tennessee Suzuki program. We first-generation kids in the program formed an advanced group that Dr. Suzuki recommended to represent his method in the United States. Whether at group lessons or rehearsing for tours, Dad could motivate us with his captivating storytelling. After his rousing retelling of the story behind the “Two Grenadiers,” Mom came charging in with the opening chords and we copied Dad’s full bows and vigorous accents with renewed energy. 

In later years, Dad loved to recount the gratifying response we received at the American String Teachers Association’s joint conference with the Music Educators National Conference. We played solo excerpts and some of our most impressive group repertoire. After our presentation, we heard ASTA teachers exclaim, “This could build up the string sections in orchestras everywhere!” Today, as I look around at my colleagues in the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra in Norway, I can see fine examples of players with Suzuki beginnings that attest to the truth of that prediction.

I have often wondered how we would have managed without my mother, Connie, to accompany us. Playing with a musician of her caliber inspired and carried us with invisible means of support. Her playing was consistently energetic and elegant regardless of the number of repetitions. Only when I went to Juilliard was I fully cognizant of her artistry and skill. She made it look too easy!

As Dad would always say, Dr. Suzuki was not just a great teacher, he was a great soul. He showed us that, as important as it was to develop technically as a violinist, we needed to develop other parts of ourselves as well. I remember him encouraging us children to find ways to show gratitude to our parents: by caring for a younger sibling, practicing with goodwill, washing dishes, or simply not complaining.

It was exciting to be part of the early days as Suzuki’s ideas spread around the world. Mom and Dad were inspiring ambassadors for classical music, for children, and for the Suzuki Method. After all these years, the method is still revolutionary. It is up to each one of us to renew Suzuki’s philosophy for future generations to come.