As I reflect upon the continued influence of Suzuki-sensei (honored teacher) in my life, there are moments when I am keenly aware that seven long years have passed since he last walked among us. At other times it seems only yesterday when we took his presence almost for granted, and thought he would always be around to guide us. I know that I, for one, sincerely hoped he would be with us until his 110th birthday, something he always spoke hopefully about.
While this remarkable man, Shinichi Suzuki, remains a clear and vivid memory for some of us, there are many others who will remember him only through the stories and recollections told and re-told by those whose lives he touched more directly. It is for this purpose that I indulge in the words that follow.
Dr. Suzuki called upon all of us—every teacher, parent and student—to believe in our potential and to spread this philosophy to those with whom our lives come in contact. How many Suzuki-method families and teachers have been introduced to the idea that “every child can” by another person? While it is true that each individual can only do so much, there are now hundreds of thousands of voices that speak on behalf of one man’s dream. Consider the fact that Suzuki, himself, started his school in Matsumoto, Japan, at the age of 46 years. He accomplished more in the second half of his life than most people can in a lifetime. Each calendar year represented, for this master teacher, 364 workdays, as he chose to rest only on New Year’s Day of every year. He was teaching daily until the very last year of his life, with the same energy and commitment that had become his trademark.
The teaching days at his Matsumoto, Japan, school (kaikan) included individual lessons, group lessons, weekly Monday concerts, graduation concerts, and impromptu tea parties. Dr. Suzuki loved to send a student or two out for cookies and chocolates, then watch happily as all the students gathered to talk, laugh, and share the treats! Other weeks, Suzuki-sensei would travel to teach and lecture in other Japanese cities, or foreign countries. All of his current students would go down to the train station to see him off, and then return to the platform to welcome him home again.
The message Shinichi Suzuki felt so strongly about was faith in the human potential. Through the vehicle of music, this message has emerged most clearly, but his vision was not limited to playing the violin. For Dr. Suzuki, “every child can” began with speaking one’s native language and extended to learning of all sorts. Suzuki education programs in pre-schools, public schools, everywhere there are parents and children, were all part of his original dream. At the Talent Education pre-school in Matsumoto, two and three-year-old Japanese children recited dozens of poems from memory and learned hundreds of math facts using the Suzuki philosophy and method.
The example set by Suzuki-sensei was always that a new day brought with it a new idea. He realized the importance of reaching each individual and was in constant pursuit of this goal. Yesterday’s practice may have been a struggle, but each challenge brings opportunity for growth to parent, child, and teacher. Dr. Suzuki arose each morning with renewed energy and greater insight. He refused to become complacent with the incredible achievements of his work and envisioned only greater potential in every person. As students met and surpassed the goals he had set before them, he revised and added to his plan for their development. At early Japanese Suzuki concerts, the Bach Double concerto performed by the students seemed miraculous. As time passed, the level of playing improved and even beyond Suzuki Violin School Volume 10, more and more pieces were added to the repertoire. Suzuki and his teachers worked with all kinds of children, including some with physical and mental handicaps, proving that superior teaching methods could yield wonderful results. He challenged teachers to be active in searching for better ways of reaching children and parents, and always to study their own teaching with much reflection.
There are many far-flung places in which to spread the Suzuki message. Dr. and Mrs. Suzuki traveled the globe taking his ideas to new places. There are also people where we live who have yet to learn of the power in the phrase “unlimited potential.” We can take up the cause across the oceans or in a neighboring community. Either is valuable, and both present great opportunity and challenge.
Each of us involved in the Suzuki way of life has been fortunate to have our lives enriched by this powerful method and philosophy. Whether daily practice sessions between parent and child help to define and strengthen a relationship, or a teacher’s patient and positive assistance over the years help a child ultimately realize his dream, we persevere, knowing that this path promotes growth and development for everyone involved. We recognize the steps of ability development and experience the power of success.
The Suzuki philosophy is timeless and universal. Every parent on every continent has always, and will always, want the best for his/her child. The words “every child can” are words parents most long to hear and believe. Teachers attempt to make this fact a reality for each child under their care. But one man set out to find a way to prove this fact to the world, one child at a time. He entrusted to our care his vision of a world where each new life is treated with respect and caring, a place where the potential of each child is given a nurturing environment to develop the ability born within. Let us go forward with inspiration and the hope for a better world for our children.
Highlights of my life with Suzuki-sensei
1973 – Dr. Suzuki was guest lecturer at University of Southern California, where I was selected as the student in a demonstration of his teaching methods. Full of his characteristic energy and humor, we tried out various exercises for body and bow arm designed to produce a deeper, more resonant tone.
1980–1982 – I spent two years in intensive study with Dr. Suzuki at Talent Education Research Institute in Matsumoto, Japan.
1990 – Dr. Suzuki visited my Suzuki program in Cleveland, Ohio to give lessons and lectures for children, parents, and teachers. Filming for the documentary “Nurtured By Love” began, and he realized his dream of throwing out a baseball at a professional baseball game!
1995 – I traveled with a group of students, parents, and teachers to Matsumoto to meet and play for Dr. Suzuki, as he was no longer able to travel internationally by that time.
1996 – “Nurtured By Love” video documentary completed, and taken to Japan to be viewed by Dr. and Mrs. Suzuki in their Matsumoto home.
Did you know?
Dr. Suzuki taught lessons in the master class style. Each student was assigned only a lesson day, not a particular lesson time. All the students of a particular day arrived at 9:00 a.m. and each took a turn having a lesson with all the students present. In this way, each student received an entire day’s worth of lessons, with everyone benefiting from the instruction of all the others.
All Japanese Suzuki teachers were invited to return to Matsumoto each month for a “teachers group lesson.” The most recent graduates from the teacher-training program to the most experienced teachers returned to further their study of playing and teaching.
Dr. Suzuki personally listened to a tape of every Japanese graduating student at every level, and sent back recorded comments, congratulations, and one of his own painted calligraphy messages.
Suzuki-sensei rose at 4:00 a.m. each morning to have time to study, meditate, and develop new ideas to improve his teaching.
The development of character is of equal importance to the training of musical skill. The early days of Suzuki’s teaching took place in his Matsumoto home. In addition to violin lessons, future teachers learned the importance of character development through seemingly mundane chores, such as raking leaves and serving tea. “The very way one greets people and expresses oneself is art. If a musician wants to become a fine artist, he must first become a finer person. If he does this, his worth will appear. Art is not in some far-off place. A work of art is the expression of a man’s whole personality, sensibility and ability.” (Nurtured By Love)