Going Over NPR's Story about Mark O'Connor's Attacks on Shinichi Suzuki

November 16, 2014, 10:24 AM · Today National Public Radio aired a spot called 'Twinkle' Sparks Fireworks As Fiddler Guts Violin Method, by Liz Baker.

Shin'ichi SuzukiWell, certainly, Mark O'Connor has been doing his best to gut the Suzuki method and those who use any bit of it in their teaching or try to defend Shinichi Suzuki (1898-1998).

One of the lines in the story struck me: "Anyway, the facts are almost beside the point."

Indeed, the method never needed anything but its successful students to prove itself.

But since NPR saw fit to air O'Connor's shaky allegations, I'd like to go over a few of the facts that the piece brought up:

1. Suzuki indisputably took lessons from Karl Klinger:

The NPR piece addressed that Suzuki took privately from Klingler, not as a student at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik. Suzuki never claimed he was a student at Berlin Hochschule für Musik. Here's a little more:

Suzuki with Klingler"Shinichi Suzuki had violin lessons with the prominent German violinist Karl Klingler in Berlin in the 1920’s. Klingler’s daughter, Marianne Klingler, was a strong supporter of Suzuki’s teaching principles and became the first chairperson of the European Suzuki Association. Ms. Klingler confirmed many times that Suzuki had indeed studied with her father." From the International Suzuki Association.

Also, from cellist Amy Barston: "I have a tape of Alice Schoenfeld saying Klingler talked often about Suzuki studying with him (Klingler) privately for 8 years, And how Suzuki was his only private pupil. (Schoenfeld) studied with Klingler in the 1920's and 30's."

2. Suzuki had a friendship with Albert Einstein.

NPR brought up O'Connor's claim that Suzuki faked a relationship with Einstein but didn't address its veracity.

Suzuki describes having a relationship with Albert Einstein; you can read that in "Nurtured by Love," p. 76-78. They were friends in Berlin who sometimes wound up at dinner parties together, both there and when they were in America. Suzuki's book does not actually devote a lot of space to this relationship, and what he does write is extremely deferential. Mentioning Einstein seems less about name-dropping than it was about describing qualities he admired in Einstein. He describes an incident, when both men were at a dinner party in America. Suzuki was asked to play by the host, and he played some Bruch for the guests. A woman there asked, how could the music still sound so German, played by a Japanese man? Suzuki writes in the book:

"After a brief interval Dr. Einstein, young enough to be her son, said quietly, 'People are all the same, madame.' I was tremendously moved."

I'd call that man my friend, too.

Besides that, there is also physical evidence of this friendship: Norman Lebrecht published on his blog and Amy Barston published on her Facebook page Einstein's self-portrait drawing, made for and given to Suzuki. Here it is (thank you to Amy Barston):

Einstein-portrait-for-Suzuki

The autograph says, “Herr Shinichi Suzuki in freundlichsten Erinnerung” which translated is, “Mr Shinichi Suzuki in friendliest recollection” – Albert Einstein November 1926.

3. Pablo Casals came to a Suzuki concert and praised the performance.

The NPR piece brought up O'Connor's accusation that Suzuki faked an endorsement from cellist Pablo Casals but did not address its veracity.

In his book, "Nurtured by Love," Suzuki describes Casals, at age 75, coming to a concert of Suzuki kids, being moved by it and offering hearty congratulations (p. 101-102). The following video shows Casals at a Suzuki concert (see 5:33):

4. Mark O'Connor just got re-married and so he's dropping this attack on Suzuki.

NPR brings up O'Connor's new marriage. All best wishes to him. It would be great if he's moving on.

It's worth noting that O'Connor's attacks on Suzuki coincided with the apparent dissolution of his relationship to Sadie deWall, mother of his four-year-old daughter. Sadie's mother is Pam (deWall) Wiley, who taught the Suzuki method for 40 years before helping O'Connor conceive the first books in his method and also going on the road as the teacher trainer for the O'Connor Method.

* * *

For more about this:

Just in: Suzuki Empire Strikes Back at Fraud Allegations: Norman Lebrecht pretty much takes down all of O'Connor's arguments, point-by-point, then commenters offer even more concrete evidence.

Mark O'Connor Harms the Violin Community: This article by me describes Mark's destructive tactics.

Room for All: Shar Weighs In on Mark O’Connor’s Anti-Suzuki Statements: Shar CEO Charles Avsharian writes in support of the Suzuki method as well as O'Connor's method, which Shar publishes. He expresses disappointment over O'Connor's attacks on the character of Shinichi Suzuki.

Replies

November 16, 2014 at 05:38 PM · Thank you Laurie for alwasy going the extra mile to clearify comments that are not based on facts and missinterpreted. Your zeal and spirit as a writer, suzuki teacher, violinist and your commitment to music education is alwayd inspiring.. Thank you

November 16, 2014 at 06:43 PM · Laurie - I did not know that Suzuki studied with Karl Klingler. For those of us who are Jewish, Klingler is a bit of hero for what he did under the Nazis. He was the first violinist in the Klingler Quartet, probably the best string quartet in Germany at the time Hitler came to power. After the Nazis took power, the Nazi cultural poo-bahs noticed that the Klingler Quartet had a Jewish cellist named Silberstein. The story goes that Goebbels, the cultural czar, had a meeting with Klingler to see if something could not be done about this "problem." Goebbels pointed out to Klingler that Silberstein was Jewish and asked if the Quartet could not replace him with another cellist. Klingler said not really, because a string quartet was really an organic group, etc., and Siberstein was a crucial member of the quartet. So, Goebbels asked if he was sure there was no cellist who could replace Silberstein. Klingler thought for a moment and replied, "Ja, [Emanuel] Feuermann." Feuermann was possibly the best cellist in the world at that point but was also Jewish. Goebbels flew into a rage, and Klingler simply disbanded the Quartet rather than replace Silberstein.

November 16, 2014 at 06:54 PM · I've really appreciated your contributions to this discussion Laurie.

I was glad NPR went for balance and waited on this story. One quote really struck me though. I'm curious about his idea that Suzuki is "shutting" other methods out of schools. I've taught in a Suzuki in the Schools program, and there are some great school-based Suzuki programs out there. However, I'd say O'Connor needs to pick on Essential Elements or "traditional" teaching if he's feeling shut out of schools. Suzuki is certainly not the dominant method used in public school programs. I'm familiar with all his other complaints about us, but that was a new weird one that NPR didn't address.

November 16, 2014 at 07:40 PM · Tom Holzman, thank you for sharing that story.

Laurie, thank you for continuing to provide us with facts.

November 16, 2014 at 08:39 PM · I highly doubt O'Connor will drop the attack in the long-term. He may have realized he went too far when he got a negative response from the owner of Shar, which is likely one of his biggest vendors, and decided to hang back for awhile. But I don't believe he'll lay off for good. Time will tell!

November 16, 2014 at 08:40 PM · And yes, Rebecca, I completely agree that Suzuki is not the dominant method in schools by a long shot. That's a point I address in my article as well.

November 17, 2014 at 01:45 AM · Thanks Laurie, This is great! I am a teacher myself and have been researching as much as I could on the Suzuki method to decide if I want to take some of the training, so I have been following this since it first came up.

I just heard the program on NPR this morning and was surprised that this was still going on. I had figured MOC shot himself in the foot and lost the battle.

Has anyone looked at MOC blog recently? His last one is about how Laurie Niles and Violinist.com harms the O'Connor method. It confirmed even more that not only will I not be using his method.

November 17, 2014 at 06:58 AM · > I'm curious about his idea that Suzuki

> is "shutting" other methods out of schools.

The Suzuki Method doesn't even target the same age group as elementary music education in the US, which usually begins in the fourth grade (ages 9-10 on average), and usually includes band, choir, AND orchestra.

Just from a couple hundred schools out here in Southern California alone, we could point to programs using everything from Essential Elements and All for Strings to New Directions for Strings and String Explorer, Fiddler's Philharmonic, various Mariachi methods, etc. There's something for everyone, it's a very crowded market, and there's been a ton of research into the field and contributions from many excellent teachers, conductors, and composers (many who have been writing completely original new works for these books).

While private instruction certainly yields better individual technical and musical results in the long-term, as an introduction to ensemble music and playing an instrument, these methods are responsible for introducing a very large cross section of American elementary school students to band and orchestra in a fairly comprehensive and academically sound way. Most schools do NOT use the Suzuki Method...it wasn't designed to be taught to all sorts of different instruments at once!

November 17, 2014 at 01:06 PM · Thank you, Laurie. Yours is journalism at its finest.

November 17, 2014 at 03:18 PM · SAA does not count as a source, Laurie. They have added nothing to the discussion, merely restating everything everybody has already heard, and information that Mark O'Connor is refuting. You don't win an argument by saying the same things over and over--that doesn't work, especially if the person you're arguing with provides hard evidence for their perspective. They need to provide documentation--not just daughter says so "evidence"--that Suzuki studied with Klinger. Using their statements as proof is ridiculous.

Secondly, Shar called for a discontinuation of the subject, so why are we bringing it up again?

November 17, 2014 at 03:25 PM · It's still being discussed on NPR, which is pretty big publicity. I don't think talking about it is inappropriate, especially since it's been going on for a very long time.

November 17, 2014 at 04:52 PM · I personally think we should accept at face value that Mr. O'Connor has called off his attacks on the Suzuki method, and not necessarily tie it to his marital status. I am a fiddler and that mode of playing is totally satisfying to me, but I do like to listen to classical (especially string quartet) and marvel at the playing expertise. I heard the NPR broadcast and I think it was pretty balanced.

November 17, 2014 at 05:21 PM · Simple question... WHO IS Mark O'Connor? and.... other than his student base and some fans (I guess).... WHO CARES?

November 17, 2014 at 06:42 PM · Some people seem to stick to Mark O'Connor regardless of facts. Now his arguments don't have a leg to stand on, you require documentation for the proof of Suzuki's relationship to Klingler? A copy of check or receipt will do? If that is the best argument that O'Connor can come up with, he may well start ad hominem attacks on Nathan Milstein as the next target. Just as Suzuki, Milstein is already dead, and there is no documented proof that Milstein got lessons from Leopold Auer or Eugene Ysaye.

November 17, 2014 at 07:08 PM · CHUCK KENNEY (RETIRED public sch. music teacher, cellist) I SAW mr. suzuki in san francisco when i was in college. He came with students from his school and did a demo and talked about his METHOD, (i have read his book)Teachers in my area that 'teach suzuki' DON'T DO HIS 'METHOD' they do use his books and music material, and do 'SOME ' of his ideas, but the 'method' is not used as he uses AT ALL. His success is based on more than using his books of music repertoire. The 'suzuki teachers' in this area do not follow his principles nor his basic philosophy of learning.. What i saw was any student (in his country) achieving the skill of professional players by the time they reached age 12-13 and could play in any of our local philharmonics.. (none of that is being accomplished here in our area..) I support the original concepts of MR. SUZUKI and I do not approve of hows his 'method' is being taught and used..Mr suzuki wanted students to learn to read notes and teachers in my area start students w/o reading notes..Mr. Suzuki started kids playing books 1-2 books before the age of 5 yrs. old, and teachers here are starting kids older than that, Suzuki students are taught by mother both at home/group classes from the womb, and here taught by a teacher mostly.. the comparison is striking and the DIFFERENCE IS HUGE... I SUPPORT ALL MR. SUZUKI'S success and goals and methods.

chuck

November 17, 2014 at 08:18 PM · Actually, Polly, MOC did not provide hard evidence that proves his accusations.

He only provided evidence that Suzuki was rejected in an audition for the Berlin conservatory, which looks to have been judged by a panel, not just Klingler himself.

Even as formalized as music education has become today, plenty of teachers still take students in their private studios, not just through specific conservatories w/ which they're affiliated. It should not be surprising that Suzuki could've studied privately w/ Klingler w/out going thru the conservatory -- and Suzuki's own account (that MOC sought to refute) never indicates he studied thru the conservatory. And as noted in places, Suzuki's audition at that time (and subsequent tutelage under Klingler) could easily have been complicated by various factors during that period in Germany. Furthermore, the photo provided isn't something one can easily produce on film back then as might be possible in today's high tech age of the smartphone and spycams -- anyone w/ half-decent knowledge of photography would recognize that.

AFAIK, the only other actual evidence MOC provided was a letter from Einstein to Suzuki's father about a few violins sent to him to try out (accompanied by 2 sons). But this letter doesn't prove anything about Suzuki's relationship w/ Einstein. MOC's accusation here is pure conjecture and speculation on his part. Nothing more.

RE: the Casals' accusation, all MOC provided was his own personal/anecdotal account of relating Suzuki's claim to Casals' widow sometime in the last couple years, IIRC. He did not provide any actual evidence for this -- just his personal claim. There are not citable quotes or anything else that can hold up as evidence. And if you give it some thought, you have to wonder why did it take soooo long before Casals' widow seem to contradict Suzuki's story and based only on MOC's say-so.

Absence any real evidence, I gotta think you have to presume innocence for Suzuki (and Klingler's daughter for that matter), especially since his claims in Nurtured by Love (and elsewhere) has stood for so long now on top of the fact he's no longer around to defend his reputation. Nobody should shoot-first-to-character-assassinate-and-then-prove-later as MOC has been doing.

IF you really want to hold some personal suspicions about Suzuki and want to keep digging to see if they're justified, go ahead -- it's a free country. But MOC's claims have not been proven at all, and I'd caution against slander, persistent bad blood, etc. -- it's really not good for anyone's own well-being... And as many others have also pointed out, why should it really matter (all that much) to you anyway. The man is gone. The "method" is what it is (and still evolving AFAIK).

Peace...

_Man_

November 18, 2014 at 12:37 AM · Thank you , Man. Well said.

It seems that MOC adopted the "loaded question" sort of attack methodology:

A "loaded question", like a loaded gun, is a dangerous thing. A loaded question is a question with a false or questionable presupposition, and it is "loaded" with that presumption. The question "Have you stopped beating your wife?" presupposes that you have beaten your wife prior to its asking, as well as that you have a wife. If you are unmarried, or have never beaten your wife, then the question is loaded.

Since this example is a yes/no question, there are only the following two direct answers:

"Yes, I have stopped beating my wife", which entails "I was beating my wife."

"No, I haven't stopped beating my wife", which entails "I am still beating my wife."

Thus, either direct answer entails that you have beaten your wife, which is, therefore, a presupposition of the question. So, a loaded question is one which you cannot answer directly without implying a falsehood or a statement that you deny. For this reason, the proper response to such a question is not to answer it directly, but to either refuse to answer or to reject the question.

But what MOC has accomplished in some measure of success is to call into question Suzuki's character in the first place. Even if unsubstantiated, except by way of assumptions based on a LACK of evidence (ala: no letters PROVING. A friendship to Einstein. But really, how many of us have documented proof of our friendships? Does MOC require you to sign a contract if you want to be his friend? File a copy at city hall so that the document will still be there 90 years later, even after a World War swept through the nations in question?). To me, that is exactly how preposterous his "claims" are. And I thank Laurie for putting together a refutation of these shaky allegations. A signed self portrait by Einstein? That seems a pretty good evidence of a relationship of cordiality at the very least. Will MOC enter THAT into his "investigations" (witch hunt)?

MOC certainly has gotten a lot of free publicity out of this. And the ad guys say there's no such thing as bad publicity. So, he has succeeded at that.

I for one have been totally embittered by his strategies and his ignorant comments made about the people of Japan. Has he ever been there? (I was there just recently). I don't know if he lost a relative in WW2, or someone served in the Pacific in WW2. But his comments are quite slanted, jingoistic and offensive.

November 18, 2014 at 03:21 AM · Has anyone read Lois Shepheard's new book "Memories of Suzuki"? That more than anything I've read about this saga paints a picture of Suzuki as anything but a great teacher.

According to Lois, Suzuki claimed he could heal people with his touch and had the ability to hold white hot metal. The only consistent aspect to his teaching method I gleamed from her book was the Suzuki slept during student performances and lessons his students paid a lot of money for. When not sleeping he had a habit of walking out of lessons to watch sumo on TV. Lois describes these unprofessional and disgraceful aspects of Suzuki through the rose-colored glasses of a cultist.

Whatever you think of Mark O'Connor, there are certainly some utterly strange and very cultish aspects to the origins of Suzuki's methods.

November 18, 2014 at 04:25 AM · Thank you, Laurie, for the blog post.

I'd also like to point out the childish behavior of Mr. O'connor. On his youtube channel, he uploaded a video of Dr. Suzuki. This is how he describes it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnWv3pnRykI

----------------------

Mark O'Connor via Google+4 weeks ago

Watch Suzuki take an American tune and just destroy it with his musicianship! He did not get "eight years of violin lessons as his only private pupil" from famed Professor Karl Klingler of Berlin. Two German music scholars unearth the audition documents. Sorta like his playing, his ad libs and his recovery on Jingle Bells - the news is not good.

Read the new blog here: http://markoconnorblog.blogspot.com/2014/10/suzukis-biggest-lie.html?

----------------------

I find this behavior childish and appalling.

November 18, 2014 at 03:46 PM · I appreciated this commentary as I found that the NPR story was rather superficial, to the point of being shoddy journalism.

But ... I so wish that MOC's former girlfriend could have been left out of it. Laurie, respectfully, what you described as "worth noting" is so NOT worth noting.

November 18, 2014 at 04:34 PM · I disagree.

It is well worth noting that MOC had strong influences in Suzuki methodology from which he formed his own method, and then attempted to distance himself from at a later date.

That these influences were in the form of a personal relationship are also of note, given the vitriolic nature of MOC's attacks on the personage of Suzuki.

MOC sees fit to call into question the nature of Suzuki's personal relationships (Einstein, Klinger, et al), aren't his own personal relationships also therefore "fair game" especially since they call into question exactly how much MOC truly looks down upon Suzuki's methodology, when in fact it seems that he may have well based most of his methodology upon Suzuki's vis-a-vis his relationships with Sadie and Pam?

Yes, it's a bit ugly, I agree with that. But certainly relevant to understanding the entire picture of what has transpired.

November 18, 2014 at 05:19 PM · Pointing out that MOC had personal/familial relationships in the past with people who were noted Suzuki pedagogues, that's just fine. But the idea that the timing of MOC's diatribes coincided with the breakup of his relationship, and the implication that his breakup somehow played a role in his poor behavior, that seemed to me needlessly speculative on a personal level, inasmuch as it involves a person whose talent and integrity, in my opinion, are not in doubt. "Fair game" doesn't mean always that you get into the mud with someone.

November 18, 2014 at 05:52 PM · "Holding white hot metal in his bare hands?" That's a new one!

November 18, 2014 at 06:59 PM · Fair enough assessment, Paul.

But if you apply this part:

" needlessly speculative on a personal level, inasmuch as it involves a person whose talent and integrity, in my opinion, are not in doubt."

To MOC's rooting about in Suzuki's life, 90 years after the fact, it puts what MOC is up to in a similar dubious speculative, gossipy category, in my opinion.

November 18, 2014 at 09:27 PM · Seraphim, yes.

November 19, 2014 at 05:43 AM · More about Klingler from Amy Barston:

"I have a tape of Alice Schoenfeld saying Klingler talked often about Suzuki studying with him (Klingler) privately for 8 years, And how Suzuki was his only private pupil. (Schoenfeld) studied with Klingler in the 1920's and 30's."

November 22, 2014 at 09:45 PM · Great article, Laurie and I liked the links you included.

I think what Mark O'Connor forgets is that not everybody is American. While compositions from Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart, Dvorak, Brahms, etc., are well known all over the world (at least the Western world) American folk tunes are not. I'm not from the U.S. and while I really like some tunes, I would not be very happy if my learning repertoire were solely American.

Assuming that Mark O'Connor were successful in his wish to completely discredit Suzuki (and other successful methods other than his, I'm sure) his audience would be only in the U.S. (or almost) Is that what he wants? To produce a generation of American fiddlers? Where would Joshua Bell be today if this had been the case when he was growing up?

I think Mark O'Connor is attacking Suzuki because Suzuki offers the most popular method but I have no doubt that if he won, he would then move on to other methods to try to discredit them all. By doing so, he would produce fiddlers who are incapable of competing on an international level because let's face it, he's a great fiddler but he's not a great violinist.

He should leave Suzuki (and other methods) well alone and continue to be loved and respected as a very gifted fiddler. Many musicians do prefer to learn fiddle and folk tunes. They have their hero in O'Connor. But let's be honest here, O'Connor can't hold a candle to great composers whose compositions have endured centuries all over the world. He is either a bit delusional or he thinks that the world ends at the American borders.

November 23, 2014 at 12:50 AM · Rather odd that Andre Rieu's teachers, background and methodology haven't surfaced...or Florian Zabach...anyone for Jack Benny ???

November 23, 2014 at 04:44 AM · I had an extended, real-time online exchange with O'Connor in which I opined to him that, whatever the validity of his attacks, they would ultimately appear self-serving. The attack on Suzuki the person is actually an "Argumentum ad hominem." Mark should disclose his real beef with the Suziki Method's content, not its originator. There are points to be made, and I hope he makes them.

November 23, 2014 at 09:53 AM · As Man Wong says, the fact that Suzuki was not accepted at the Hochschule in Berlin does not mean he did not take private lessons with Klingler. I have myself examined the record in the conservatoire’s archives, and although Suzuki was ultimately turned down, the record actually says, “aufzunehmen wenn Platz,” i.e. “to be accepted if there is space.” In other words, he was not turned down because he wasn’t good enough. The record also says, Suzuki wished to be accepted into Klingler’s class.

Of course this doesn’t prove that he actually had lessons with Klingler, but together with the other evidence about Suzuki’s relationship with Klingler it lends credibility to the overall picture.

As for the way the Suzuki Method is practised in America, it is only natural that it is different from the way Suzuki himself practised it. This is what happens when concepts travel between cultures it it is not in itself bad or wrong. However, in the early years, a lot of teachers were quick to jump on the bandwagon with only a minimal idea of what it was all about and with no proper training. This is why, eventually, efforts were made to organize and to introduce training and certification. One of the best sources about this was the booklet by Kerstin

Wartberg, a pioneer of the Suzuki Method in Germany who knew Suzuki well. You can She has since published a bilingual version which is available here:

http://www.germansuzuki.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/suzuki_biographie.pdf

I have written in detail about Suzuki in Not by Love Alone which a is now available from Amazon ( as Kindle as well as paperback).

Anyway, rather than agonizing about Mark O’Connor’s accusations and speculating about his motives, remember what they say about bad publicity being better than no publicity. See this as an opportunity to increase understanding of Suzuki and his method!

Best wishes,

Margaret

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Our Kokopelli
Please support Violinist.com
through your
one-time donation or
sponsorship campaign.

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music

Yamaha V3 Series Violin

The Potter Violin Company

Coregami Performal

Metzler Violin Shop

Gliga Violins

Zhuhai International Mozart Competition - Apply by April 30, 2017

Connolly Music

Corilon Violins

Meadowmount School of Music

Anderson Musical Instrument Insurance

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Fiddlerman.com

Fiddlershop

Heifetz International Music Institute

Long Island Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Pro-Am Strings

Wangbow Violin Bow Workshop