Suzuki-L: Selected Postings

Finding the Suzuki Way:
A Presentation to the European Suzuki Association

Huub de Leeuw
London, England
20 September 2002

First Posted to Suzuki-L: 6 March 2003

The title implies that there is something as a Suzuki Way, but also that we might have lost it, or worse maybe, never have found it yet. This talk is about my view of the Suzuki Way and how one could walk it. To give an idea about what is generally understood by Way, "Dou" in Japanese, which can be translated as road, path, or way, I'd like to give an extensive definition based on the book, Zen and the Art of the Tea Ceremony (Horst Hammitzsch).

The concept "Dou" or way is the center of cultural and spiritual activities in Japan. It is the directive for all the arts which is manifesting in many kinds of forms like, for instance, in the cultivation of ceremonial tea drinking. The Way is the tradition of an art. Without a Way there is no progress for the cultivator. The Way generally became a means for humans to unfold or develop. Because the Way represents a tradition covering many generations and is handed down to the next generation, it comprises the total of separate experiences, which have arisen from the practice. These experiences are of lasting importance for practicing the Way at this moment. Tradition is, according to the Japanese view, not the passing on of a closed, completed total that a Master has created. To hand down means to transmit the Master completely, and to live up to this entirely. Not only that part of the Way that already has ripened is handed down, but also the unripe, the immature, the still growing is part of the tradition. Exactly, this growing is important for the further development of the Way, because it belongs to the "wholeness" of the Way. This kind of insight plays an important role at mastering the arts. Here, the notion of arts one must understand in the East Asian sense--to the arts belongs anything which helps to build the character of a person, to develop his official and spiritual abilities in the same measure and by doing so to form a ripe and mature person.

A pupil studying a certain Way must in the first place keep strictly to the tradition; in other words, to the generation-to-generation, handed down condensed experience of the Way, which shows in the concrete example, or is passed on in writings or by word of mouth. There is no freedom allowed. Personal freedom to work from one's own creativity is even rejected, because this is not the real freedom one should pursue. Only when the pupil has restrained his arbitrariness, schooled his Self and lives up totally to what is handed down, only then can he recognize what is of eternal value for the Way at this moment. Now he has reached ripeness and may start his own creations, which will arise from him naturally. A Way is coming from somewhere and leads somewhere. Its purpose is understanding eternal values.

The Way in which Dr. Suzuki taught has its very roots in this Japanese Way of teaching the arts. Of course, the concept of the mother tongue method is very "Suzuki" and a universal idea, but using early education (not only music) as a means to develop character and the whole human being is in the traditional Way of the arts in every sense. Dr. Suzuki writes in his book, Where Love is Deep:

Of course, our purpose does not lie in a movement to create professional musicians, but to create people of a beautiful mind and fine ability. We engage in human education through music so that children will grow beautiful with high sensitivity, through an unparalleled, uniquely musical approach.
Being aware of the Way and trying to understand these roots of the Suzuki method will create much better understanding and less erring.

Often people in the West think they have to break the umbilical cord and stand on their own feet. However, when teaching Suzuki they should realize that they are walking a Way and that past, present, and future are very much connected. A mere course, a set of rules, exams, etc., will not necessarily preserve good Suzuki teaching; that's why I would like to see the ESA [European Suzuki Association] concept of training teachers much closer to the "Way of the arts." This could be a chance to continue to develop and grow throughout the years without becoming stale and self-satisfied. The past is not passť, but is the connection to our present and future--handing down tradition in order to be able to become creative.

How to put this into actual practice? I think it is important to always look at how Dr. Suzuki passed on his ideas in his school and even more how it is still done in the same tradition in the piano class of Dr. Kataoka, who has followed Dr. Suzuki's teaching for over 40 years. At the Talent Education Institute of Dr. Suzuki in Japan, teacher training was mainly based on the fact that the adult trainee was taught the instrument very much in the same way as the pupils were. Going through the same process, learning the instrument from the very basic steps on, and doing a lot of observation of teaching at the same time were basically what teacher training was about, and for the piano still is. There never existed a special school for teachers within the Talent Education Institute. There were a few extras, of course, like, for instance, music history classes, which mainly meant listening a lot to different interpreters.

Another extra was Japanese calligraphy class. Using the brush, Dr. Suzuki thought, had a lot in common with using the violin bow. Japanese calligraphy is very different from calligraphy in the West; it is a time-art, a brush stroke once made cannot be changed anymore, very much like the making of a musical sound. This is why Dr. Suzuki liked all of us, also the pianists, to study Japanese calligraphy, for it meant studying concentration and balance. A graduation concert was unthinkable without the candidates' calligraphy decorating the stage.

In general, studying or being formed meant being allowed to follow Dr. Suzuki's path, or for the pianists, both Dr. Suzuki's and Dr. Kataoka's path, and grow accordingly into someone who was trusted by his instrumental ability and even more by having absorbed all kinds of other values, before graduating and starting a programme. The moment of graduation was never reached after so many years in school, but when Dr. Suzuki or Dr. Kataoka thought the candidate ripe enough. Graduating was simply giving a concert; it was not the same as finishing school; it never meant disconnection from Dr. Suzuki or Dr. Kataoka as teachers. Graduates from all over Japan traveled to Matsumoto to have a monthly lesson with Dr. Suzuki. Also, piano graduates keep taking lessons from Dr. Kataoka on a regular basis.

Graduating is one thing; continuing walking the road quite another. How to teach, say pass on, was never and is still not taught explicitly, but understood by absorbing the teachings over a great period of time. Teaching Suzuki mainly is based on trust that someone, be it a child or adult, will develop naturally in time. The most essential for Teacher Training is to put a trainee for a long time in this environment of total trust--the belief that anyone, not only the chosen, can unfold and develop into a wonderful human being with high abilities. To me this is the core of the training. Up to now I never have come across a professional musician who shares this complete trust. True Suzuki teaching starts here. What makes you a Suzuki teacher is being able to create this environment of trust and also the constant working on your own abilities, like Dr. Suzuki used to say in his Japanese-English, "Teacher must can."

Following the Way for me personally meant to study for 3 years at the Talent Education Institute, which has formed me in the classical sense of the Way. Studying, being there, absorbing, was the training (always in Japanese referred to as research). Ever since my graduation so many years ago, I have followed the Matsumoto piano programme and have had lessons with Dr. Kataoka. As everyone here knows, Dr. Kataoka was the cofounder of the Suzuki Method for piano and has trained almost all the people who have become piano Teacher Trainers in Europe.

Having worked closely together with Dr. Suzuki, Dr. Kataoka worked out the idea of sound and teaching piano in a Suzuki way by observing Dr. Suzuki teach for a great length of time, and like Dr. Suzuki did for violin, she develops her ideas constantly by listening to and following the great pianists. It is this listening to and following the true greats, and at the same time the never-ending establishing and polishing of basic piano skills, that makes her approach so truly Suzuki.

Very often Dr. Kataoka refers to Dr. Suzuki's lessons, which basically came down to a very few principles. Dr. Suzuki just always taught the same lesson, be it at a beginning or advanced level. This one lesson was always about concentration, body balance and making a wonderful tone. This is exactly what happens in Dr. Kataoka's class. Be it a child or an adult, every lesson is about body balance and tone production.

Teacher trainees or trained teachers mostly work on easy pieces to establish a good body balance and a wonderful sound. Difficult things can always be reduced to a few basic principles; that's why the teaching concentrates on these basics. A common mistake in teaching, according to Dr. Kataoka, is that teachers want to show what they know; they want to make a lesson interesting. One might think: does this constant work on basic skills never get boring? The answer for me is very clear: never! It is always touching the most crucial, the heart so to speak; that's what makes a lesson every time such a true experience.

I have seen many changes over the years and they have brought always deeper understanding. Changes were always made in order to make the teaching, especially the teaching of sound, more to the point. I have seen the overall mentality change in Japanese society and the adaptation of the programme to these changes. I have seen the enormous influence of Dr. Kataoka teaching a lot in the USA on her approach back in her studio in Japan. Staying true to the Suzuki Way, the programme develops rather than changes.

This does not mean that I readily can follow everything right away, or that I always can understand or always do agree with what is going on. One of my doubts a few years ago was the coming into being of the multi- piano concerts. Only by following them for some time and once having 3 pupils taking part was I able to see the great value they have, not to mention the pleasure they gave the pupils. This is why I would like to show you some visuals of the big 10 piano concert event which was held in Matsumoto this spring. [editor's note: visuals not attached] It shows what true Suzuki teaching can accomplish. All pupils who take part are very ordinary, like everywhere else they have a lot of schoolwork to do; piano is not their entire life; there is often no time to practice (this is not a joke), but being formed in the Suzuki Way, they perform wonderfully.

Dr. Kataoka is in her seventies now and is still going strong. My greatest wish for the ESA Piano Teacher Training movement is to be connected somehow to this extremely successful living link to the Suzuki Way. Taking to the road again for us would mean taking lessons again. This also could be a good way to unite. To struggle with the same basic problems (they really are the same for everyone), provides very strong bonding I have noticed. Dr. Kataoka has many teacher followers in Japan and a big group of foreigners, mainly in the USA. If I may speak for Europe, I would like to end with saying that it is never too late to become a pupil again.

Huub de Leeuw
Utrecht, The Netherlands

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First Online Edition: 22 March 2003
Last Revised: 25 March 2003