Congratulations to all!
For the first time outside Japan, 250 young pianists will be taking the stage tonight at the Sacramento Community Center Theater for a 10-Piano Concert under the Suzuki Piano Method.
For the last two days the performers, ages 2 to adult and clad in evening clothes, have been swarming the theater area for dress rehearsals, bright-eyed and eager, taking their turns on the stage and proving that youth and inexperience do not necessarily add up to sour notes and missed cues.
The concert is part of the unique Suzuki Piano Method developed in Japan over the last 50 years or so, and it is taking place here because Sacramento is the hotbed of Suzuki activity outside Japan.
At the rehearsal, spectators repeatedly heard 10 pairs of hands on 10 pianos play perfectly in unison, something apparently special to the Suzuki Method.
Violinists, singers and horn players think nothing of performing in unison, but 10 pianists at a time on 10 pianos has been considered something of a musical breakthrough, said Karen Hagberg, a Rochester, N.Y., music teacher who brought 13 students to the 2-1/2 week session that culminates with the concert.
"The hard part of course, is finding 10 pianos in the same room, but there are a lot of advantages for students in playing together sometimes, despite the fact that the piano is a solo instrument," she said Thursday, as the rehearsal rang out perfectly in the background.
Learning the same piece their friends are playing, then playing it with them, keeps the music study from being solitary drudgery, even if pianists are later expected to perform solo.
Hagberg, president of the American Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation that sponsors the concert, said she spent four years in Japan studying the method after earning a doctorate and realizing she was facing a lifetime of teaching mostly unsuccessful students.
"When piano teachers get together, the conversation is always about any good students you might have--maybe one or two a year if you're lucky, maybe none, she said. "I didn't want that, and I'd heard of Suzuki, so I made arrangements and went."
The teaching method was adapted in the 1950s by pianist Haruko Kataoka, who is in Sacramento for the 2-1/2 weeks of workshops. She said she saw the success Shinichi Suzuki was having teaching young violin students in his Matsumoto, Japan school where she worked as an accompanist for the older students.
"Traditional methods of teaching music give a lot of credit to children who happen to be good, have inborn talent, but they neglect the other students," Kataoka said as she took a break from the rehearsals.
"The Suzuki method, however, is based on the concept that every child learns to speak, and quite young," she said. "Every one can learn to speak. You don't have to be talented. And anyone can learn music if they are taught well," she said. And not only can music be taught, it should be taught just as children are taught to speak: "For human beings, art is essential. Without art, a human is not complete."
In tonight's concert, 75 students are from Sacramento, mostly students of Sacramento teacher Linda Nakagawa. There are also 30 from Japan, and the balance from nine states plus Holland and Canada.
Teachers from 14 states, Canada, Holland, Japan and Singapore have been participating for the 2-1/2 weeks as well.
"For these students and teachers alike, this is exciting," Hagberg said. "This is a beautiful hall, 10 beautiful new pianos in perfect tune, everyone dressed in their best. It all makes for a very special experience."
Surrey, B.C., Canada
When I first heard about the 10-Piano Concert coming to North America, I decided I'd go if I could take some students. I was privileged that three of my students were able to attend. When we left home I wondered if we had done all we could to prepare. They had known their pieces for well over a year, done slow, hands separate practices, but would they be able to put it all together with nine others? THEY DID IT, but not without multitudes of daily repetitions. As a teacher observing, I was particularly pleased to see the results of part practices from one rehearsal to the next. This was different from a workshop where each student only has one lesson. Dr. Kataoka would ask if they had done their previous assignment. Then she would hear each individual student separately to make sure each was producing the same good tone, to see if each could play the accompaniment with very very soft controlled tone, or to see if they were "breathing" after phrases. There was no chance to hide behind nine other performers! If one makes a mistake it sounds like all have made it. This motivated my students to work extra hard on not letting the group down. I was constantly amazed at Dr. Kataoka's ability to zero in on the problem area and impress upon each the importance of doing their part. When all ten work as a team much can be accomplished!
When a couple of students didn't show up for rehearsals Kataoka Sensei would have their teachers take their places! One day my student was late so I had to play in his place! I had been supervising practices with my students, but had not been practicing myself. As she showed me the point to work on for that day she said, "You need practice." I knew she was right. I was so busy watching the proceedings, but the head knowledge was not enough! I needed the physical repetitions as much as my students. This experience will certainly affect my teaching this next year.
One of my students said that the whole experience was more than she had anticipated! What amazed her the most was the other performances and how much she had to practice!! Her piece was old and she thought she knew it well. She could have been better prepared by practicing her piece more before she went. One mom said that her boys really didn't want to go, but after it was over said they would do it again! During the past year their motivation was really down. During the two weeks of rehearsals they were focused, had a goal to achieve and even practiced without the usual coaxing! They really felt good about themselves.
The most impressive thing to me was the practice that brought nearly instant results. At least you could hear the result in 24 hours! I learned so much about how to practice. Watching each group take shape under the direction of Dr. Kataoka was truly amazing. The participating students had an experience that I wish every student could have. They really pulled together for their group and they formed friendships that I think will last forever. They were all signing each others' programs and posters at the last rehearsal. I was totally moved watching the final bow with all the performers on stage and the sold-out audience on their feet after witnessing such an inspiring program. I'm grateful to have been in attendance and look forward to all future 10-Piano Concerts held in the United States.
As I listened to the young pianists perform on the night of the concert, I was touched by their personal dedication and willingness to share their love for music. I thought back to all the hours spent in preparation for that evening's performance. And, I reminisced about the first time my daughter ever played the Twinkles.
One of the greatest benefits of participating in the 10-Piano Concert was the opportunity to play as part of an ensemble--especially because it is so rare to have ten pianists performing the same piece in unison, on ten of the finest instruments. While her participation in the concert was musically beneficial, it was also a lot of fun. She had fun performing with the nine other students and sharing their talent together.
Since the concert was an international event, it was very rewarding to witness how the young pianists could immediately bridge cultural gaps with their shared love of music. This concert was a memorable event that we will always cherish.
Our two older children both understood how blessed they were in being able to attend the 10-Piano Concert. Our deepest thanks to Dr. Kataoka, Linda Nakagawa, Fumiko Kawasaki, the Japanese students, the other teachers, the Otas and the many sponsors for making this great event happen! Your gift of love, hard work and enthusiasm expressed through the bright smiles and willing behavior of our children during the whole performance process was the best!
The rehearsals were many and couldn't have been at more inconvenient times for two working professionals. But the 10-Piano Concert really motivated our Casey and Emma to practice like we've never seen before (of course, the Pokemon card reward system didn't hurt either...). Seriously, although the concert required a tremendous commitment of time and energy from all of us, our kids really showed they had the right stuff in the end and we couldn't be prouder of their effort.
PREPARATION FOR THE 10-PIANO CONCERT--We decided to sign up Shannon for the 10-Piano Concert after seeing a video tape Fumi Kawasaki showed and after she explained to us the listening and team coordination required to play ten pianos just like one. The preparation effort started almost ten months before the Concert. Fund-raising efforts included wrapping papers, Christmas wreaths, Silent Auction, donations, advertisement in the program, and....but that's only the beginning....
RESPECT THE DEDICATION AND HARD WORK--The rehearsing started with each individual student practicing his/her own assignments. After that, a small group of students practiced together. We frequently had group practice in Fumi's studio and traveled to Sacramento to practice in Linda's studio. As the concert date approached, we started to practice in a larger group at a larger site arranged in Sacramento. Although there was a lot of driving, Mrs. Kawasaki was always there to welcome us and to say good-bye when we left. We have been thinking that maybe she has a vacation home in Sacramento. Her dedication earned our respect!
ALMOST GAVE UP--Since our teacher gave us a respectful example of commitment and dedication, we kept on driving to Sacramento for the group practices. The tough schedule and hard work often made us want to give up, but our teacher kept on encouraging us.
A LESSON FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY--When the concert started, we knew it was all worth it! We were very excited to see Shannon and so many other kids playing wonderful music. Seeing the students go up to the stage, bowing, performing as a team, and bowing to finish the performance, we realized the tremendous amount of hard work and coordination behind the scene to make it happen. The preparation of the 10-Piano Concert, and seeing the dedication from teachers, helpers and parents is the most valuable lesson for our whole family.
The 10-Piano Concert in Sacramento this summer impressed me not only with the skill of the students, but also with the hard work and dedication of those involved, especially the teachers. Despite the daunting task of putting on the first 10-Piano Concert ever held outside of Japan, they persevered, gathered the Suzuki community around them and rose to the challenge to create a successful event. We are lucky to have them as our teachers.
The concert was a great opportunity for students to learn the virtues of discipline, practice and teamwork. More than other team endeavors, the 10-Piano Concert demands that students be dependable and fulfill their responsibilities to the group. I hope that it has at least opened the eyes of my daughter to what she can achieve through her own efforts.
We have always associated a nurturing and caring environment with our Suzuki community and I was happy to see evidence of the benefits of this atmosphere all around me, especially in the way some of the older students reviewed and helped each other with their music pieces outside of the regularly scheduled practices. The 10-Piano Concert is a special event in every sense of the word and I feel fortunate and thankful to have experienced it.
The most exciting thing for Dean was that he appeared in the local newspaper, the Sacramento Bee, the August 6 issue. His grandparents, who came early afternoon that day, went out to buy several more copies to distribute to relatives and friends. The second most exciting thing for him was that his teacher at the Japanese school in Sunnyvale came to hear the concert. Although he was getting tired of practicing the same pieces over and over again as the concert neared, he was very happy that his efforts were being rewarded in such a way that he never expected.
As a parent, I was hard-pressed to keep up with the schedule of all the practices and rehearsals. It required more energy and commitment than I first expected. But, through the numerous rehearsals, I got to know a lot of parents whom I never had a chance to speak to before at the studio. I also got to know some people from New York when we were spending a nice summer afternoon at the hotel's pool during the last two days of rehearsals.
During the last two weeks, everyone worked very hard with the support of all the teachers from across the country and from Japan. Although I doubted that the students could ever play in unison in two weeks, they did it! I was so surprised that they all performed beautifully at the concert. What Dr. Kataoka said at the end of the concert is true--that the children perform at their best at the concert. I think that it is so wonderful. Of course, it could not have happened if they had not practiced. When the last piece was completed, I felt great! I just forgot all the hardship we went through. I just kept clapping my hands like everyone else and enjoyed that great feeling everyone was having at the hall. This is such a unique experience that only Suzuki students can enjoy.
What children learn is always such a concern for parents. We want them to grasp so much: academic skills, social graces, precision in playing a musical instrument. On a lighter note, we also want them to have fun.
Our trip to Sacramento embodied all these elements. Melanie and Tina each learned to integrate into a new family for 2-1/2 weeks. Both homestay situations were very positive and enjoyable. The girls also learned responsibility: careful practice and timely arrival for rehearsals. They learned to adjust to the various teaching styles of their piano instructors.
The reward for all the hard work was the exhilarating performance in Sacramento's huge downtown convention center, which was filled to capacity. It was the first 10-Piano Concert ever staged in the United States. There were Japanese and American dignitaries present to underscore this fact. Dr. Kataoka was recognized for her great contribution in teaching children music. It took commitment and effort, but it was definitely worth it.
When I heard that we were going to host four students, the first thought that popped into my head was, "Oh my gosh, where are all of these people going to sleep?!" When I found that they were all going to be teenage boys, that thought quickly changed to, "I'm moving into the backyard with Cody! (my dog)." There were nine people living in my home for the two weeks leading into the Suzuki International 10-Piano Concert, seven of whom were students who all needed practice time on the piano. When Ricardo, Jorik, Tadahiro, and Soh first arrived, no one really talked. Everyone was shy until many hours were logged onto the N64 and the pool table. I still can't believe how much time was spent playing video games (not as much as the piano of course!).
After getting over the language barrier and our shyness, we were able to sit in a room and just laugh. Some of the funniest times were when Tadahiro and Soh tried to teach us how to speak Japanese or when Jessica and Aaron, my siblings, tried to cook dinner with the help of Jorik and Ricardo. Besides the numerous hours spent on the Nintendo, we also went ice skating, sightseeing in San Francisco, and watched movies late into the night. Many hours were also spent shopping in the Downtown Plaza, a mall a few blocks away from the Convention Center where the recital took place.
The recital itself was incredible, from the tiny "bowers to the moving finale of Chopin's Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise. I can honestly say that we did our teachers proud that night! As we took our last bow(s!) we all knew that we had just participated in something absolutely wonderful, the first 10-Piano Concert held outside of Japan. I will always remember this experience, as I'm sure everyone else who participated or listened will.
When I went to Sacramento to play in the 10-Piano Concert, I stayed with the Huangs. I was lucky I stayed with them, because their house was two or three minutes away from where most of the practices were held.
This was my first 10-Piano Concert. The hardest part about it was staying together with the other players and playing softer or louder when we needed to. When we drove past the Convention Center, where the concert was to take place, a flashing sign announced upcoming events. One of these was our Suzuki Concert. It felt good to know that I was to participate.
As soon as the concert was over, we rushed home to watch a report about it on the 10:00 news. A few hours later, Karen picked us up to take us to the San Francisco Airport. It took us half an hour to squeeze our suitcases into the tiny rent-a-car. I had a good trip, and I hope I can go again some day.
The 10-Piano Concert was really fun! I was happy to see my friends Kelly, Allie, and Katie again from Japan. I was also happy to make new friends. I liked going to the picnic and playing with my friends at the rehearsals. But the most fun part was playing in the concert and getting it over with!
I was surprised at how hard it was for 10 piano players to simultaneously produce the same tone and sound on 10 different pianos. However, once everybody got the hang of it, things went smoothly and we were able to play perfectly at the concert!
The most special part of participating in the 10-Piano concert was being able to play with the other students. It was so special to perform with them, and to meet them in person. Even though we come from different parts of the world, we came together because we all like to play the piano.
I liked the concert. I was nervous, but it was fun. It was hard work! It was worth it, and I want to do it again.
The practice was hard because there were a lot of exercises, and I had to miss out on other activities like Boy Scouts. It was worth it though, because I got a lot of glory out of it--and candy. I want to do it again because it's a chance to do a really great job on a song and it's kind of fun.
The concert hall was humongous! Thousands of people came to hear us play. I had many different feelings. I was scared and excited. I was glad that there were older girls in my group. They made me feel better. They were nice!
The concert was great. My favorite part was playing in it, except for the fact that we had many rehearsals. The rehearsals started out long because we hadn't practiced with each other before. But as we had more and more rehearsals, I got comfortable with playing with the other people. My favorite piece was the Fire Dance because it was exciting. Some parts were soft, then it surprised you with a loud chord.
Before the performance, when I was waiting backstage, I was really nervous. I had butterflies in my stomach. My palms were sweaty. I felt like I wasn't ready. When it was time to play my piece, I went on stage and took a bow. Looking at all the people made me even more nervous. I took a deep breath and started to play. I felt relieved, so I started to play smoothly. It is like riding on a roller coaster. When it's almost your turn on the ride, you are really nervous. But once you are on the ride it's not that scary.
This summer we flew on two flights from Cary, NC to Sacramento, CA to what was the most awesome piano experience we have ever had. We had been asked by our teacher, Cathy Williams Hargrave, to perform in the first 10-Piano Concert ever in the U.S.
We arrived in California on July 22, and the four of us, Natalie, Julia, Mom and I found the little hotel room we'd be staying in for two weeks. After having a day to relax and settle in, we started having our rehearsals in someone's house. The 10 performers practiced in a sort of gym-like area that was big enough to fit 10 upright pianos. The teachers decided that for the last few rehearsals, we'd practice in a room at the Sacramento Convention Center, where we'd also perform on August 6. It was a real challenge to get our whole group to play in unison, but after dress rehearsals were over we were confident we could do a good job. After each rehearsal we'd either practice at business rooms in the Hyatt, a fancy downtown Sacramento hotel, or at the house in which Mrs. Hargrave stayed. Both of us were EXTREMELY thrilled when it finally was the concert day and even more excited when it was time to perform! "My favorite part was performing, because it felt great to get out there and play!" says Natalie, who's been playing for almost 5 years. "It was so much fun!" It was probably the most fun we've ever had as far as piano experiences go.
The 10-Piano Concert in Sacramento was a new and wonderful experience for me. Now I like to think of myself as a somewhat experienced performer, having been invited to the Japan 10-Piano Concert twice and having played in churches and weddings. But the feeling of playing so close to home, in such a large and public venue, was exhilarating.
At the rehearsals I reflected upon the differences between Sacramento and Matsumoto. Aside from obvious cultural mores, there was a unique feeling at the Sacramento rehearsals. Everything was fresh and new, and experienced teachers and students alike were extremely anxious. My own teacher, Fumi Kawasaki, would occasionally stop to ask me, "I think I'm holding up pretty well, don't you?" The role of supporter to teachers and fellow students was a new one for me. I realized that many of the performers were young, and had never played in a 10-Piano Concert before. When the night of the performance arrived, it dawned on me what a feat it was to coordinate such students into musicians.
Even the piece I played offered a new musical dimension. Performing Beethoven's famous Für Elise was anything but a technical endeavor. From the first rehearsal with Kataoka Sensei, I found it more and more difficult to do what I was asked. I could make the first beat stronger, and with practice I could make my 32nd notes crisp. Playing a left hand arpeggio "like pretty fog," as Kataoka Sensei described it, was a different story. I had to forget about key action and finger movement and hear sound with my heart.
Since the concert, I have come to consider Für Elise my best concert performance. I know many other students are just beginning to realize what they can do by playing from their hearts and with hard work. We all have Dr. Kataoka, Dr. Suzuki and our nurturing teachers to thank for giving us these moments.
Participating in the 10-Piano Concert was a lot of fun. The 10-Piano Concert needed a lot of dedication from the students and parents. It was hard work to practice your songs, especially if you had more than one song. There were many donations and fund-raisers to raise money for the concert.
Almost every weekend my parents and I would have to drive up to Sacramento for practices. Sometimes we would help by carpooling other kids that needed to get to their practice. It is a long drive! For the first few practices I didn't really know anyone except the other kids in my studio, but after a while I was talking and laughing with many kids in the concert. I also met the Japanese teachers who helped improve the songs in the concert. I even had my picture taken with Dr. Kataoka and got her autograph! On the day of the concert, I was beginning to get butterflies in my stomach because I didn't want to make a mistake in front of 2,000 people. In the songs that I played there were no mistakes and I was proud of myself.
The 10-Piano Concert was a good experience for me because I learned that if you sign up to be in a big concert such as this one, you have to be dedicated to work hard and help out all the time. Playing in front of a big audience was a good experience too because I probably won't be as nervous the next time I am playing in a concert.
Participating in a once-in-a-life-time event is one that should be cherished and should never be taken for granted. I was given the opportunity to perform in a very prestigious event. Words can't describe the excitement and nervousness encountered on concert night. I was so excited that the night had finally come. I could finally get the many months of hard practice off my shoulders and play in front of that impressive crowd. The nervousness came undoubtedly when the time to play arrived. Just two words can describe this feeling--"sweaty palms." In the end all went well and I had great satisfaction in the way my group and I played.
The experience as a whole can never be described in words, only in the music played that night. It was definitely an experience not to have missed and will be remembered as a great event that I enjoyed dearly.
My initial reaction to hearing that I would be playing in the 10-Piano Concert was, "What? Me?" I didn't think I would be good enough to play, so I knew that it would take a lot of work. I practiced on little things for months, and I was surprised to see that the students in Sacramento who were also going to play my piece were on about the same level as I was. I thought to myself that it was going to take a long time to get this act going, because playing a solo is way different than playing with nine others.
The one time I really got scared was when Dr. Kataoka told us that we had to use the pedals, and she stuck them in almost every line of the song. I couldn't believe that I was going to have to memorize all of that in a week. I practiced everyday, even practicing up to two hours a day. I got sick of practicing all at one time, so I spread it out within the day. A couple of days before the concert, I was really confident, and I knew that I was going to play well. But after a while, I started to crumble, and I made huge mistakes everywhere. I would blank out while playing, and forget my left hand. I practiced even more after that, because I was afraid I would blank out while playing in the concert.
The big concert day just came rolling by, and before I knew it, we were having our final rehearsal. I still continued to make mistakes, so I was really nervous. A couple of hours went by, and it was time to go on stage and perform. I wasn't nervous that much because I just wanted to get it over with. Even after all the practicing, I ended up making a pretty big mistake. I was really disappointed in myself, because I knew that I played better than that at the regular rehearsals. I didn't really play my best. Overall, I'd say that my experience in Sacramento was really good. I learned a lot more about my practicing skills, and how I have to sit with better posture. I wouldn't mind doing another l0-Piano Concert again, but I don't want to do it anytime soon.
My trip to the Sacramento 10-Piano Concert was wonderful. I had a great homestay family. They homeschool like my family, and Anna, the daughter, reads lots of the same books that I like, so it was very nice living with them.
I played Sonata, Opus 49, Number 2 in the concert. The practice time for that was usually pretty late in the day. Poor Mrs. Dehn, my homestay mother, sometimes had to stay at the practice place for seven hours, because the pieces we played ranged from Book 1 to Book 4.
The first practice with all the 10 pianos was cacophonous. The second was better, but I really liked when Dr. Kataoka started coaching us. She never once told us to try to play together, but was always talking about when to play softly, when to crescendo, when to use the pedal and so forth.
I wasn't nervous until we were the next to go on stage and then I became all panicky, but half way through the piece I calmed down and enjoyed myself.
Back home now when I play the Sonata it seems so quiet and boring compared to the sound the 10 pianos made together.
When my teacher, Mrs. Kawasaki, first asked me to play in the 10-Piano Concert, many unspoken, subconscious questions ran through my head. "Can I really do this? Do I really want to do this? Do I know what I'm getting myself into? Will I make this commitment? Can I keep this commitment?
Our first practice in Sacramento was a lot less than perfect. Half the group that was there didn't know half the song and dropped out somewhere before the end. I thought to myself, "0h brother, we are definitely going to need some work."
Many months later in Sacramento, we somewhat pulled it together. While we were polishing some rough spots, Dr. Kataoka came over from Japan. She set us straight right away with practice, practice, practice. Then she added a lot of pedaling for every page. And this was already just two weeks before the big day. Somewhere through all this I went on a four-day vacation to Seattle.
By the time I got back, practice, practice, practice was all that was ringing in my ears. I don't think I've ever been so exhausted practicing piano. Even though it was a lot of work and it wasn't easy, it paid off. Not many times can I say that I actually see my own progress on the piano before my eyes.
The concert day arrives. It's all hectic backstage. After dressing up and finding my group, we are led out to the audience to watch the performance. As it draws nearer to our song, we get more and more fidgety. Then we notice the camera. Gulp. When we get led backstage, some of us are nervous wrecks. As we go onstage, I glance out at the audience. I never realized how big the theater was. "Okay," I told myself, "Just concentrate on the song. Do it right. Forget the audience." And so that's exactly what I did. When we got up to bow, I felt a big wave of relief. "It's over. One year of hard work. Phew!" This 10-Piano Concert was fun but it was hard. I learned a lot about hard work, determination, perseverance, and especially discipline. I loved it all: the experience, the excitement, even the nervousness. But I doubt I ever want to go through so much practice, practice, practice again!
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First Online Edition: 30 December 1999
Last Revised: 21 February 2001