Who are the Preucils?

Bill and Doris and their four children, each of whom became a professional musician and married a professional musician, and nine grandchildren, breathing the air of music in the home and some of them coming to embrace it as their journey in life as well. People often ask us how this web of music came to be created in the family, and their own speculations often are part of the question. Was there a magic age where each child began to study an instrument? Did you teach your own children? Was there any trouble getting them to practice? Sometimes they just ask: “How did you ever get all of your children to go into music?”

I can remember identifying with an interview on National Public Radio of a magician who grew up in the third generation of a family of world-class magicians. The interviewer asked what it was like when the family got together. “Your father and your grandfather and your uncles and aunts were these famous magicians, so when you were together weren’t you always discussing techniques and secrets of all those magic tricks? The magician seemed quite taken aback, and hesitated in his answer. “No . . . it was not like that at all . . . but it was always in the air.”

Doris was teaching violin in Iowa City when she first heard of Shinichi Suzuki. We had three children under the age of five, and she had been looking for an approach to start our oldest on the violin. She had wanted them to experience the way she had learned by ear from her father on both violin and piano, but at this time rote learning was frowned upon. Then, one morning, while our boys were watching the “Captain Kangaroo Show” on television, they started shouting “Mommy, Mommy, come here quick!” What they saw on the screen was film from Japan of the Suzuki Annual Concert where the Bach Double Concerto was being played so persuasively by hundreds of young violinists. Really young violinists! Her quest to find out about this Suzuki Method in those early days of the movement was arduous, but fulfilling. Dr. Masaaki Honda wrote a book titled Suzuki Changed My Life. Thirty years later I told him that I was writing one also: “Suzuki Changed My Wife.” The history of Suzuki in the Americas was just beginning, and all of our children were the beneficiaries of it.

As their solo playing developed, we found music to play together in the forms of duos, trios, quartets and mixed ensembles. The family made its concert debut in 1973, at the American Suzuki Institute in Stevens Point, WI, and soon began accepting invitations to perform at various college and community venues. In 1976, after three seasons of concertizing, the Preucil Family Players were honored with a special award “for outstanding performance” by the Music Educators National Conference.

There are some things about performance that you can learn only by being on stage in front of an audience, and you increase those performing abilities so very much more if you have frequent opportunities to do so. Something in your playing that did not work well the first time could be approached slightly differently the next time, and some spot that was beautiful the first time could be made stunning by taking a little more risk the next time. This was why I was glad that we asked for and received a grant from the Iowa Arts Council to present a series of concerts for two seasons throughout the state. It provided for the experience of lots of those “next times.”

These performance experiences reminded me of a principle concerning careers that I wanted to instill in the family, and that is to make your own opportunities for success. When Doris founded the Preucil School of Music in 1975, we had just purchased the historic Czechoslovakian Lodge Hall in Iowa City. It contains a beautiful auditorium where the students give their recitals. With a smile I told our children, “Now you have a place to perform whenever you want.”

The years were slipping by quickly and it seemed prudent to demonstrate what we had achieved before the family scattered to colleges and conservatories. It was time to give a New York debut recital, so we rented Carnegie Recital Hall for the afternoon of January 20, 1980. It was Super Bowl Sunday, and no wonder the date was available on short notice. We received a warm review from Joseph Horowitz in the New York Times, and one paragraph meant more to me than any of the ones praising the musical performance: “Individually and collectively, the Preucils made a fine impression. The family’s dignified rapport—despite the age differential, they treat one another as artistic equals—was itself a pleasure to observe. The program was fresh and sophisticated. The playing was clean, confident and persuasive.”

We look forward to our upcoming concert at the 2014 SAA Conference in Minneapolis. It seems appropriate that, having made our debut in 1973 at the American Suzuki Institute, we give our farewell at another Suzuki gathering. There hasn’t been such a large number of us performing together since our fiftieth wedding anniversary. This concert takes place in our sixtieth anniversary year. Tempus fugit.