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Linda Nakagawa, Barbara Meixner, and the Sacramento Teachers Research Group
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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: 15 December 2004
Dr. Suzuki did not teach pieces, rather he utilized pieces in order to teach basics.
Until Dr. Suzuki started doing that, teachers taught pieces. They forgot to teach basics because it takes too much time to teach pieces. Learning basics is something that you can only do when you are young, however. There is only one chance in a lifetime.
I would like to say this again and again. Our job is wonderful. People say that education can destroy a country or save a country. It is very important and simple.
I am sure you sometimes feel hopeless. I feel that way too. However, I tell myself to always be confident because I am a teacher. I am sure that you are confidant about your posture because you can walk. I will be seventy-four years old when my birthday comes this year, so I am not as confident as before. I can still walk with good balance though. Everybody who can walk has good posture and you can practice good posture when you are walking.
I teach many teachers and before their lessons some of them tell me that they did not practice. I am sure they walked to the studio, so I think that at least they practiced how to have good posture. Dr. Suzuki always told students who said they did not practice that they could play better without practice. People who only think about practice could not understand what he meant. I used to think he was joking, but now I understand what he really meant.
It is good for you to walk with good posture. If you walk like this (hunching) to Matsumoto station, you will be tired. Even if you think walking is good for you, but walking in bad way causes bad results. Right? First, you need to change how you think. Try from the very beginning again. I did start over from the beginning when I came to Matsumoto.
One day, Dr. Suzuki picked up his violin then played one note with the bow and asked me if piano players think about one note (one sound). It was shocking. Nobody asked me that before. I had studied with many teachers. Nobody taught me how to play one note, how to put my heart in the note. I thought about it for a long time and I decided to start my piano study from the beginning all over again. There was a big and heavy tape recorder that had just come out at the time. Dr. Suzuki told everybody to buy one even if they had to take out a loan. He said it would be so useful for researching the sound you make. I bought one and I was surprised.
I still remember even though it was forty years ago. I played Clair de Lune from Book I and recorded it. I played in many different ways. I tried to play in the way I thought was good at the time and also tried with a relaxed body. The best one was the one I played with ease. I guess I was very stiff then.
Piano is a difficult instrument. Even if you hit it, it makes a sound. Anybody can make sound on it. You have to choose your sound because it is possible to make many different kinds of sounds. Humans get used to things they do. If you listen to bad sound all the time, you get used to listening to it and you no longer feel anything. The first thing I teach to a new student is how to make a single sound. I show them different sounds like heavy sounds by pushing the keys and beautiful sounds. I teach the difference from the beginning. The student will grow the ability to listen that way. Listening is the basic of basics in the world of music. You have to listen to music first, then you use your heart. Dr. Suzuki said, "Listen with your soul." You have to be able to listen with you ears, first.
How to produce sound is also the basic of basics. Have a flexible and relaxed body to avoid a shock and then move your fingers. Use your grip to play the piano. A soft and relaxed body can sound like the body of somebody who is drunk, but the difference between the drunken body and relaxed body is you have body balance. I tried to drink a little to make myself relax. I learned how to relax by doing that. After drinking a little, I could not walk straight. When you play the piano, relax your body 100% and maintain good balance. Then, use your grip to produce sounds. Everybody is born with a good grip. Babies can grasp things from the very beginning. Use the grip to play the piano. Just like this (playing Gigue by Bach). If you push, hit, or strike everything becomes noise. Having good posture and playing from above the keys, your lower back and whole body can engage in the action. I guess heart and soul are in your chest, so when the sound relates to your body, you can put your heart in it.
That is the basic. Dr. Suzuki always said, "Being a Talent Education teacher is easy." He meant to say that we teachers need to say the same thing to all the students, whether they are beginners in Book 1 or advanced players performing the Mendelssohn concerto. As a joke he would say, "I can teach 100 students and smoke cigarettes at the same time." He meant to say that we teachers have to say the same thing over and over for a long time from Twinkles to advanced pieces. Otherwise the students will never be able to grow.
However, it is the most tiring thing for me to say the same thing over and over. I think it would be so much easier if I can say different things every day, like daily lunch specials in restaurants. It is easier to work without any responsibilities and to be able to say different things everyday. I say, "look at your posture," "put your hands above the keys," and "relax" all the time. I think I am a patient person.
If you have good basics you can play any piece. Of course, you can learn about the piece you play from your elders. I feel some of the things I learned a long time ago are not useless. Although I teach only the basics, I sometimes tell my students "You should play this way," or "You can practice by dividing the piece in these sections," and so on.
If students have a lazy teacher, it is most unfortunate. It is hard to research alone, so you should probably try to do it in a group. That is one of the great aspects of Dr. Suzuki. He made a group for talent education. That way, teachers can research how to teach together. Children imitate what teachers, parents, and all the adults do. I feel horrible when I hear bad news about children in crime, but that is not only the children's parents' responsibility, but the responsibility of all of us. Adults are not in line, that is why children are not. Of course parents should take the responsibility if their children commit a crime. However, nowadays, it is difficult to just blame the parents. There is so much information out in this world. Dr. Suzuki visited many juvenile correctional facilities and held concerts for the inmates. He always said after these visits, "Juvenile correctional facilities are not for children, but for parents. They should be in there." I thought so, too. It is the parents' responsibility but it is not fair to blame just them. We need to blame the whole society. We need to be serious to save our children.
Dr. Suzuki always said, "Children are wonderful" and he also said that children don't have any responsibilities. I always tell myself what he said during my lessons. I sometimes blame students because I get too excited during lessons, but that is just because I am very serious about teaching piano. I am sure you all understand. We need to be much more serious about children to change the society. You cannot depend on somebody else. You need to do what you can do 120% and see what will happen.
Let's work harder for our children. We have a great job teaching children. Of course children would not always appreciate what you do. I appreciate my parents now that they have passed away. I think it is OK. Some day, children will appreciate what you do.
[Hard Copy] Editor's note: This article appeared in the last newsletter published by the Suzuki Piano Basics teachers in Matsumoto. In this issue, they announced the cessation of the newsletter and refer their readers to their website, http://newsletter.wiss.jp. They also encourage teachers and parents to re-read Kataoka Sensei's earlier articles in order to sustain themselves in their work. We encourage our teachers and parents to do the same by reading earlier articles in this newsletter or by accessing all of the articles we have previously published, which are collected on our website:
There are a number of Kataoka Sensei's articles that we have not yet had the opportunity to publish, and we will continue to bring these to you in this newsletter, soon to be available online.
We practiced as much as we wanted during the day, and watched lessons given by Dr. Kataoka and the other teachers. Every Thursday the teachers met without Dr. Kataoka to research together. During this time, we played Down-Up Twinkle with right hand and then left hand (hold hand above the keys with arm stretched up as far as you can - play the key and go back up again, continue this way playing the Twinkle D notes). After this we played all of the Twinkle Variations with the left hand accompaniment. On Fridays the teachers met together with Dr. Kataoka. During this time teachers played various things for her: Twinkles, a scale, a Book 1 or 2 piece, a Czerny piece, but usually just one thing. After the class we always had delicious fancy cakes and green tea while the teachers used this weekly time to discuss business matters and upcoming events. Teachers also had private lessons with Kataoka Sensei throughout the week where they worked on advanced repertoire. We were lucky enough to have extra weekly lessons also. It took me years studying with Dr. Kataoka in the US to have this many lessons.
I attended the 10 Piano rehearsals and Concert in November 2003, and then sadly attended Sensei's very moving funeral only two months later. I was passionate about continuing my training, so I told the teachers in our Arizona research group about my plans to return to Japan as soon as possible. Kathy Huseby and Karen Nalder told me they wanted to go too. I sent an email asking if it would be ok if the three of us came to study and received a quick reply saying we were welcome any time, but May would be the best.
We left for Matsumoto May 12, 2004, and stayed until the end of the month. Our schedule was much the same as it had been two years ago. We had teacher research on Fridays, the teachers played for each other (Down-Up Twinkle in each hand and then the Twinkle Variations). Of course we were also given instruction based on our individual playing. The teachers have even continued the tradition of having the cake and green tea afterwards. Each day, we were able to practice and then to observe lessons. We observed the following teachers: Ogiwara Sensei, Kubota Sensei, Fujiwara Sensei, Kawamura Sensei, Nozawa Sensei, and Yoshida Sensei. We attended several concerts: a Saturday Evening Concert where thirteen students of six teachers beautifully performed pieces ranging from Minuet 2 to the Italian Concerto and La Campanella (with an ice cream reception afterwards); two Seasons Concerts with around 20 students in each; and a concert held in Nagano City (for which we observed the dress rehearsal the previous week). We were privileged to see Kataoka Sensei's son, Yumihito, his wife Hatsumi, daughter Yukino, and son Hirotaka at the concert in Nagano. Yukino performed Little Prelude by Bach at this concert, and I was so stunned by her tone that it made me cry. She now has the same sound as her grandmother! I talked with the other teachers about this, and they all say that it is as if Sensei's tone has gone into her arms. It seems like a miracle. I noticed it again at her lesson with Nozawa Sensei later that week and was again brought to tears. We traveled with the teachers to Hamamatsu, known as Japan's capital of music, where we were able to visit both the Kawai and Yamaha piano factories. At the Yamaha factory, music plays and a yellow light flashes as a piano is moved to the next step of completion. Seeing this process made me so elated. It felt like a celebration of the piano's impending arrival in the world, like the pianos were saying, "Here I come, to make the world a better place." The Kawai factory is more subdued. The expert craftsman work quietly, and the pianos are manually moved between the different assembly areas with no fanfare. Forty grands come to life daily at the Kawai factory and 70 at the Yamaha factory.
Also in Hamamatsu we visited the Museum of Musical Instruments, the Little Kawai Museum, and the Hamanako Music Box Museum, where we saw demonstrations of antique and new music boxes and phonographs. We took a breathtaking "ropeway," which looks like a cable car suspended from a cable, across Lake Hamana.
While in Nagano, we saw the site of the Olympic Games and the famous Zenkoji Temple, graciously hosted by two of Kubota Sensei's students. Reminiscent of Kataoka Sensei's enormous hospitality, we were guests of the teachers at my favorite Italian restaurant in Matsumoto at the end of our stay.
As we were getting ready to leave Matsumoto, I thought about the teachers here. I truly believe the reason the Matsumoto teachers' students are so successful is because, as Dr. Kataoka said, they repeat the same things about tone and technique at every lesson AND they go over it at the lesson - it is not just a verbal reminder. We saw students perform a piece in a concert, and then work on it every week, for the next three weeks we watched lessons, doing the same repetitions, on the same measures, to improve and ingrain the correct tone and technique.
I know for some teachers it's hard to conceptualize going to Japan to study Twinkles, feeling they already know it. It's not that you will necessarily hear something new, but you will be able to refine what you already know. Think of the Matsumoto teachers who have trained with Dr. Kataoka longer than any of us, playing Twinkles for each other every week for years and improving, because of the research they do together. At the end of concerts and rehearsals the teachers gather to go through the program discussing each student's performance, including the bow. The teachers are very supportive of each other and truly want to help the students. I still can't believe how many aspects of my life were impacted by Kataoka Sensei. Last summer in Kentucky and Orange County Kataoka Sensei spoke about a book by Dr. Masaru Emoto, The Hidden Messages in Water. Before I left for Japan, I saw an incredible movie called What the Bleep Do We Know? a docudrama and, according to critic Bill Gallo, "a serious inquiry steeped in the riddles of quantum physics, molecular biology and theology, into the external mysteries of being." I was shocked to see that Dr. Emoto's studies were a crucial part of the movie. Using a powerful microscope and high speed photography to photograph the crystals of frozen water samples, he discovered that water that was exposed to kind, loving words or classical music formed beautiful snowflake-patterned crystals, and water exposed to negative thoughts or heavy metal music formed incomplete patterns with dull colors. Sensei and the movie both point out that these profound findings have a great impact on our lives since we are 90% water! The movie wants us to think about the impact our thoughts have on us, and Kataoka Sensei was focusing on the importance of listening as many hours as we can to high quality classical music. On http://www.whatthebleep.com you will find information about Dr. Emoto and this spectacular movie.
I learned so much on this trip, and it was heartening to discover that study in Japan is still available to us. I strongly encourage others to take advantage of this incredible opportunity. Kathy and I were so sad to leave on the 31st. Karen decided to stay an extra month.
We are grateful to the incredibly kind teachers and students for allowing us to continue our Piano Basics study with them. If you have the opportunity to study in Matsumoto, you won't regret it!
[Hard Copy] Editor's note. Presently there is one American teacher, Leanne Anderson, in residence in Matsumoto studying with the Suzuki Piano Basics teachers there on a long-term cultural visa. U.S. citizens may travel to Japan and stay for up to three months without a visa.
As a service to our members, we will begin to list workshops given around the country by various Suzuki Piano Basics clinicians. If you have such a workshop scheduled, please send dates and contact information to Karen Hagberg, hagberg- firstname.lastname@example.org, as early as possible. This [hard copy] newsletter needs at least two months lead time for timely announcements. Information sent to Suzuki Piano Basics News will also be sent to the preceding website address.
We are happy to announce that this workshop will take place in Mesquite, Texas on Wednesday to Saturday, February 9-12. Cathy Hargrave is the director. See contact information under [the Workshops section of the web site], http://core.ecu.edu/hist/wilburnk/SuzukiPianoBasics/Workshops/index.htm#2005. Cathy has secured the beautiful Mesquite Fine Arts Center for the event, where we will have use of the 500-seat concert hall and two 9' Steinways. There will be a Friendship Concert on Saturday evening. Teachers are highly encouraged to bring students to perform in this concert so that we may include the observation of these students in our research. Please, everyone, consider attending this workshop. The more teachers there, the more we can all learn from each other.
We want to thank the teachers in other areas of the country who investigated the possibility of hosting the workshop this winter, and who have expressed willingness to host it in the future (Leah Brammer, Atlanta, Georgia; Cleo Brimhall, Salt Lake City, Utah; Gloria Elliott, Lincoln, Nebraska, and Karen Hagberg, Rochester, New York). And, of course, to Cathy Hargrave who is making it happen for us next year.
By the time you receive this newsletter, the first deadline for the Sacramento 10-Piano Concert, December 1, 2004, will be upon us. By this date, director Linda Nakagawa needs to know who is planning to attend. The December 1 deadline is not a firm commitment, but simply a way that the participation may be estimated.
Please consider attending this unique and wonderful event. Rehearsals will be held for two weeks prior to the concert and these constitute an excellent study of Suzuki Piano Basics for those who observe and for those who help (all are encouraged and welcome to help). Also, there will be opportunities for teachers to perform, and you may also express your willingness to do this.
You all received forms in the previous newsletter to be returned to Linda Nakagawa by December 1. If you need more copies, please request them by email email@example.com and Linda will send them to you. Let's make this the best concert ever!
The Board of Directors will be happy to receive other suggestions. Also, we encourage members to continue to contribute to this fund so that it may eventually grow to the point that the interest it can earn will support an ongoing, worthwhile project. Please consider a tax- deductible contribution before the end of this year. Thanks to all who have contributed thus far. (Send donations to our treasurer, Linda Nakagawa, 242 River Acres Drive, Sacramento, California 95831.)
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.
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.
First Online Edition: 2 January 2005
Last Revised: 9 March 2012