Hard Copy Illustrations
Leah Brammer - Media
Rita Burns - Workshops
Renee Eckis - Translation Coordinator
Cathy Williams Hargrave - Editions
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Linda Nakagawa, Barbara Meixner, and the Sacramento Teachers Research Group
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Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation
P.O. Box 342, Yachats, OR 97498
242 River Acres Drive
Sacramento, CA, USA 95831
Deadline for Next Issue: May 1
Forty some years ago when, having been very impressed with Dr. Suzuki's philosophy, I had decided to move from Tokyo to Matsumoto, there was a cello teacher from Tokyo who would visit Dr. Suzuki and talk about his studies with the virtuoso cellist, Pablo Casals. I heard him say something that sounded mysterious to me, something that has stayed in my heart all these years.
On asking Casals how to play the cello well, Casals answered simply, "Play naturally."
I heard this immediately after arriving in Matsumoto, when I was just at the beginning of my own research about how to play the piano well. This answer, similar in my mind to the answer to a Zen riddle, was incomprehensible to me at the time. It seemed like trying to hold onto a cloud. How to comprehend the meaning? Why would he not kindly teach in a more concrete and specific way?
Now, after forty years of research and teaching children and teachers, I have come to understand the meaning. If someone were to ask me now how to play the piano well, I would reply, "Play naturally, in a natural state." I would say this because it is the truth.
More than anything, being natural is most important. Being unnatural is the worst thing you can do. Casals' answer contains the most wonderful, most absolute truth.
To play the piano with ease and enjoyment, you must think about how to use the body. When you sit in front of the piano, what would you do in order to NOT be unnatural? The first, and most important job is to be sure you are not using unnecessary force in your neck, shoulders, arms, hands and legs, and that you have good posture. This means that you must assume good posture with a relaxed body, and that your center of gravity should remain down around your hips, never rising up above that area, and that the hips should be strong. For your body to remain soft, flexible and relaxed, you must have great body balance. Attaining this balance is also the job of the hips, in the place where the center of gravity is held. Many people, instead of relaxing their bodies, support their bodies with stiffness. The relaxed body, with the balance and the center of gravity in the hips, is the natural state. On this earth, this posture is the easiest and most effortless (in that it doesn't require much practice) for moving naturally, for fingers to move naturally, to be able to play well.
This is basics. If the basics of posture, balance and relaxation are overlooked, and you put your attention on other things, you will never get to the next step. Strangely, people do not like to research something as simple as being natural. Instead, they always obsess about difficult things, or things that appear to be difficult, or things that look impressive. They think they already know and understand something as simple as these basics. So they forget about it. Then they accumulate years of playing unnaturally by playing difficult pieces without being able to support a natural body. As they age, they are not able to play well or to enjoy their playing. All of those many years at the piano--it is a tragedy.
Casals said, "Play naturally." The importance of being natural, that people do not concern themselves with being natural, that they are not interested in what it means to be natural--he understood all these things. That is why he said, "Play naturally."
Let us not destroy the naturalness in the bodies of children. Even people who are a little unnatural can return to the normal state. Let us try. Not only in piano, but everything in life, isn't being natural the most important thing?
Our memories from childhood often come from our senses-our grandmother's perfume, the feeling of sand between our fingers at the beach, the glimmer of Christmas tree lights, or the taste of a particular food being associated with a holiday.
When children are growing up, having music on in the house creates a feeling that they will remember even when they are older. Recently, I picked up my teen-age daughter from school. When she got in the car she said "Oh it is so nice to hear classical music." I asked her: "Why? Were you listening to your pop songs while you were running track?" "No" she replied, "It's just been a difficult day."
Young students need many repetitions of the highest quality music. It is not necessary to own many discs, just the best ones.
Researching and buying new music is fun for older children as well as for parents who are developing their musical taste. A trip to the music/book store can be a great educational outing. Many stores have headphones with samples of discs. They can look for discs with compositions by the composers that they are studying in their Suzuki piano repertoire. Buying one disc that is carefully chosen is a great motivation. Websites like www.amazon.com, www.towerrecords.com, and www.BarnesandNoble.com, are good because they give information about the disc. Many times you can listen to samples online as well.
In addition to looking for discs with selections by the composers of the pieces in the Suzuki repertoire, researching a specific pianist is a great way to buy discs.
Another way to collect discs is to buy a specific disc to prepare for live performances. This makes the live performance much more enjoyable and valuable. A student's parent recently told me that she had taken her three boys to see the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra perform Holst's "The Planets." The mother bought the disc and played it in the car several weeks ahead. During the performance, her son Max would turn to his head and whisper "Mars!" "Mercury!"...
I am always so happy when a student comes to the lesson and announces a piece they have heard and want to learn. Sometimes they find another pianist on a piece they are learning. They develop the ability to hear subtle details and make decisions about good interpretations. Then, the music becomes truly their own.
In this way, as your children go through life, high quality classical music will become the "comfort food" that will feed their soul.
Student enrollment for this year's Louisville Institute is already filled to capacity, but several spaces for teachers are still available as this newsletter goes to print. This is a great opportunity to study with Dr. Kataoka and observe daily masterclasses on pieces throughout the Suzuki repertoire.
The highlight of this year's institute is sure to be its first ever concert by Seizo Azuma. Mr. Azuma is an inspiration. Having studied piano as a child with Dr. Kataoka, he has grown not only to be an outstanding musician, but by all accounts a fine human being, the realization of Dr. Suzuki's vision that music ennobles the human heart.
Other highlights of the week will include formal evening student recitals, "Pre-Twinkle" class and parent talk with Bruce Anderson, daily enrichment classes for students, teacher lectures with Dr. Kataoka, and a chance to talk with old friends and make new ones. What an experience!
Mr. Azuma was originally a student of Dr. Haruko Kataoka. After attending Tokyo College of Music and winning first prize in the 52nd Music Competition of Japan (1983), he went on to attend the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique in Paris as a scholarship student of the French government. He graduated from the Paris Conservatoire with the first prize in 1987.
Since that time, Mr. Azuma has performed with every major orchestra in Japan and has been awarded prizes at many major international competitions. He also performs actively as a recitalist and chamber musician. His concerts have been recorded for radio broadcast all over the world.
Mr. Azuma has made three recordings, all of which may be purchased from Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation. The first features two Beethoven Sonatas (Les Adieux and the Pathetique) and Schubert Impromptus, Op.90 (member price: $17 with free shipping; non-member price: $20 plus $7.50 shipping & handling). The second, entitled La Campanella, is all Liszt (member price: $17 with free shipping; non-member price: $20 plus $7.50 shipping & handling). The third is a collaboration with the cellist Mineo Hayashi, entitled Fun Classics (member price: $20 with free shipping; non-member price: $25 plus $7.50 shipping & handling). (Send checks to Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation, 242 River Acres Drive, Sacramento CA 95831. We cannot accept credit cards.)
Dr. Kataoka described the Orange County climate as "heaven". Concordia College is located on a sunny hill near the ocean. It is a small campus, so the walks are beautiful, but not long. Since the workshop is June 11 to 15, the rainy season is over in California, so you won't need an umbrella. It is also early enough so it is usually not very hot. The floral plant-life in Southern California is different from Northern California which has colder winters. I was born and raised in Iowa, and after living in California 35 years, I am still impressed with the abundant flowers in the West.
The Orange County "crew" who put together the workshop are thoughtful, very approachable, and work very hard to make you feel welcome. They venture to other workshops themselves, so I think they know that it is important to reach out to newcomers.
Besides giving you knowledge about how to better teach this method, workshops can give you a feeling of being refreshed and renewed. I think it is very healthy to get out of your own studio environment. You are given the opportunity to relax, sit back, take in and observe someone else do what you are trying to do everyday. And you can do this in a beautiful environment.
I sometimes think that certain personality types are attracted to particular occupations. For example, teachers, nurses, care-givers, counselors, etc. tend to give to themselves last, have a hard time saying no to requests, and can often get burned out. Do you relate to what I am saying? If you have had children, then you are automatically put into the care-giver category. Sometimes you just need to go to a dinner and a movie. These workshops can give to you in the same way. They can give you a balance in your life. You are given the opportunity to get away and take the time to take in rather than give out. You can fill up your tank so that you can return home anxious to give and try new ideas. You feel motivated and renewed to teach again, and ultimately your students will gain from your experience.
There is one other benefit I haven't mentioned. It is fun. I stay in the dorm in Orange County. You are given a choice of two or four in a room. There are some fun conversations that go on in those rooms. It takes me back to younger days. Where else can you do that? Something special happens when you get a bunch of women together, men together, or mix it. All three groups have a different feel to them. You will gain new comrades in our field, plus you will have a whole bunch of laughs. My experience has been that we piano teachers share a healthy sense of humor. I could name names of some of our funnier people, but if you have attended a workshop anywhere, you know who I mean. These people are treasures, and you want to return again to see them. Kataoka Sensei shares this sense of humor.
I hope to see you this summer in Louisville, June 2-6; Orange County, June 11-15; or Sacramento, August 1-16.
By Cathy Williams Hargrave
The purpose of this series is to compare the Zen-On and Warner Bros. Editions of the Suzuki Piano School and inform teachers of fingerings and articulations taught by Dr. Haruko Kataoka, the co-founder of the Suzuki Piano School, which do not appear in past or present editions.
The fingerings and articulations between the Zen-On edition and the Warner Bros. edition (WB) are not too different from each other. The main difference is that the Warner Bros. edition encourages the use of ornamentation; although, it does mention the ornaments are optional. No ornaments are printed in the Zen-On edition of this piece, and Dr. Kataoka does not teach them.
Reconciliation of Right Hand
Measure 15, Beat 3
WB: Finger 1
Zen-On: Finger 3
Dr. Kataoka teaches Finger 3.
Measure 25, Beat 2
WB: Finger 5
Zen-On: Nothing indicated
Dr. Kataoka teaches Finger 4.
Measure 26, Beat 2
WB: Finger 1 on Fa# and Finger 5 on Do
Zen-On: Finger 2 on Fa# and Finger 4 on Do
Dr. Kataoka teaches the Zen-On version.
Reconciliation of Left Hand
Measure 14, Beats 2 and 3
WB: Finger 3 on La, Finger 5 on Fa
Zen-On: Finger 2 on La, Finger 4 on Fa
Dr. Kataoka teaches the Zen-On version.
Measure 28, Beat 1
WB: Finger 1
Zen-On: Finger 2
Dr. Kataoka teaches Finger 2.
This concludes Part 11 and all the pieces in Volume 2.
The idea of an online discussion group was raised by Cathy Hargrave at an annual membership meeting of Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation in 2001. All SAA members are invited to subscribe, as are other interested persons. Please contact Cathy Hargrave, Secretary of Piano Basics Foundation, if you would like to be added to the list of subscribers (CWHargrave@aol.com).
Email messages you send to Suzuki-L will quickly go out to every member on the list, enabling members to talk among ourselves in a cyberspace group discussion.
In his announcement of this new service, Dr. Wilburn said, "I have wanted to create this service for you for years. Suzuki Moms and Dads have so many questions. Studio teachers rarely see each other. Suzuki Piano summer institutes, so important for us all, are never experienced by the majority. Dr. Kataoka is far away in Matsumoto, Japan. May Suzuki-L bring us all closer together and bring more beauty to all the children of the world."
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First Online Edition: 22 April 2003
Last Revised: 8 March 2012