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Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation
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242 River Acres Drive
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Deadline for Next Issue: 15 August 2003
In any type of education, whether it be parent to child or teacher to student, the adults must have strong faith and the will to teach the child. Do not teach children with a random, humdrum, everyday feeling. If you are an educator, please remind yourself every day that childhood is the most important period of a person's life in which to learn things like manners, art, love, patience, hard work, imagination and concentration. Babies and children, however, need the support of adults to survive. Because of this, adults tend to think that children cannot understand anything or do anything. It is true that children cannot live on their own. But the funny thing is that people can sense everything going on around them only in childhood.
After becoming adults, it is hard for us to perceive our world in the right way. Probably because of this we adults have the ability to support ourselves for survival and also the desire to live well.
Childhood is so important for human beings. Nothing can replace it. Things you learn in childhood (about the first 10 years) are going to be your most important assets throughout your entire life. If you have plenty of these assets, you will be able to use them to live life well.
For this reason, I would like people around children to have faith. I have met many parents in my long teaching career. Everybody begins piano lessons with a dream. Of course, children have a dream. When I was younger, I did not like practicing, but dreamt of wearing a nice gown for a concert, or travelling to Europe on a ship (airplane now, but ship in those days), and so on. Mothers, too, have short-term dreams, such as wanting their child to finish Book 2 as quickly as possible or wanting their child to play much better than someone else's, and so on. Then reality hits. "Why can't my child do such an easy thing?" "Why can't my child memorize the piece easily?" There are so many things that can irritate you. Without faith, this is the point when parents decide to quit. But please have strong faith. Decide instead that once you have started, you will not quit. Realize that quitting is worse than not having started in the first place. If you assume that it is all right to quit anytime if you don't like something, you are teaching your child how to quit things in life.
When I was younger, I was the only one among my siblings to be taking piano lessons. My parents implied that they would never let me quit piano-- that if I were to quit piano I would be out of the house. Of course, I continued, thinking that I simply was unable to quit piano. After the passing of several decades, my mother's faith allowed me to continue a single thing throughout my life. Now I cannot stop thanking her. Her faith and her heart gave me a wonderful life to live.
A slow start has little meaning in the context of a long life. It is like running a marathon, sometimes a slow start makes the end of the race much more interesting. For example, there was a violin student who could not play Twinkle for two whole years. However, because her parents and teacher had strong faith, she is now a wonderful violinist and doing really well. Education is a long-term commitment. Every human being is different, not like machines. It is important to nurture your child with a strong faith and patience with his or her individual needs.
At her last lesson, the child used the pedal on the Book 4 Beethoven Sonata for the first time. She did it so well that I praised her, saying, "How did you do such a wonderful job the first time you tried?"
She answered, "Because I watched someone use the pedal in the last concert."
Wow! Children observe everything. People usually think that children are not listening or watching well in concerts because they cannot relate their experiences in words, and because they often can't sit still throughout an entire program.
Children need to attend many concerts to be able to appreciate on this level.
We need to make an effort to build a great environment for the wonderful children.
Thirteen of these teachers are bringing a total of 25 American students to perform in this year's concert. In addition to being a cultural exchange for the children of the United States and Japan, the 10-Piano Concert in Matsumoto is held as a benefit for UNICEF, the children's fund of the United Nations, and raises thousands of dollars each year for that organization.
The mild Orange County sunshine shone through the windows and a light breeze drifted in through the door. Concordia campus felt quiet and relaxed as usual. I leaned back in my chair thinking once again how glad I was to be in California this week. Then the music stopped and once again I heard the familiar voice speaking English with a Japanese flavor,
“I think you very good student.”I began jotting Dr. Kataoka's comments down as she and the student played again. An irresistible smile crept across my face as I noticed nearly identical notes already on the page — four or five other places. Oh well, one more for good measure.
“Please use natural hand.”
“Thumb must go sideways, like this.”
“Take, never hit. Please watch me, take!”
“No! Don’t shake you hand.”
“That's right. Very good.”
As Dr. Kataoka and the student tried a few more times I could really hear the student’s tone improving. Now her palm stayed poised above the key without lifting or dropping, while her fingers, looking softer and more relaxed, extended nicely onto the keys. Just her fingertips moved now, and it seemed like she touched with the pad rather than the point of her fingertip. I mused on how such seemingly small differences had changed the sound so significantly. It definitely sounded clearer and stronger. It projected better, without a loud bite. It sounded bold and intense without feeling heavy.
Dr. Kataoka — what an amazing woman. She can hear you play and isolate just what you need to change to make really gorgeous music. Then with the relentlessness of a drill sargeant, the enthusiasm of a child and the patience of a good friend, she works with you again, and again until you have it.
I began studying Suzuki piano with an excellent teach-er trainer just over a year ago, in April 2002. That August I attended Atlanta's Piano Basics workshop. Honestly, to begin with I was a bit skeptical of it all. “We just watch piano lessons all day?” I asked, “For a whole week?”
Unsure as I felt about flying clear across country for this observational marathon and a 20-minute lesson, I trusted my teacher’s advice, packed up and went.
My faith was well rewarded! When Orange County's registration time came around this year, my perspective was totally different. Instead of questioning, “I must go?” I insisted, “I must go!”
My attitude change was so stark it’s almost funny. What happened? What turned my reluctance and doubt into eagerness? Simply this: success and fellowship.
By observing Dr. Kataoka work with dozens of students my own playing improved. By watching how she sat, how she carried her arms, and how she used her hands, my technique became more natural. By hearing her gorgeous tone song after song, from Twinkles to Paderewski, and by hearing every student’s tone improve through her instruction I understood better what good tone sounded like and how to create it. Throughout the week, she addressed both playing and teaching troubles I couldn't seem to unravel, and her passion inspired me to keep at it. Studying with fellow teachers, listening, practicing, and reading articles is still essential, but I discovered nothing helps me get it right like observing Dr. Kataoka first hand.
I also eagerly looked forward to five days with fellow teachers and musicians. The lessons, teacher recital, and friendship concert were great and stimulated good discussion. New friendships developed and old ones deepened as we talked between sessions, ate together, and had fun. The camaraderie really encouraged me.
If you were there or have attended other workshops then you know what I mean. If not, consider it now. To refresh yourself and stimulate your music — you must go!
Leanne Anderson is 23 years old and lives with her parents near Seattle, Washington. She studies with Jacqueline Block in Tacoma and anticipates going to Japan in September to study further with Dr. Kataoka.
This week at the Orange County Institute, I spent every lunch and dinner break answering questions about my trip to Japan. There was a lot of talk about what I learned, but I found that many people wanted to know about the experience in general. I asked a friend to sit down with me and ask me questions about my trip. This was our conversation:
How do you get to go?
It seemed complicated at the time; I thought it would have been easier to fill out an application. Its a matter of feeling things out, waiting for encouragement from the right people, and finally asking Kataoka-sensei if it would be all right to come and study with her. Once I did that, I was pretty much committed and it was just a matter of waiting for the details to be worked out. If you’re thinking of going, you have to remember that Japanese people are very polite. You have to be sensitive to subtle hints like, “Hmm, just now is not so good, maybe later.”
What about travel and home-stay?
Getting to Tokyo is pretty easy from Seattle since it’s a direct flight. But the flight is long, 8-10 hours depending on tail-winds. I arrived in Tokyo exhausted but still had to collect my suitcases, clear customs, and carry my luggage by myself through the airport to meet my escort. Sensei had arranged for someone to meet me. I was so grateful because I would have gotten lost in the train station and ended up on the wrong train or gotten off at the wrong stop. I think it was four o'clock in the morning back home when I arrived at my home-stay.
Tell me about figuring out a home-stay.
I didn't know anyone in Japan, but Sensei found a home-stay for me. This year I’m hoping to stay with the same person. I really enjoyed my home-stay Mom. We were really good friends; she took me sight-seeing, made sure I had enough time to practice, encouraged me to take time off when I needed it, and took me to a ballroom dancing party for Christmas. We developed a close relationship. In fact, one of her cats became more attached to me than it was to her.
What did you expect to do while you were there?
It was difficult to know what to expect. Someone had told me that I would have to get up early and practice for six hours, then go to the school and observe lessons for six hours, go home and sleep. Lather, rinse, repeat, basically.
What actually happened?
The schedule turned out to be more complicated than that. When I arrived, I got a schedule of the lessons and concerts that I was to attend that month, but there were so many last minute changes that my home-stay mom was about ready to throw out the schedule. More often than not, we didn’t do what was on the paper. My routine pretty much followed the information I had been getting, but there were lots of variations. I must have attended over a dozen concerts and recitals during the three months I was in Japan. One weekend, I snuck away with my friends for the day and devoted the entire day to goofing off with people my age. After working so hard, it was great to stay up late and party. It threw off my sleeping schedule for a few days, though. I remember waking up at 8pm and practicing on a muted piano until 2am. I discovered a fabulous French Language program that came on at 12:30 am.
What were the hard things?
Trying to keep up with the Japanese work ethic. I need to sleep nine hours a night in order to stay healthy, yet I really wanted to study/practice for several hours every day. I ended up getting too little sleep, and then getting sick within a week. In the end it was better to sacrifice some waking hours so that I could sleep late and work harder during the day.
The highlights of my trip were not the best parts of my trip. The best parts were that I improved my playing and teaching skills and learned to trust my instincts. The highlights were the things that added variety to life in Japan. The things that broke up the intense study. Visiting Rokuzan Museum was one of the wonderful things I got to do. Its a very small museum in a city close to the school and it contains the works of Ogiwara-sensei’s ancestor. After I returned from my visit to the museum, everyone was shocked to hear how long I spent going through it. There were only a dozen statues and about 20 paintings in the main building, but my friend and I spent one and a half hours studying the art and the architecture of the building itself, before going on to zip through the other buildings in half an hour.
Why did you have to go to Japan?
I really had to go; I got to the point where there was no other option for me.
Why was there no other option?
Even though I was studying with an excellent teacher trainer, I had attended Piano Basics workshops, and the 10 piano concert in Sacramento, I still had no answer to the question of how to move the students through the repertoire. I was learning how to play with a natural body and how to teach the pieces, but I was getting no clues as to when to add pieces to a student’s repertoire. I was spending one or two years just on Twinkles and my students were getting worse every week. The only way to get the answers I needed was to watch Kataoka-sensei in her own studio for several weeks.
Are there any reasons not to go?
1. If you are not socially sensitive or very emotionally stable you should not go. You have to be self-sufficient, and at the same time, be able to accept complete accountability. Its very easy to impose yourself on the Japanese people. They are unbelievably gracious and patient with even the most draining situations, yet they do continue to do their part because they should. I still wonder how many things I did that caused people offense or extra work, but weren't mentioned to me.
2. There is no reason not to go, as far as musical ability goes, even if you've never played the piano before. In fact, that would probably be the most ideal. But if you’re very advanced and feel that there is only a little bit for you to learn, you should stay away. You have to come ready to learn anything, willing to change everything, and holding on to nothing. If you’re not interested in a paradigm shift, don’t come.
When do you plan to return?
Arrangements are in place for me to go back this fall, and I would love to stay for the whole school year. There came a point where I had to make the decision and be willing to do anything to get there. At this point, I’m planning to sell everything that I don’t need for the year and spend the rest of the summer flipping hamburgers. I’m committed to getting the training in Japan because there are so many teachers who have families and can’t go. I’m young, unattached and willing, so I feel I have a responsibility to go. When I have more teaching experience, I can pass on what I learned to the those who didn’t have the opportunity that I had.
Janet Dizney has been a Suzuki Piano Basics Teacher in the Seattle area for three years. She currently studies with teacher trainer Jacqueline Block and is making plans to return to Japan to study with co-founder of the Suzuki Piano Method, Dr. Haruko Kataoka this fall. Her other musical interests are church music and choral accompanying and include coaching string quartets and other chamber groups.
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First Online Edition: 7 August 2003
Last Revised: 8 March 2012