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Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation
67 Shepard St., Rochester NY 14620
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Deadline for Next Issue: 1 March 2005
By Dr. Haruko Kataoka
From Matsumoto Suzuki Piano Basics Newsletter,
Vol. 12, No. 7, December, 2002
Translated by Mayumi Yunus
Edited by Karen Hagberg
I sometimes praise my students if they can do the things I ask right away. In response, Japanese children always shake their heads and deny they are smart. If I do the same thing in the United States, however, all the children smile and agree with what I say. I get totally opposite responses from the children of these two countries. There is an old saying, “The same goods become different goods in different places.” Every country has different customs and ways of thinking. It seems that a country’s climate and religion affect how people live and think. People tend to think that their own way is the right way, but you will never understand if you stay in the same place forever. Do not be ignorant. It is smart to experience and learn about the good points of every culture.
Let’s return to the main subject. When my students say they are not smart, I always tell them it is rude to say that. I point out that their parents and other ancestors gave them a good brain. If they say their brain is bad, it means they are not appreciating what they have been given. I also point out that if they do not use their good brains, they are wasting a treasure. Some people never use their brain throughout their entire lives. I tell them they must work hard to use their brain. They must practice hard. Doing this, a good brain can become a great one. I acknowledge that they surely do not like practicing the piano, but that it is such good training for the brain. Using both hands moving in different directions is really good for the brain. I once heard an English teacher at the music school say that the smartest students were the piano majors. This is right. Of course, piano students have always used both hands from the beginning of their studies. This stimulates the brain. We must be careful with the really smart students so they do not become lazy. I realize, from my many years of teaching experience, that there are many smart and lazy people.
I want to tell you about a young man who was sentenced to death a long time ago. He grew up in an orphanage without love, and killed people when he was seventeen or eighteen years old. When he was arrested, he thought about his life and realized that he was never praised by anybody. He was only told that he was a bad person. In prison, it was discovered that he had a very high IQ. He was born smart, but the environment made him a criminal. This is a good example of how the environment can change a person’s life. Fortunately, before he was executed he learned to write poetry and left the world with many excellent poems. Sadly, we will never know what would have happened if he had had a wonderful family and a chance to use his good brain. I think this is proof of Dr. Suzuki’s idea that “We are children of our environment.” The environment can have the most important effect on people as they are growing up.
People are taught the important things in life like manners, patience, effort, concentration, and love by their parents and people around them (teachers) as they are growing up. Without that, even a person with a great brain will not be able to use this brain and can turn into a bad person. All children have great brains. Let’s make a great environment for them.
By Karen Hagberg, Rochester, New York
Last evening I heard a rather good pianist perform the Rachmaninoff third piano concerto with a fine orchestra. It was an enjoyable event. I have a friend who also attended who will ask me what I thought of the pianist, knowing that I can be very critical, and wanting to understand what I hear in the performances of Martha Argerich, the pianist I consider to be the best in the world these days.
This pianist was good. He has had an illustrious career, having won competitions and played all around the world with the best orchestras and in the best halls. I ask myself what, then, was missing.
Kataoka Sensei always taught that we should take the sound out of the piano with the grip at end of our fingertips. This idea did not originate with her. Other pianists and pedagogues over the years have advocated this, yet it is an idea that is not widely professed even today. It is actually little understood. Before studying with Sensei, I personally encountered only one teacher in my life who seriously taught doing this. His students thought it was a bizarre technique, as it required beginning again with Mary Had a Little Lamb and changing everything about the way the students moved their fingers. It required intense listening, with concentration, to tone itself. These students, by this time in a music conservatory, thought they had been assigned a mad teacher, and transferred from his studio as quickly as they could.
The first time I heard Argerich, my jaw dropped. “She never gets to the bottom of the key bed! She never crashes into the instrument with her fingers! She always pulls the sound out of the instrument with the energy of her body!” I was enthralled. I had not heard a pianist make tone like that, so completely and consistently, since hearing Horowitz over 30 years ago. My heart and soul were touched by every sound she made.
Today I have a new way to explain it to my friend. Most pianists produce sound by pushing down on the piano keys, producing the sound of the piano itself, which is a large, hard object. It is a flat, uninteresting sound that cannot sing over a full orchestra no matter how hard the pianist tries. It is a sound that does not move the listener. When a skilled person plays thousands of these sounds together in a great piece of music we cannot help but be impressed, even thrilled, by a kind of virtuosity, but it does not go all the way to our hearts and to our souls.
When a performer knows how to draw the sound from the instrument without pushing on it however (or leaning, or poking, or hitting, as Sensei always said), the sound comes through the human being playing it. It is as unique as that person. It is a sound that can carry over the largest orchestra or throughout a great hall. It touches the heart and soul of the listener. Such tone is beauty itself, truth, and enlightenment. Anyone who has heard such tone is a fortunate person.
In Japan, it is said that you are lucky whenever you see the top of Mount Fuji, which is mostly shrouded in clouds and fog. After seeing the beautiful outline of the dramatic, snow-capped summit, you will always know what you are missing whenever you pass by and cannot see it, for the rest of your life. After experiencing living tone, you will want it forever, and you will be fully aware when it is not there.
Most pianists can produce some living tone. As for most things in life, this is not a black and white situation. But a truly great pianist produces all of the sound with his or her own body, with the self, creating this wondrous, truly living tone from beginning to end. The result is a miracle of our world, much like the view of Mount Fuji.
Dr. Suzuki, in his later hears, would roam the halls of the Talent Education Institute saying, in English, over and over again, “Tone, tone, tone, tone.” There was nothing else to say. He meant living tone, the tone of a human being.
Maybe it is that I’m writing this near Valentine’s Day that I have the image of living tone being a Cupid’s arrow, shot from the heart of the performer and piercing the heart of the listener straight on.
The great pianist sends cascades of such arrows, bombarding the listener with so much feeling, wonderment, light, depth that it is impossible not to react. Sometimes the emotion of it all moves us to tears. Conversely, we sometimes giggle as the impossibility that a human being can do such things seems almost silly. At other times there is a feeling of terror and dread that philosophers have described as the sublime in the aesthetic experience. Living tone can evoke every feeling we have ever had, and it can produce new ones. It brings us closer to God, or to the truth, to enlightenment. High art is powerful like that.
Whenever I hear any performance, good or not so good, I am reminded to remain in the realm of tone when I teach, for children, who have come more recently from the universe than we, will understand to the level their teachers understand. This is the awesome responsibility we have.
As teachers, we need to study tone all the time. Study tone. Teach it to the next generation.
By Mayumi Takashima Yunus, Tokyo, Japan
Almost a year has passed since I came back to Tokyo from Atlanta. There are many things that have happened during this time. Of course, the most monumental was the death of Dr. Kataoka last January. I had taken several lessons with Dr. Kataoka in Matsumoto before the 10-Piano Concert in November 2003. I am so glad to have seen her life and to have studied with her in Matsumoto, even for a short time.
Now, I go to Matsumoto every two weeks to join the study group that is currently made up of eight teachers, and I have a private lesson after the group session. Sometimes there are a number of teachers who come from Osaka, the Kanto area, and Northeast Japan to join the group session. There is also another teacher from the United States who is currently living in Matsumoto and studying full-time. Her name is Leanne Anderson.
We usually play down-ups and Twinkles for each other. If there is more time, some teachers play pieces they are practicing. However, usually down-ups and Twinkles are enough for most of us, because there are so many things to learn from these.
The first thing I learned was the importance of studying in a group setting. In the group sessions I can always find something I could never have discovered by myself. Generally, it seems that studying the piano is done alone, by practicing on one’s own. However, this is very dangerous, because without checking yourself (and having somebody else check on you), your technique will likely change from minute to minute. This is especially true for those who are trying to change their technique after years of playing. Your old habits will come back, and it is very difficult to notice that they are back. We all definitely need extra effort to keep the new, good technique.
Of course, if you are a teacher, your students are like a mirror. It might be easier to check yourself reflected from your students during lessons. Luckily, when I arrived in Atlanta I had a strong, connected group of people who were willing to learn near me. We had apprenticeship classes and also private lessons provided by Leah Brammer and Robin Blankenship. Teachers in Atlanta are very open and provided me many great lessons to observe. We also had a graduation concert twice a year at a very nice hall. I hope many Suzuki teachers get opportunities as I have had in Atlanta and Matsumoto.
March 17-21, 2005
Suzuki Piano Basics Workshop
Featuring Karen Hagberg
Contact Kathie Sheeley, 770-980-9191
April 7-9, 2005
Suzuki Piano Basics Workshop
Featuring Karen Hagberg
Contact Joan Krzywicki, 215-836-0968
April 15-17, 2005
Suzuki Piano Basics Workshop
Featuring Cathy Hargrave
Contact Gretel von Pischke, 703-860-5654
June 6-10, 2005
University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky
Louisville Suzuki Piano Basics Institute
Faculty: Bruce Anderson, Lori Armstrong, Leah Brammer, Huub de Leeuw,
Gloria Elliott, Karen Hagberg, Cathy Hargrave, and Linda Nakagawa
Contact Bruce Boiney, 502-896-0416
July 5-9, 2005
Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas
Southwest Suzuki Piano Institute
Featuring Libby Armour and Lori Armstrong
Teacher Training Level 2 with Cathy Hargrave
Contact Cathy Hargrave, 972-412-8864
July 18-23, 2005
Concordia University, Irvine, California
West Coast Suzuki Piano Institute
Featuring Bruce Anderson, Bruce Boiney, Karen Hagberg,
Cathy Hargrave, and Linda Nakagawa
Contact Mei Ihara, 714-997-8692
July 24-27, 2005
University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, Washington
Suzuki Summer Festival
Featuring Dr. Karen Hagberg
Contact Jacki Block, 253-759-7213
August 13, 2005
4th Suzuki Piano Basics 10-Piano Concert
Featuring teachers and students from the U.S. and Japan
Contact Linda Nakagawa, 916-422-2952
First Online Edition: 2 January 2005
Last Revised: 9 March 2012