Written by Kerstin Wartberg
Published: April 7, 2014 at 4:18 PM [UTC]
The autobiography of the worldwide recognized violinist Midori Goto has now appeared in its second, updated German edition. It provides relevant insights into the complex process of a “child prodigy” growing up. After she suffered for years (anorexia, depression etc.) she stopped playing as twenty-three-year-old star and began to reinvent herself. The account of the dangers and battles that Midori had to go through during her development into a mature musician reads like an adventure novel, yet it seems sincere and unpretentious.
If some hobby psychologists insinuate that Midori’s medical and psychological problems were caused by her early musical development as a violinist, one may ask why there are millions of people suffering from depression, anorexia etc. who never touched a violin. It should also be noted that many “child prodigies” never experienced any such symptoms.
To think that her ambitious mother was the only one responsible for her early success is not quite the whole story. Midori writes about her “inner watchdog” that was much more demanding than her mother. Being able to play all Paganini Caprices and Bach Solo Sonatas and Partitas at the early age of six is a rare exception, even among the most gifted of child prodigies. And which one of them would subsequently attain an uncontested international stage presence of (so far) thirty years’ duration?
It therefore is even more surprising that Midori, of her own accord, took over and mastered a large number of new, very important projects. An extraordinary thoroughness and readiness for lifelong learning – not only within her own discipline, but also in academic and organisational fields – are her special characteristics. For example, she – the long-established soloist – spent years at university studying psychology, graduating with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. Also, she set up associations and foundations in various countries, taking art to regions whose inhabitants and their children would not normally have access to it. She did not find it beneath herself to take over the detailed day-to-day work.
Nor could it be expected that she, as holder of the chair of the late Jascha Heifetz at the University of Southern California, would look after her students week by week, regardless of her numerous solo engagements. Which music college professor of similar standing would do this? She sees to it that her students regularly get opportunities to play in public, e.g. in retirement homes or for other small audiences, to gain practical experience. Then there is also her work as head of the strings section – without any reduction in the number of teaching lessons being granted.
Anyone permanently working as hard as this and at the highest standard will arouse envy. Midori’s own training at the Juilliard School New York was affected thereby. Regrettably, several passages of this autobiography cast a slight shadow on the otherwise brilliant image of the famous violin professor Dorothy DeLay as well as on the conditions at the Juilliard School of that time. This book (first published in 2004) was until now barred from being published in English, possibly as a result of those conditions. All rights for the book are available, except for the Japanese and English languages.
As far as her singular, amazing artistry is concerned, there is nothing more to be said, since anyone can form their own opinion on the basis of the many audio and video recordings.
As a violin teacher myself, who specializes in Suzuki pedagogy, I had a number of personal observations after reading this book.
Midori, with all her charitable activities, seems to have an approach that, in her own way, is much like the philosophy of Shinichi Suzuki, i.e. using the arts to inspire all children and to further their development – a mission worth living for. The way in which she does this may serve as a great model for all teachers. For example, it is essential for her to visit children at mainstream schools, to acquaint them with precious music and high-quality performances, and to stimulate their own activities in the field of art. Some of her projects are presented by a film under the following link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_QCc2JWwFeU
She tries to organise concerts in very remote areas as well as in developing countries, with the aim of providing profound musical experiences for the people there. She calls it “community engagement” and expects her students to support her efforts. Midori considers talent not a privilege, but an obligation, to be used in the interest of music and for the benefit of the community. The following short film gives a lively impression of her ideas: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aY_KGqtwo2M
I am reminded of the thoughts that Suzuki expressed about striving for an environment influenced by music for all children and their parents: “Man is Son of the environment,” he said.
This Midori autobiography contains much inspiration for anyone who teaches or who wishes to reach out to his or her own community. I would like to warmly recommend all my German-speaking colleagues to read it!
Translation: Ursula Müller-Gaehler
“Einfach Midori” is one of the main sources for my chapter on Midori in my forthcoming book,” Not by Love Alone: The Violin in Japan, 1850-2010.” I also refer to two books written by Midori’s mother Gotô Setsu as well as a biography of Gotô Setsu (in Japanese). Of course I have a few critical things to say as well, but that does not change my great admiration for Midori. For me she is living proof of the fact that just being able to play the violin well is not enough to survive as a world class artist for several decades.
For details about my book see here.
“Not by Love Alone” is currently being copyedited. I will therefore resist the temptation to look at the new edition of “Einfach Midori” (as well as anything else about Midori) and to start rewriting my chapter. I’ve been warned to not to tinker with the copyedited text and risk undoing all my copy editor’s good work.
Meanwhile I am trying to keep myself motivated by planning a book launch in Copenhagen at which I intend to perform music from Japan on my violin. This is also a good way to keep me practising even while struggling with the book!
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