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Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation
67 Shepard St., Rochester NY 14620
242 River Acres Drive
Sacramento, CA, USA 95831
Deadline for Next Issue: 30 August 2004
I would like to talk about Dr. Suzuki's teaching philosophy. Dr. Suzuki was a wonderful person. I am sure good parents, for many generations by now, know that education during childhood is the most important of all. However, although this was actually recognized in individual households, it has not been recognized in the world of music. Dr. Suzuki proved that, in the world of music, childhood education is the most important of all. His education was based on the idea that any child can grow up well. Still now, traditional music educators have the preconception that children cannot do certain things simply because they are still children.
Even I sometimes hear myself saying, "Ah, you are such a baby," to a child who does something wrong. Adults tend to think that they are bigger and better and that children cannot do anything. Dr. Suzuki realized that. He realized children are much smarter and that adults cannot do better than they can. He started to educate children through violin based on that idea.
There is no method like Suzuki Method. I have been to many countries: England, France, Germany, Australia, Canada, the United States and so on. I have never seen individual teachers or a school teach like Dr. Suzuki. That is the wonderful aspect of Dr. Suzuki. He found a niche that nobody had noticed. The idea of his method came mostly from his experience of studying in Germany when he was younger. His performance was wonderful with beautiful tone. I miss his sound. I accompanied him on many occasions. When he went to Germany to study music, he was told many times "Japanese people do not have musical talent." He could not understand why Germans have musical talent but Japanese do not.
The other thing is the concept of the mother tongue. Dr. Suzuki could not understand why German children can pronounce the German language perfectly but he could not. I experience the same when I go to the United States.
I pronounce some English words very carefully, but even babies can pronounce them perfectly. For example, when they pronounce "Th," their tongue goes between their teeth naturally. When they pronounce "f," their teeth go onto the lower lip. Even saying "one, two, three, four, five...." takes me a lot of effort, but two- or three-year-old children can do it perfectly. The environment is very important. It all depends on the environment you have had since you were born. Dr. Suzuki experienced the importance of the environment in Germany and he tried to think about music education when he came back. He thought about human education. He knew that art is such an important part of people's lives, so he started his method in Matsumoto with the support of the city's intellectuals.
The difference between traditional method and the Suzuki method is that we realize children are better than adults, so the teachers who teach children have to be excellent. Dr. Suzuki said that it is a mistake to think that you can study with just anybody when you are younger. A young child should study with a specialist. I always tell teachers around the world that they have a wonderful job. The childhood education will affect everything else in the child's life. Teachers of childhood education are in charge of all education, so teachers must always be aware of that and work hard. If teachers do not study, students will not improve. If parents are not good, children will not be better. People have to study all the time until we die. Teachers have to study.
That is right. Children follow adults and grow up.
It is the same as walking. Children see adults walking and learn to walk. If a wolf raises a child, the child will walk on all fours. Humans do not walk upright just because we do it naturally, but because we see other people walking, so we walk in the same way. It is the same for music. If teachers cannot produce a good sound, the students will not be able to produce a good sound. Dr. Suzuki realized this fact. Teachers of children have to be the best of all.
I took traditional piano lessons until I came here when I was thirty. I studied with several famous teachers. They all taught me piece after piece, Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody no. 2, for example. They taught me the piece saying, "Here you do this, there you that, and you need to crescendo here and accent here and so on..." However, if I asked questions about another piece, they sometimes said "I have never studied that piece before." I think that teachers are still teaching with this kind of traditional thinking in Japanese music schools. Students learn knowledge that can apply to only one piece. It is as if saying, "You should act this way at this party, but differently at this wedding party." Dr. Suzuki did not teach that way. He said, "We need to teach the basics that everybody can learn and then apply what they have learned to everything else. We need to teach the basics to children." If you can do the basics, you can do anything.
When I first came to Matsumoto, I thought normal violin lessons were like Dr, Suzuki's lessons because I had never seen any violin lessons before. Of course, I was surprised because it was totally different from what I had experienced with piano lessons in Tokyo. In the beginning I thought that all violin lessons were like this. I started to notice that this is something different as I accompanied Dr. Suzuki's students' performances and as I listened Dr. Suzuki's lectures. He was teaching the basics.
Yesterday and today, I taught several higher-level students. They were all hard working, so were their parents. I heard four students' performances, but the common thing was they all had a bad posture. Having good posture seems the easiest task, so usually I do not see bad posture. Poor posture will put a lot of weight on the fingers. Something has to support the body. Bad posture cannot support the body, so the fingers have to work harder. It will create extraneous movement.
First, when you sit on the piano chair imagine a straight line through your upper body from your head to your lower back. It is like sitting on the floor when you meditate at Zen temple or have a tea ceremony. It is the same thing as those examples of respectful posture. I was born with a bad posture, so I am always careful to have good posture when I am walking, playing the piano, and teaching students. I already have a bad habit, so I have been careful all the time.
Then, drop your shoulders and relax your upper body. That is difficult even when playing the Twinkle Variations, Mary, or Musette. The important thing is how you can keep the balance and not to force your fingers (below your wrist) to move. There is only one balance on this earth. You have to keep the center of gravity just below your navel. Relax your shoulders. That is all.
I was surprised by Dr. Suzuki telling his students only about posture all the time when I came to Matsumoto. I cannot play the violin at all, but I feel as if I could teach it because I was always with Dr. Suzuki and heard his lessons. He always taught how to stand and how to hold the violin. He taught how to stand more than how to play. I thought the violin is a strange instrument to learn, but I realized that learning everything is the same, even piano, sports, or cooking. We just need to keep our body relaxed and keep it naturally. Of course, we get tight shoulders because we are alive, so you have to be careful. Try to relax your shoulders every three seconds. When you worry about even a small thing, then your body gets tight in a second. Please teach your students to relax their bodies all the time.
Children love music and they have musicality. They can learn difficult pieces, but they move their bodies like this (as playing the Italian Concerto with a big gesture). Dr. Suzuki played like this with his body shaking as a bad example, but you should not move your body. The reason why is you have to keep your body with good balance to produce sound at that point where the bow and strings meet. So, if you play the Italian Concerto with good posture, you are paying only 100 yen for that, but if you shake your wrist, you are paying about 5000 yen. When you are young, you have extra energy to do that, but you will not be able to do it when you get older.
I played like that when I was younger. My teacher always told me to sit on the front part of the piano chair. As I said earlier today, if you sit on the front part of the piano chair your legs have to support extra weight. The legs have to support your body. I played that way when I was younger and I had a big bruise on my legs just below my bottom. That is why I told the student during the lesson earlier, "You should sit properly, in the chair (use the entire surface of the chair). There are many beautiful bathing suits these days, so you do not want to have a big bruise on your legs."
I had a student who was very small like Alicia de Larrocha. When a small person sits on a chair, usually the legs will not reach the floor. I told the student to buy high-heeled shoes so she could sit on more of the chair. It is important to keep good posture. Once you have good posture, you can perform well. You can produce beautiful sound. However, if you shake your body or pull your body back from the piano, there will be many problems playing the piano. If you do not sit properly, your body is set far from the piano. So, to begin with, let's sit properly.
People tend to think if you tell children about posture at the first lesson then that is it. If you teach adults, that is probably OK. They need to be careful on their own, but not children. Dr. Suzuki taught us that very well. Teachers have to say the same thing over and over to children with patience and effort. Otherwise you cannot teach good posture to children. Dr. Suzuki said teachers do not only teach, but also they have to nurture students in the process of education. You have to nurture your students until they can actually do what you have taught. In my case, I teach and have kept telling about the posture for ten years. I teach Twinkles and Mozart's Concertos in the same way. The basic of basics is to relax.
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This summer was to have been the 20th anniversary of Kataoka Sensei's annual travel to Louisville, a place that has consequently become a major center for the teaching of Suzuki Piano Basics in the United States. After her untimely death in January, Bruce Boiney, director of the Louisville Institute, had to decide how to proceed. Instead of the anticipated anniversary celebration, he was faced with planning a fitting memorial and also to provide for teacher training.
Kataoka Sensei always taught on the stage of the auditorium at the University of Louisville. What, and who would be on the stage this year?
Bruce's unique solution was to place seven grand pianos on the stage, six for players and one for a teacher/coach, and to offer classes in ensemble performance for the students. After five consecutive days of rehearsal, the students performed a 6-Piano Concert in Kataoka Sensei's memory on the final day of the institute. The repertoire ranged from the Twinkle Variations to the Paderewski Minuet. Although some of the students were veterans of various multi-piano performances, for some this was their first experience doing this. Most of the parents in the audience had never attended such a performance, and responded with unbridled enthusiasm. It was a very exciting event.
Thanks to Lisa Cash of Rochester, New York and Robin Blankenship of Atlanta, Georgia who volunteered many hours of their time and expertise and to all the teacher and parent volunteers they enlisted to help, the stage management of the event was handled beautifully, taking the minimal amount of time and allowing all the focus to be on the performances. All in all, the Six-Piano Concert was a very popular event, and faculty members are already talking about ways that the performances could improve in the future.
Teachers also used the seven grand pianos for our own training and experience by putting together a 6-Piano Concert of our own. Most of us have not ever had the opportunity to perform with others in this way, and there is much to be learned in the process of preparing a piece with others. We had a short, informal concert on the final day during our lunch hour with repertoire ranging from the Twinkle Variations to the 3rd movement of the Haydn Sonata. All agreed that this was a very good way to pursue training in Piano Basics, and also felt that, in the future, we would need more time to devote to group practice during the week, and that we want more time set aside for our performance and the evaluation of it.
There was a lovely banquet on Thursday evening in memory of Kataoka Sensei, after which were speeches by students Arisa Katayama (Kentucky) and Bria Long (Georgia), parent Betsy Ruas (Florida), and teachers Bruce Anderson (Florida) and Cathy Hargrave (Texas). All were heartfelt remembrances. As one of my students reported in her journal, "It was a sad day and a happy day."
It was the feeling, on the final day of the institute, that Dr. Kataoka's spirit was very much with us, and that her legacy will help us perpetuate the teaching of Suzuki Piano Basics.
The meeting was called to order by President Karen Hagberg. Thirty-five members were present.
A motion was made by Gloria Elliott to approve the Minutes of the Annual Meeting from 2003 as printed in a previous newsletter mailed to the general membership. It was seconded by Hava Rogot and approved by members present.
Dr. Hagberg called for discussion of any old business. There was none. A discussion of new business included:
Dr. Haruko Kataoka's Memorial Fund. $5,058 is currently in this fund. Dr. Hagberg called for recommendations as to how this money might be used. The membership was asked to submit ideas to Karen Hagberg via e-mail. The goal is to arrive at a decision by the end of the year and announce it in the newsletter.
Cathy Hargrave was appointed the Historian for the Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation. People were asked to notify her by e-mail of videotapes, letters, photographs, or any other type of document concerning Dr. Kataoka they would like to share.
The next order of business was the election of officers. Dr. Hagberg called for any nominations from the floor. There were none. A motion was made by Mary Cowles to re-elect the current officers. It was seconded by Pam Werner and the membership unanimously approved. The following officers were elected:
Karen Hagberg invited visiting teachers to join the Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation.
Mei Ihara, Cathy Hargrave, and Linda Nakagawa explained the format of upcoming workshops and institutes being held this summer in Orange County, CA., Dallas, TX., and Sacramento, CA.
The meeting was adjourned at 12:45 a.m.
Cathy Hargrave was named Historian of Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation at our general membership meeting in Louisville in June. We would like to take an inventory of materials (videotapes, audiotapes, photographs, letters, programs, and any other memorabilia), relating to Dr. Kataoka in possession of our members. Eventually, we hope to be able to create an archive of these materials for future research. Please make a list, however general, of materials that you have and send to Cathy Hargrave, 5613 Willowbrook Drive, Rowlett, TX 75088-7663; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Board of Directors of Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation is collecting ideas and suggestions from members concerning the disbursement of monies in the Memorial Fund. Please send all ideas to Karen Hagberg, 67 Shepard Street, Rochester, NY 14620 email@example.com.
1. Full-color edition of Memorial Newsletter. $5
2. Copy of pencil portrait of Kataoka Sensei, 6"h x 4"w, drawn in Matsumoto in 1992 by Huub de Leeuw. $20
3. Videotape of Memorial Concert held in Matsumoto, July 28, 2004, featuring Seizo Azuma and other distinguished former students. $45
All items may be ordered from treasurer Linda Nakagawa,
242 River Acres Road, Sacramento CA 95831.
Please make checks out to Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation.
First Online Edition: 30 August 2004
Last Revised: 9 March 2012