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Deadline for Next Issue: 31 May 2004
I have been teaching music differently from the traditional way with Dr. Suzuki's legacy in my mind. The most important thing in education is to give children the best. We must provide the best for them. It is the same discipline we employ when we teach children to say "Please," and "Thank you," and "Hello." That kind of discipline will affect the future of the child.
Dr. Suzuki realized that, and he believed that the most important period of time is childhood if you want to teach music. We all can speak our mother tongue. Nobody tries very hard to speak their own language. Without realizing it, one day you can speak Japanese, English, French and so on. Dr. Suzuki's idea was not for creating professional musicians. It does not matter if you have a musical sense or not. If you learn good basics in a good environment you will be able to enjoy music for life. He valued that kind of education. Education is a good word in Japanese. It means to teach and to nurture. However, people generally consider education to be just teaching and not nurturing. Childhood education requires both teaching and nurturing. It is not only teaching the student, but also having the student be able to do it.
I have been teaching piano now for forty years following Dr. Suzuki's philosophy. It is true that students change if the teacher does as Dr. Suzuki said. For example, when giving tests to students, some students may get a perfect score. Some will get only 30% of the questions right. In traditional thinking, the students who get 30% will be considered lazy, or it will be assumed that they did not study enough. Dr. Suzuki would say that the teacher only taught 30% of the work. I was surprised by this idea, but ever since I heard it I have always taught my students until they score 100.
Of course, all children are different. They have different personality traits and come from different family situations. It seems very difficult to teach, but on the other hand it is fun to teach different children.
We are not teaching robots. Normally, children are not greedy to learn even if teachers try so hard. They do not practice seriously until two weeks before an event, but I heard better performances today than two days ago. They fixed things I asked them to fix two days ago.
During the last piece, the Chopin Polonaise, I was moved by the performance. I myself played that piece a long time ago. It is very complex and difficult to play. I did not learn good technique from my teacher, I just tried hard. People praised me after my performance. They wanted to be nice. Today's performers were not trying so hard to play the piece. They were just enjoying it. I was not feeling well for the past month and could not help them much. Only one person in the group was able to play the piece a month ago. They could not practice much. They are all my students, but most of them live far from here. Some attend universities in Tokyo or Kyoto. I was so happy when they asked me to let them play in the concert. I told them it will be hard for them to practice because of the distance, but they begged. Only one of them studies piano. The rest study law, and so on. I thought that children are wonderful. They were so good today. They are all together with beautiful tone. Some of them were crying after the bow. I cried too. Children and humans are wonderful. If you are really serious, you can do anything.
Dr. Haruko Kataoka
We must nurture our children for the future of Japan. We must inherit Dr. Suzuki's great philosophy and his teaching method and share these with the next generation. I reminded myself of this again today.
We are planning to have the 14th 10-Piano Concert eighteen months from now. Thank you for coming today.
Like so many previous times, I went to the 10-Piano rehearsals in Matsumoto last November with the pleasant thought that yet again I would learn so many things, often completely unexpected, by just observing and being there. It is hard to realize that I cannot set my goals anymore to the moments I will see Sensei again.
This last 10-Piano Concert was a very special one indeed. Somehow, something in the organization was different right from the beginning. Kataoka Sensei was mysteriously absent, and the work was taken over by the other Matsumoto piano teachers who did extremely well but seemed to be working under some unusual pressure. Whenever we foreigners asked whether or not Kataoka Sensei would be there the following day, they could never really tell us. Nor did they say much about the obvious reason that Sensei was not well.
When pushed, one of the teachers would admit that Kataoka Sensei sometimes tried to attend, but could not make it past the genkan, the entryway of her home, at that point realizing that she did not have the strength that day. Everybody gradually understood that she was very ill, but both the Japanese teachers and Sensei herself wanted to create the impression that this was something temporary that would pass in due time.
Despite the eerie signs right in front of us, I believe we were still thinking, "Sensei is a very strong person, so she will manage; and anyway, we cannot do without her." Now, knowing so much more about her condition at the time, it was miraculous the few times she managed to be there. She took over with her usual authority, strong voice and free body movements. These moments were short and rare, but it was enough to give us the feeling that everything was just fine, as it should be. It was reassuring.
Then, when there was no sign of Kataoka Sensei for a few days, doubt would arise again. This uneasy process went on until the day of the concert.
For the first time, I was assigned to take care of setting the bench and footstools at one of the pianos and for playing the chord to signal the bow. I must admit that I did not feel very much at ease with these tasks. Should I play the chord strongly or more subdued? Opinions differed, and I decided on the second option. Backstage there were the usual crowds of waiting pupils, when Kataoka Sensei appeared unexpectedly. She sat down for a moment and talked to the mayor who happened to be there. In the next moment she disappeared, something to which we had become very accustomed in these weeks.
When the second concert started, there was still no sign of Kataoka Sensei. Only at the very end, when "her" piece, the Polonaise Heroique by Chopin was about to be performed by ten of her own students, she reappeared and was seated on stage to the side to witness this last big moment. All ten students were very inspired and played absolutely brilliantly. After their wonderful playing, I rushed to give the chord for their final bow, but hesitated a moment before playing another. At that moment, Sensei jumped up screaming, "No!" and started to play with an incredible energy chord after chord to make her group take bows over and over while the roaring applause went on and on. When the ten pianists finally left the stage, it was a moment of sheer exaltation. Perhaps they were also realizing somehow that these might well have been the very final chords played by their Sensei, who enabled them to perform the way they did.
Returning backstage they were all sobbing and crying, not holding back in the least. It is hard to describe their tremendously deeply felt emotions. At that moment when the pupils went backstage, Kataoka Sensei began her speech about the difference of Heaven and Hell in piano playing, something she had already written about in the Matsumoto Newsletter of November 2003 (Speech and article are published here in this newsletter).
The essence of this speech had been so well demonstrated by her pupils just moments before. It was the perfect demonstration of her lifelong struggle to overcome bad playing habits and of what can be achieved after having learned correctly from the very beginning.
That evening at the goodbye party for the foreign students and homestay families, Sensei was represented by her daughter Julie, who kindly assured us that her mother would be fine and we could all look forward to the next 10-Piano event in Matsumoto in 2005. Kataoka Sensei had also referred to this in her speech, probably to give us hope.
After the 10-Piano Concert, reflecting on all these events while visiting friends in Japan, I was well aware for the first time that the day would come that we would have to walk on our own, without Sensei taking us by the hand. My travels took me to Toyama Prefecture, where I visited some beautiful temples. At one of these temples there was a woodcarving that depicted exactly how I felt about the future without Sensei. The subject of this carving was Shishi no ko-otoshi. A shishi (lion-dog) is a Chinese/Japanese imaginary animal that looks like a cross between a lion and a Pekinese dog. In order to make the young grow up, the parent shishi throws her young down a steep waterfall. The little creatures are deliberately pushed out in a rough way, because it is only by struggling on their own that they can develop into strong adults. The lion-dog chooses the right moment when she trusts that the young are capable of coping on their own. To me, it was like Kataoka Sensei saying, "Stand on your own feet, I trust you."
Now after Sensei's passing, we are all like the young thrown out quite unexpectedly. We will have to cope by ourselves, but thanks to all the years of guidance we have had, I trust many of us are capable of doing so.
The Japanese teachers shared something similar to this story after Sensei's funeral. Kataoka Sensei had told them in the very end that research is an individual search for truth and that the power to do this is within every one of us. In other words, you can walk on your own.
Though it is very sad to know that we will not be able to observe or have lessons with Sensei any more, it is with enormous gratitude that I think about how she worked all her life to enable us to continue her work successfully.
Many members have asked how to order additional copies of our previous newsletter, the memorial tribute to Kataoka Sensei. These may be ordered at $2 per copy. A full-color version is available for $5/copy. Please send your order with a check made out to Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation to Linda Nakagawa, Treasurer, 242 River Acres Drive, Sacramento CA 95831.
Dr. Kenneth Wilburn, who maintains our excellent Suzuki Piano Basics website, is developing memorial pages for Dr. Kataoka. All memorial messages received by the newsletter staff will be posted to this website, in addition to translations of memorial wishes published in the Japan newsletter. We welcome additional messages from members and friends. Please continue to send these to Ken Wilburn (firstname.lastname@example.org,).
Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation Website: http://core.ecu.edu/hist/wilburnk/suzukipianobasics.
This year's meeting of our general membership will be held at noon on Wednesday, June 9 at the University of Louisville during the Louisville Suzuki Piano Basics Institute.
Please submit agenda items to Karen Hagberg (hagberg- email@example.com) by June 1. The Board will submit a proposed slate of officers that is unchanged from last year, and will accept nominations from the membership previous to the meeting as well as at the meeting. We hope that all members who are able to attend the Louisville Institute will attend.
The 10-Piano Concert will be held in Matsumoto on November 16th. It is held every 18 months, and this will be the 13th time. Not only can the performers play with nine others at once, but they can all individually play their pieces solo as well. That is why the performance is amazing.
I chose Chopin's Fantasy Polonaise as the last piece on the program this time. This piece is very memorable for me. When I was 12 or 13 years old, I played it in a concert. This is a wonderful piece. I liked it very much, even when I was very young. Although I liked the piece, it was still very difficult to practice. I was studying with a traditional teacher, so I did not learn how to sit, how to balance my body, how to make musical sound, how to play the piano on the keys, how to practice the difficult parts, and so on. I was just practicing hard.
The energy of youth is amazing. I played the piece from beginning to end because of my youth. People in the audience praised me, telling me I was great and wonderful, but the only thing I remember is that I was not having fun as I played, that I was uncomfortable, that I did not really understand why people were praising me. (When some people hear difficult pieces by Chopin or Liszt, they sometimes get confused, thinking that the performance is good just because the piece is so difficult and flashy.) Especially in the middle section, when the left hand plays four 16th notes in octaves for two-and-a-half pages, one's left arm and hand can become hard and tense. It is as if you are in hell.
After 60 years, thanks to Dr. Suzuki, I researched piano technique and now I am able to teach my students how to play this part easily. When I was giving lessons, one student told me that the piece gets so easy in this middle section. Wow! This section is like heaven to him. Such a difference between heaven and hell. Hell is suffering and heaven is joy. When people study, they do it with all their effort. However, if they see hell once, they easily give up thinking that they have no talent or that they are lazy. It is important to stop there, not to give up, and to think that perhaps the way of studying is wrong.
Forty years ago, during one of Dr. Suzuki's lessons, a student said, "I am not playing well. What can I do?"
Dr. Suzuki answered, "Good and bad are opposites. Do the opposite of what you are doing now."
At the time, I thought this was a joke, but I later realized the truth of this statement. In the same musical passage, if you are doing it wrong you will be in hell and if you are doing it right you will be in heaven. Teachers must study for the sake of the students so they can be in heaven all the time.
Memorial observances will be held at all of these events.
See also http://core.ecu.edu/hist/wilburnk/SuzukiPianoBasics/Workshops/index.htm
First Online Edition: 17 June 2004
Last Revised: 9 March 2012