How Helen Brunner Found Suzuki

June 13, 2005, 9:11 PM · When Helen Brunner says, “The most amazing thing happened to me...” you just know that it will be a truly inspiring story.

Helen, of London, is my Suzuki pedagogy teacher for the next week. I can already say that I adore her.

I do not know if everything in her life just happens to be amazing, or perhaps it is more her knack for finding meaning in things. She is absolutely spellbinding, and I think is is because she so deeply appreciates every person, every happy coincidence, every point of inspiration in her life. Then she takes all this and gives it to the people around her.

Helen went to Juilliard in the 1960s, then became deeply interested in Shinichi Suzuki's philosophy after seeing a film about the way he taught, his idea that children can be taught violin in the way that they learn language, and that this process can be loving and nurturing.

She wanted this kind of experience for her four children, who were born four years in a row and were all under five. She looked and looked and looked for a Suzuki teacher in London. Or even someone who might be willing to become a Suzuki teacher in London. Then when she was on a plane, she had a realization: “*I* am the person I am looking for!”

She took it upon herself to bring Suzuki to London, personally inviting Suzuki greats such as John Kendall and Kenneth Starr to come teach, train, and even stay at her house all the while.

When her children were old enough, and she went to meet Shinichi Suzuki himself, he recognized for the missionary she was. The first thing he said to her was, “What took you so long?” She told him she had four children. “Okay,” he said, “You get a 50 percent discount!”

Helen's passion for this philosophy lies in the fact that she understands Shinichi Suzuki's greater vision for his work. It was not about making little kids play the Vivaldi Concerto a certain rigid way, it was not about getting a lot of teachers to buy into his “system” of graded books. Suzuki's philosophy was, and is, about bringing beauty into people's lives, and doing it in a meaningful way. It is about making children fluent in something beautiful, something with higher meaning, so that they could draw on it for the rest of their lives. He truly, and profoundly, believed that music could save us all, could help us learn peace.

“Many people say Suzuki was a genius,” Helen said to us today, “But personally, I think he was a saint.”

It sounds like an extreme statement, but not if you understand the way Suzuki felt about music. And music truly is at the core of our existence. Helen talked about having played for her brother's funeral, then playing the exact same piece at a friend's wedding.

“Even the same piece of music is used for the greatest grief and the greatest celebration,” she said.

The power to bring that music to people is indeed something that is worth all the insanity we go through, as students, as parents, as teachers, and as performers. Really, it's quite amazing!


June 14, 2005 at 05:41 AM · Helen Brunner sounds like an inspiration, just as S. Suzuki must have been. It is now our turn, as violin teachers, to pass that inspiration on to others. One of my current students is an adult who is returning to the violin after years of busying herself with other things. As a child, she had one group lesson with Dr. Suzuki, who told her that she had a "very good bow hold." Now I am another link in the chain that Dr. Suzuki started.

You said, making children fluent in something beautiful, something with higher meaning, so that they could draw on it for the rest of their lives. He truly, and profoundly, believed that music could save us all, could help us learn peace and you expressed it so well.

June 14, 2005 at 12:52 PM · great story

50% discount... that made me laugh, thanks for that

June 14, 2005 at 04:29 PM · Such a fantastically delicious story you have! What's all the question marks though?

June 14, 2005 at 05:27 PM · For those of you who, like me, have not been trained in Suzuki pedagogy, I highly recommend the book "The Suzuki Violinist" by William Starr, one of Suzuki's disciples. It is easy to read and conveys the sirit, as well as the techniques, of Suzuki-ism. It reaffirms faith in the capabilities of every student.

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