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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: 31 May 2005
By Dr. Haruko Kataoka
From the Matsumoto Suzuki Piano Newsletter,
Vol.12 No.9, February 1, 2003
Translated by Mayumi Yunus
Edited by Karen Hagberg
Illustrations by Juri Kataoka
It is difficult to educate people who are already born. On the other hand, it is fun. God gives every person a different personality when he or she is born. Any changes to that personality, positive or negative, depend on the environment from birth onward.
From birth to the beginning of the middle school years is the time that children can listen to their parents without any resistance. I hear people say, "My child would not listen to me and he is in the second grade." However, if the parents are confident and firm, children this age will listen to their parents and eventually comply, despite their initial resistance. This is the time when children can learn the very basics of life. Things like saying thank you, please, hello, and good-bye; to be able to exercise good judgment; to be kind; to help others; to be patient; to make the effort to have good posture, good manners, and so on. It is the time children can listen. If parents can teach children those basics with patience and concentration, children can use them for the rest of their lives.
Physically, children become adults at around age twelve or thirteen. That means they are beginning to become independent from their parents. Children want to become adults emotionally as well as physically. They want to start acting like adults, and they do not want to listen to their parents.
If parents tell children of this age the same thing many times, they will be told to stop talking. The same thing happens in piano practice. Before reaching this age, children practice the piano well even if they do not want to do it, but one day, as they become teenagers, they hate practicing the piano because they have been told to do so by the parents. Mothers cry and say, "Oh, no. I have to give up." I always tell these mothers, ";Have a party! Congratulations. You raised your child with love and your child now wants to become independent and be an adult." But, what should we really do? From my experience, we need to give children such a good environment that they want to play the piano without the parents having to tell them to do so. The easiest thing is to ask them to play in a concert. They practice really hard with concentration for three or four days before the concert. They get nervous, try their best, and then feel the accomplishment. Let's make that kind of situation for them.
This is just my opinion: I told my own children that it was not necessary to go to high school, but they wanted to go for their own reasons, and they studied very hard. I never told them to study, but they worked so hard and they got the best test scores. They had never gotten such good grades in their three years of middle school. They taught me that children could do so much in a short period of time. If they work with concentration, they can have a power that is five or ten times more than usual. As for piano technique, if you want to fix your bad technique after you become an adult, it will take forever without your concentration and will. If you realize your mistakes and decide to fix them, you can do in a year what would normally require three years. You need to make decisions on your own if you want to do something. If you have the time to complain or think about it, just do it with concentration. You will be amazed. You will be moved. Let's work hard and use the hidden power that emerges when you really decide to do something.
By Karen Hagberg, Rochester, New York
Strange and coincidental that I would pick up the February issue of Clavier magazine just after writing my article on Living Tone in the last issue of this newsletter, because on p.48 of that publication, in the "Questions and Answers" column, appeared the following question: I was taught that a good sound from the piano depends on how the key is touched and stroked, but others believe this is irrelevant. Which is correct? The editor of the column acknowledges that there has been controversy among pianists surrounding this question for a couple of centuries by now. Because the tone of a piano cannot yet be measured by physicists, however, he comes down squarely on the side of those who believe that the pianist has no control over the quality of a single sound, only over the dynamic level (which corresponds to the speed of the hammer). He concurs with a subscriber who had responded to an earlier questionnaire on this topic, with the opinion that "It doesn't much matter if the key is touched by Arthur Rubinstein or the tip of an umbrella." One aspect of art that I particularly love is its inability to be explained by scientific method. In truth, despite our impressive advances in science and technology, most of the universe remains inexplicable. If your reality is restricted to that which can be explained by science, reason, and logic you are missing the most miraculous and interesting aspects of life; you are looking at your surroundings from the confines of a very tiny box.
"One aspect of art that I particularly love is its inability to be explained by scientific method."
Dr. Suzuki recognized the wonderful nature of small children, before they are taught to use reason to explain their world. Children immediately understand something like the possible variations of a single tone on one single piano because their comprehension comes from their ears and not their brains. Reliance on thinking deadens the senses to the point where a person can experience nothing directly with the senses at all. Such people can actually believe that a pianist cannot manipulate the tone of a single note on a piano because scientists are unable to measure profound and subtle variations in such tone. They can actually believe a piano is good solely because it is expensive in the marketplace, and they can believe a performer is good because he or she has various credentials itemized in the printed program. A child, on the other hand, simply listens and hears the truth of these various situations.
"Reliance on thinking deadens the senses to the point where a person can experience nothing directly with the senses at all."
Musicians who are living in the tiny box of rationality, sadly, cannot tell if a human being or a machine is playing the piano. (The Clavier article actually uses this fact as "proof" that there is no difference!) Such people may as well be listening to the tip of an umbrella performing a piece. They may think they want to go to a live concert to hear a certain player for reasons other than the sound (perhaps they like to watch the person perform; maybe they are out in the evening for social reasons; or somebody gave them a free ticket?). But what other reason can there be? Music is sound and nothing else. It is very sad to hear that there are professional musicians and teachers who have left the world of sound altogether. One of my students who recently began studying at a very famous conservatory told me just yesterday she is frustrated to be taking lessons and practicing on such bad pianos. She is a fine student who could easily pursue a degree in piano performance, but has now decided to major in voice. It is not unusual that there be no good pianos in the piano departments of famous conservatories. Many famous educators and performing pianists would heartily endorse the Clavier article.
Always ask ourselves, what kind of music education are we providing our students? It is not easy to remain in the world of sound. Sometimes it is lonely in this world. So many of our colleagues left a long time ago and now make it seem so sensible and rational to join them in the tiny box. It takes strong conviction to resist the temptation to resort to our adult reasoning, but let's gather our strength together to remain in the realm of art, truth, beauty: of wonderful sound.
Every day I find myself trying to work through deep mixed emotions about this very special concert (scheduled for August 13, 2005). This is the first time that we will be without Kataoka Sensei. She was a great teacher, and she is deeply missed! Back in the mid ‘90’s, Kataoka Sensei spoke at a banquet during one of her workshops here in Sacramento and said, “I have a dream that some day there will be a 10-Piano concert in Sacramento.” I couldn’t believe my ears. Putting on a 10-Piano concert is an incredible challenge, to say the least. The logistics of finding a suitable stage that can accommodate 10 grand pianos, working with the city management, the stage hands, the piano companies and the video crews: these things alone constitute a full-time job. Compound that with fundraising, publicity and preparing the program, it’s enough to drive the local teachers crazy! All of that work does not even include the primary reason we are working together for this concert: the students. As Suzuki teachers we must ask ourselves how we judge our own teaching. The answer is very easy. We must look at our “worst” student. The truth is (no matter how much it hurts or how much we want to deny it) our worst student is the example of our best teaching! I have heard that Dr. Suzuki often said this, and Dr. Kataoka said it many, many times, too. This fact directly relates to the 10-Piano concert. It is very inspiring and motivational for all students and they all improve, but no matter how good the students are in the group of ten, the piece will only be as good as the weakest student. In this regard, a 10- Piano Concert is a reflection of our collective teaching; it will be only as good as our worst students!
We know, as Suzuki Piano Basics teachers, the student should bear no responsibility for his or her lessons, that all the responsibility belongs to the adults around the student. To me, that means that the teacher is totally responsible for her/his students. Kataoka Sensei once told me that it is a very good thing for teachers to take the responsibility. I understood what she meant, but as I gain more experience I understand it more deeply. It means I have the power to make a student better despite his or her home situation. As long as the student comes to the lessons I have the choice to help or not to help.
Our Greatest Learning Tool
As Piano Basics teachers, we have all learned about the value and necessity of working together in ongoing research groups. Most of us try to do this as much as possible. Kataoka Sensei, however, produced a 10-Piano Concert every eighteen months of her career not only for students. For teachers, observing the 10-Piano rehearsals is our most effective learning tool. I remember observing my first 10-Piano rehearsal in Matsumoto in 1994. It was like watching a lesson, but was ten times more involved because ten individual students were having a lesson simultaneously. I could hear the quality of tone get better and better as they worked together on a particular section to achieve “natural” technique. Someone who only attends the concert or watches the concert on videotape cannot understand the process of teaching that brings the students to the point of performance. Observing the rehearsals helps us to realize what to listen for and how to develop tone during lessons. To see a process that works and “how” it works is infinitely more edifying than merely seeing the final product. Therefore, I would like to encourage all Suzuki Piano Basics teachers to come to Sacramento to study together with us and with four Japanese teachers from Matsumoto. My dream is that all the students of Suzuki Piano Basics teachers, both locally and throughout the world, will grow to have natural technique.
“To see a process that works and “how” it works is infinitely more edifying than merely seeing the final product.”
I can still hear Kataoka Sensei saying to me, “This 10-Piano concert is not a festival. Yes, the students enjoy playing together, but this is a very serious concert. It is a very good tool for teachers to learn how to teach. Teachers will see the result of their teaching and learn how they can become better. Every teacher must prepare their students to the highest possible level, so that when they come together they can learn to make music at a very high level.” I never felt that I prepared my students enough. Yes, during the rehearsals the students did indeed improve, but I always felt that they could have enjoyed playing at a much higher level if only I had prepared them better. I’m sure I’ll feel the same after this concert, but I am not going to stop trying.
My hope is that we will hear improvement in our concert this August. The thought of Kataoka Sensei not being here to help gives me a very heavy heart. But hopefully she will be there in spirit. I know she will be there in spirit. The question is will we hear her, will we listen?
Teachers share insights, Beneficiaries all, Of the late sensei. With our Sensei gone, Tone is now the substitute Teacher for us all. Studying alone, Be quite natural, relax, Listen to your tone. Working to connect Body to the “Living Tone,” Music’s inner soul. Down/Up exercise, Forward from below the waist, Reaching nat’rally. Picky people will Work at length on basic skills, And improve the most. “Get on the rhythm,” Enter in the world of sound’s Round and ringing tone. “Get ready to play, Balance body, center mind, Then just send the sound.” Ready arms and hands. “Pancakes useless on the keys” ‘cept to feel the pads. “Fly to the keyboard, Don’t crawl up the piano, Arms come from the top.” Letting your hands drop Is like writing down the page, ‘stead of on the line. Gentle on the keys, Singing fingers, heartfelt tone, Keys to happiness! Teachers’ sound advice: “Listen to the ends of notes, Hear the piano sing.” Shoulders down, arms out, Down/ups give you energy, Even on dance floors. Mild culture shock. Texan hospitality Most congenial!
June 6-10, 2005
University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky
Louisville Suzuki Piano Basics Institute
Faculty: Bruce Anderson, Lori Armstrong, Leah Brammer, Huub de Leeuw,
Gloria Elliott, Karen Hagberg, Cathy Hargrave, and Linda Nakagawa
Contact Bruce Boiney, 502-896-0416
July 5-9, 2005
Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas
Southwest Suzuki Piano Institute
Featuring Libby Armour and Lori Armstrong
Teacher Training Level 2 with Cathy Hargrave
Contact Cathy hargrave, 972-412-8864
July 24-27, 2005
University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, Washington
Suzuki Summer Festival
Featuring Dr. Karen Hagberg
Contact Jacki Block, 253-759-7213
August 13, 2005
4th Suzuki Piano Basics 10-Piano Concert
Featuring teachers and students from the U.S. and Japan
Contact Linda Nakagawa, 916-422-2952
April 30, 2006
Watch this newsletter for details
This year's meeting of the general membership of Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation will take place in Irvine, California during the West Coast Suzuki Piano Institute at Concordia University, July 18-23, exact place and time to be announced. Please submit agenda items and nominations for officers to Secretary Cathy Hargrave before June 15, 2005.
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 DVD's.
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First Online Edition: 1 September 2005
Last Revised: 9 March 2012