Chris Hayakawa, Suzuki cello teacher in Wayne, PA, passed away on January 25, 2006. Chris taught Suzuki cello privately in the Philadelphia area and was a respected teacher and a beloved friend to all who knew her. She was a lifetime member of the SAA and dedicated to continuing Suzuki education.

After receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree from Oberlin College, she studied with Dr. Suzuki in Japan and received certificates in Suzuki cello and violin at Matsumoto, and subsequently took Suzuki teacher training through book 7 in cello, and through book 8 in violin. She also studied flute with Mr. Takahashi. Chris was the type of person who was capable of listening and speaking without judgment, and this earned her the unhesitating respect of all.

Central to Chris’ life was her ongoing battle with leukemia, which lasted for 14 years. She was very active not only in searching for new methods of battling the disease, but in communicating with and educating others who had it. She was connected with study groups and non-profit organizations related to her disease, and spent her time researching the most cutting-edge medical discoveries in the hope that she might find a way to survive her condition. She communicated with doctors and researchers from all over the world, in many different medical and spiritual fields. Chris herself once wrote, “Although finding better and better ways of beating down the disease might lead to long remissions, and this can be very helpful, I feel that the only way to be truly well is to somehow reverse this paradigm, in other words, to reach the point in health and balance in the body where my immune system recognizes the problem and takes care of it by itself…. The big question is, though, which will come sooner—the rise of my white blood cell count beyond a safe point (bad) or the beginnings of evidence of control … please think of my situation as an opportunity to learn a great deal and hopefully pass on that learning to others, rather than as a tragedy to myself.” (Emailed to Kathy Moser, summer of ’05)

Of the many ways in which one can deal with the prospect of a terminal illness, Chris chose the best, using it as a reason and a means to connect with other people as much as possible; her outlook on life was so overwhelmingly positive that it served as an example to everyone else around her. Even those who didn’t know about Chris’ leukemia saw her as an unusually inspiring human being, who saw everyone in the most positive way. She lived each day and treated each person as special. Many who knew Chris spoke of her as “shining with light.” In response to her condition, she became the kind of person who lived the way we all ought to live, with her attention focused on those things that were truly important.

Music, for Chris, was one of those truly important things. She once wrote, “If anything, maintaining some contact with the Greater Philadelphia Suzuki Association (GPSA) keeps me from feeling that 100% of my time and effort has to do with the disease.” She was the music director of her church, and was very involved with GPSA, holding the position of Corresponding Secretary at the time she passed away.

Her quest for knowledge reflected itself in her diverse musical education. Chris entered Oberlin Conservatory as a cello student, but switched to violin and transferred to the College during her sophomore year. While she did return to the Conservatory once again during her Oberlin career, she ultimately chose to graduate from the College instead. She studied cello through traditional methods with Mrs. Watts and Mr. Orlando Cole, and began studying violin through traditional methods as well. She was first exposed to the Suzuki method at Oberlin, where she met both American Suzuki teachers and Japanese Suzuki teachers from Matsumoto. This inspired her to begin taking teacher-training classes all over the United States, in both cello and violin, and eventually to attend Dr. Suzuki’s Talent Education School in Matsumoto. After her return, she attended cello teacher-training classes, as well as additional classes for violin.

In Matsumoto, she established a friendship with the late Mrs. Suzuki. The two had much in common—not only the experience of living in Matsumoto as a foreigner, but also their German backgrounds and Japanese husbands. The two met once more when Chris visited a clinic in Switzerland and Mrs. Suzuki was staying in Europe. Chris’ knowledge of Japanese also came in handy when Dr. Haruko Kataoka, co-founder of the Suzuki piano method, gave a week-long workshop in Philadelphia. Chris was able to make her feel comfortable by spending an evening with her speaking in Japanese. She was the last direct student of Dr. Suzuki. A photograph she took of Dr. Suzuki during his last lesson was later used by GPSA for fundraising.

When she returned to her native town, she began teaching violin both privately and at Settlement Music School. She was the volunteer music director of the Japanese Christian Church of Philadelphia, where she met her husband Kazuya Hayakawa, for 25 years. She introduced a number of Japanese families in Philadelphia to the church, and she established a general music program, including Suzuki instruction after Sunday services. Her students frequently participated in the services, including the formation of a children’s string ensemble to accompany the adult choir in Handel’s Messiah.

One mother of Chris’ students said, “Chris always shows her excitement of her teaching.” Kazuya Hayakawa adds, “Actually, sometimes—often—she didn’t like to teach, but after she finished her teaching she was so excited and showed her joy of teaching. She believed ‘One of her best teachers is her students.’ I hope her teachers didn’t hear, but she said she learned from her students as much as her teachers.”

Chris Hayakawa’s life, both in its history and in the way she lived it, was and continues to be an inspiration to us all. It is encouraging to think of all the things she did with her life; more importantly, those of us who remember the personality with which she did those things feel encouraged to bring those qualities out in ourselves. Chris’ greatest accomplishment was the person she decided to be.

Chris’ Memorial Service, held on February 4, at the Wayne Presbyterian Church, Wayne, PA, was attended by well over 170 friends, colleagues, and family members. The GPSA officers, board members, and members were there to honor her spirit. As Chris’ mother told several of us at the Memorial Service, “Chris wants us to be happy and to go on. She is still with us.”

Carole Mayers, board member of GPSA, friend and colleague wrote this haiku:

For Chris Hayakawa—February 2006

I feel your spirit soaring
Nowhere, everywhere.
Joyful in its flight—so free.

Beyond our sense of knowing,
One with the air and
Earth and sky; love continues.

Chris is survived by her husband, Kazuya, and her daughters, Keiko and Miyako; her sister, Rosalyn L. Pollack, and her brother, Allan Zink; and her mother, Dorothea M. Zink. Chris’ husband and family request that donations be made in her memory to The Midwestern Regional Medical Center, Assistance in Health Care, 2520 Elisha Ave., Zion, IL 60099.

Written by Neil Bakshi,
with contributions from Kazuya Hayakawa, Carole Mayers, and Kathy Moser