Hard Copy Illustrations
Leah Brammer - Media
Rita Burns - Workshops
Production and Distribution
Linda Nakagawa, Barbara Meixner, and the Sacramento Teachers Research Group
Send Articles to:
Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation
67 Shepard St., Rochester NY 14620
242 River Acres Drive
Sacramento, CA, USA 95831
Deadline for Next Issue: 15 October 2004
At the beginning of June, I went to the United States to teach teachers and students at the Suzuki Piano Summer School that is held annually in the music building of the University of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky.
In the United States, schools finish at the end of May and summer vacation lasts two months. Because of that, we can use all of the facilities of the university (the dormitory, practice rooms, and a wonderful concert hall). It is a good situation. By being able to use the entire music building, a teacher workshop can be scheduled simultaneously with a summer school for students. This time there were 129 students and 50 teachers.
These 50 teachers are very enthusiastic, and most of them participate in the workshop every year. There were only a few new teachers.
I was very surprised when Professor Oliphant told me that I had taught this workshop now for nineteen years, and that next year will be the twentieth time. I had been thinking that I had been coming here for a long time, but I was really surprised to hear it was so long. In the beginning, for the first five or six years, it was really difficult. The teachers’ posture was horrible. I kept asking them to fix it. I taught them how to fix the height of the chair and then to set the posture and stretch the back and how to put the hands on the keys.
I can write about these things in just a few words, but it took so many years to fix them. Both the teachers and I had to be patient and make a big effort. I was impressed with myself that I was able to ask the same thing over and over so many times. This is because I believe in Dr. Suzuki’s philosophy. During my 20-30 years of study with him, he said the same thing over and over. That always impressed me. Without realizing it, this habit stayed with me.
In Louisville, I can see the results of nineteen years of effort in these past few years. The technique of the teachers and students has suddenly improved. Now there are only a few teachers (the new ones) who need to fix their posture. The form of the experienced teachers is good, and everybody plays on the keys and has learned to play a quiet accompaniment.
Of course, when the teachers improve, students improve as well. The students’ concerts held during the summer school used to be so poor that I could hardly listen to them. But now they have greatly improved. Whenever a summer school improves like this every year, it is a great pleasure for both teachers and parents. The reason for this improvement is Professor Oliphant, who plays piano and knows the value of a good piano method. Over the years, she has chosen the faculty for the workshop, and now most of them, from the United States, Canada, and Europe, are graduates of the Talent Education Institute in Matsumoto and have studied with me for a long time.
One parent said, “I am so happy to be here. The teachers taught my child how to practice to gain good technique. I also was impressed by Seizo Azuma’s concert. I have never been to such a solid workshop.”
Suzuki Method first came to America’s west coast. Louisville is in the east, so the level was very low in the beginning. I was not very happy to have to go there to teach. Now I always look forward to going there.
Dr. Suzuki said that something is wrong if results are gradual like an oblique line. Good progress is like a flat line that suddenly jumps up a step to another flat line. With patience and effort, it will jump up again. This is real progress, and this is the way the teachers and students at Louisville have improved.
Do not give up as you go down a flat line. It is important to work hard with patience and effort.
The nineteenth Suzuki Piano Summer School was to be held in Louisville, and many teachers were looking forward to studying with Dr. Kataoka. Six months ago, when Sensei asked me to go with her to teach students there I did not think I could do it because of my poor English. She talked me into going by saying, “It is the same in the United States or Japan if you teach basics.”
Without an interpreter, I had a hard time, but I taught sixteen students every day for five days. With my poor English, the only thing I could do was demonstrate. I realized that, by going over the same points every day, I also was learning the basics again.
It was wonderful to see that teachers who wish to nurture students by teaching basics, as taught by Dr. Kataoka, are the same all over the world. How lucky the students are.
I would like to make good use of this experience in my lessons every day.
During the workshop in Orange County, one teacher pointed out that I demonstrated a lot during my lessons rather than speak English. She said she felt she talks too much in her lessons and realized that demonstrating is better for children than using words. She was going to go home and try to teach more like that.
I was very happy to hear this, and realized that there are so many teachers trying very hard to become better teachers for children. I would like to try hard every day as well.
Even though Kataoka Sensei was not physically present at Concordia College, her spirit was everywhere. The attitude of openness to new learning was present from everyone, whether they were giving lessons or taking a lesson. Thanks to Sensei’s spirit and the efforts of Mei Ihara, the Workshop Director, I can report that the Piano Basics Piano Method is alive and thriving.
June 25, the day before the 5-day student institute began, was a day for teachers to research Suzuki Piano Basics together. Approximately fifteen teachers gathered on Friday morning from 9:30 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. Master Teachers Karen Hagberg, Bruce Boiney, and Linda Nakagawa gave lessons to teachers. It was unique because the three master teachers were teaching in 3 separate rooms at the same time. Observers could move from room to room and see different styles of teaching piano basics.
The afternoon was reserved for student lessons, and Master Teacher Leah Brammer joined the original three teachers using the same format in four rooms.
The attitude of openness to new learning was present from everyone, whether they were giving lessons or taking a lesson.While master classes were being taught to students, Master Teacher Cathy Hargrave taught an introductory course entitled Every Child Can, which is the official Suzuki Association of the Americas program for new parents and teachers wanting to enter this learning process.
After the lessons were finished, the teachers gathered and took turns playing Allegro, Book 1, for each other. One teacher after another played the piece. The sounds were all different. Some were stronger; some were weaker; some were more or less stiff than others. Again, the group attitude was one of openness and “how can I become a better model for my students?”
The remainder of the Piano Basics Institute which was scheduled from Saturday through Wednesday included a full schedule for student participants who each had a daily master class as well as several elective choices.
Barbara Meixner shared her wonderful “Duos” which accompany the Suzuki Repertoire as well as fun duet repertoire. A duet and duo recital was performed on Tuesday for the enjoyment of everyone.
On the final day of the Institute, the Master Teachers spontaneously gathered again after the master classes were finished to “research” together. Each teacher demonstrated Twinkle D, “taking down and up” on each note. This is an exercise that Kataoka Sensei devised both to help our bodies to produce tone naturally and also to help our ears to hear a bigger rounder ringing tone. Again, the looks of the teachers doing this exercise as well as the sound they produced was different from one to the other. Some moved too much, while others looked too stiff. The group helped one another with evaluations and suggestions for improvement.
These experiences gave me just a peek at what may be a way for us all to work together. I think what is most important is that everyone who is serious about continuing to be, or beginning to be, a Suzuki Piano Basics Teacher find a person who has had experience with this process of teaching and, as often as possible, to have lessons with that person and observe him or her teach. The next best thing is to go to these workshops.
Practicing together and attending workshops has always been essential for each of us to improve our skills. Kataoka Sensei has given us a legacy which we must carry forward for the children’s sake. We are responsible to pass it on. She gave us all that she had. We have everything that we need, especially each other.
For the first time since Kataoka Sensei’s death, teachers gathered for the sole purpose of continuing education and research into Suzuki Piano Basics in Sacramento, California on August 8-12, 2004. Aided by the wonderful candid photos of Kataoka Sensei in the printed program (provided by Ed, Kyle and Joyce Kumasaki of Sacramento), her spirit was felt throughout the week by everyone in attendance. We all sensed she was there with us.
Workshop director, Linda Nakagawa, provided a single room with two pianos and asked which of the 39 participating teachers would like to teach teachers and students. Twelve of us volunteered.
We twelve teachers taught lessons to each other (the teacher chosen by lottery immediately before each lesson), to other teachers, and to students while everyone observed. As long as I have been attending workshops and teaching at various events, this was the first time I was able to watch so many of my colleagues in various teaching situations. It was incredibly interesting and enlightening. I feel that Linda, with this format, has provided us with our new way to study.
Before the event, I was worried that teachers would disagree about various things and that the week would be mired in a sea of controversy. This was hardly the case. Many times various people would remark on how seriously we all were trying to apply the basics, and how universally understood these basics are among those of us who have studied for a long time. Of course, we each have our individual style of applying the basics, and this is what was so very interesting all week long.
A Friendship Concert was held in memory of Kataoka Sensei on Tuesday, August 10. It was touching to see how the students tried so hard to perform well for this very special event. All but one student was from California, even though teachers came from fifteen different states and two foreign countries. In the future, I personally would like to encourage teachers to bring students to these events. I feel that hearing the students of various teachers from around the world performing together is an important part of our continuing research. In addition, it is a great motivation for students to travel to perform and to stay with families of other students.
The week was such a resounding success that there is talk of having a similar workshop during the winter. Watch for announcements on the website and in the next newsletter. If there is a workshop this winter, DON’T MISS IT. I kept feeling sorry for all the teachers who did not make it to Sacramento (and sorry for myself that you weren’t there!). For the first time since Sensei’s death, I feel that we have begun to find our way to continue and improve our work. My hope is that we all will be a part of it.
At the recent Sacramento Suzuki Piano Basics Workshop, teachers were discussing the importance of one’s personal appearance in the home studio. It is easy to forget that you could be one of the most important role models in the life of the children you teach.
I began to take piano lessons at the age of five and studied with the same teacher for thirteen years. Maude B. C. Taylor was perhaps the most regal person I have ever known. Not only was she an excellent piano teacher, she was the essence of femininity, always simply but elegantly attired.
Although I was the typical student who did not like to practice, I loved to play in recitals because it was a time to dress up. The recital stage was always adorned with floral bouquets to be presented to each student by their parents at the recital’s end. How special it was to have studied with this teacher.
It is easy to forget that you could be one of the most important role models in the life of the children you teach.I never imagined that I one day would become a full-time piano teacher, teaching from my home studio. Today my desire is to be a role model to my students as she was to me.
We are all striving now to keep Kataoka Sensei’s legacy alive. She, too, always presented a presence that welcomed teachers and students into her vast world of research, simply attired and enthusiastic to draw the best of Piano Basics from inside us.
Let us let the love for what we do shine forth from our hearts, be seen in our eyes, heard in our voices, and experienced through our personal appearance.
I liked hearing Dr. Kataoka’s words coming from so many different teachers.
Dr. Suzuki and Dr. Kataoka both taught us that in order to improve our students we first have to improve ourselves.
All of the teachers at the workshop were seriously researching this principle through our own lessons, our teaching, and our relationships. We now have a workable format in which to continue our research together. Because of this, the workshop offers the great hope that Linda Nakagawa spoke about. Thanks to everyone who attended this event, all the Sacramento teachers for hosting the event, and especially to Linda Nakagawa for her bold vision, diligence, and willingness to take a risk.
To access this new resource go to the address and click on the Suzuki Piano Basics Discography link on the tool bar at the top of the page. You will be taken to the Suzuki Piano Basics Discography website starting with Volume 4. Volumes 1-7 are available as well as selected books and DVDs.
When you click on an item's description you will be taken to Amazon.com where you have the opportunity to purchase the product and/or research through reviews and sound clips of the recordings, books and DVDs.
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: 2 January 2005
Last Revised: 9 March 2012