Julie Bamberger Roubik
Today was the final day of the Suzuki World Convention in Matsomoto, Japan. I feel like I'm going home infused with the knowledge and the spirit of Dr. Suzuki. I can't wait to share with my students and colleagues all that I learned here this week.
In the morning I observed the Bach Double class. Normally, the two violin parts were separated into their own repertoire groups, but today they were together in the main hall of Agata-no-Mori Cultural Hall, an old, historic wooden building at the far end of the city.
I snuck up to the balcony and watched with fascination a group of over 100 kids playing the duet together.
There were twice as many second violins as firsts, so they divide the seconds into two groups and had the, each play with the firsts. The teacher spent most of his time with the seconds working on the large register/string changes, explaining that the lower of the two notes should be the most important, whether in the solos, or at the end of a phrase. They ended by having all the students play together, but the teacher would have the two groups of seconds switch back and forth every time he clapped his hands. There was never a gap in sound, so you'd never knew what was happening if you didn't watch.
For the second part of the morning, I observed a Vivaldi Concerto in g class. The teacher paired up the students and had them watch each other while playing Allegro to match bow style. Then he had one of the pair start up bow, and the other down bow at the same time. They did rock, paper, scissors to decide who was which bowing.
After a lunch break, the final concert was held back in the Matsumoto City Gym.
The first half of the concert was:
Cellos - The Swan, Tarantella by Squire
Below, Nick Kendall leads a group of students in the last movement of the Tchaikovsky Concerto:
Nick's group, Time for Three, was amazing. They played an original piece by the bassist, that really captured the American folk sound, and an arrangement of Brahms' Hungarian Dance #5, which morphed into Twinkle, then a jazzy version of the Bach Double with some serious violin pyrotechnics, before returning to the original melody. They were very popular with the crowd.
Following that was Intermission.
Then the final play down: Eccles sonata, Fiocco Allegro, Vivaldi a minor, Hunters Chorus, Minuet 2, Perpetual Motion, Allegro, Twinkle.
There is no way to describe the sound of over 1,000 kids, of all ages, from 34 countries, playing together. The sound penetrates your very soul, and you understand why Pablo Casals was so moved when he first heard Suzuki's students. I think Dr. Suzuki's vision is something we still need in this world. I wonder if, instead of a weapon, everyone was given a musical instrument instead. Once you see and hear something like this, you are truly changed forever.
Such a busy day today. This morning I went group-class hopping. Violin group classes in Japan are 2+ hours. For the first hour, I observed a Minuet 2 class and, for the second, a Gossec Gavotte class where Joanne Martin was a guest teacher. Each class had at least 30 students and 3 teachers, although only one teacher taught at a time. Halfway through, the class took a 10-minute break.
The joy and exuberance on the faces of the kids was evident.
Two activities really stuck out to me as being unique and fun. The first was a Twinkle rhythm that one of the Japanese sensei made up .. Ti Ti Ta, Ti Ti Ta .. which she called "Yaru yo!" (I will do it in Japanese). Sometimes she'd emphasize the first syllable .. YAru yo .. and sometimes the last .. Yaru YO. She then applied the former to the rhythm of Andantino, and the latter to Allegretto.
Joanne Martin had the kids pair up, and gave a metal bracelet to each pair. One child held the bracelet, while the other moved their bow up and down inside it, trying not to touch the rim. The kids had a blast with this!
In the afternoon I had the unique privilege of watching Brian Lewis lead the large group lesson.
He had the kids playing Fiocco Allegro, and after the first main section would stop and say "Faster!"
The giggles soon turned to groans of agony as the piece exceeded "Presto!" The following Twinkle was a big relief, I'm sure.
The remainder of my afternoon was spent listening to a talk about the valuable aspects of parent education by Helen Brunner, part of a cello master class with Gilda Barston, and a presentation by Bill Starr of a video interview he did with Dr. Suzuki in 1985 about his vision to make the Mother Tongue Method a universal teaching philosophy for elementary children. It was really neat to see him speaking "in person," since I'd never had the opportunity to see him while he was alive.
However, the most touching part of my day happened right after the morning classes ended. I was introduced to a Japanese teacher, who was now teaching a student that I had taught when the girl and I both lived in Los Angeles. This girl's mom had emailed the teacher, asking her to look for me and get a picture together. The teacher conveyed to me the mother's kind words about my work with her daughter years ago that brought tears to my eyes. It made me realize how much we impact our students' lives, as Suzuki teachers, and what an honor it is to have that closeness with the families that come into our studio. I was so touched that this mother made such an effort to reach out, and I'm so glad she did. That was truly the highlight of my day, and I hope one day to see them again.
Statue in Matsumoto
Today's schedule began with viola repertoire class. Is there any way to better start your day than with the C string? The students were divided into two classes .. Books 1-3, and Books 4+. I spent the morning shuttling back and forth between the two rooms. Each group was taught by one Japanese teacher and one Australian. The main points focused on throughout the morning were tone, C-string sound/posture, ensemble and balance.
One of the Japanese teachers used an exercise she learned from wind surfing to talk about "tanden" or the center of balance.
After lunch, I went to e violin group lesson in the gym. More like a mob lesson ... hundredss of children from Books 1-7.
One students among hundreds!
Three teachers took turns leading the group .. One from Japan, one from Belgium and Nicolas Kendall from the US. Pieces ranged from Twinkle - Eccles, the teachers picking one main point and using games and exercises to enhance the technique. Nicolas, especially, got the children laughing and excited.
There is no way to find sufficient words to describe the awesomeness of that sound and the energy in the room.
Later that afternoon we went to hear teacher presentations. First was Cathy Lee giving a talk on bowing techniques, and how to make them easier and physically efficient. We then hurried across town to hear William Preucil speak on Viola Book 8 and aspects of viola tone. My favorite remarks of his were "Music is what happens in between the notes." and "Tone is not in the viola, it comes from inside you."
There are so many activities and events going on throughout the day that its very hard to choose what to see. But, no matter what we choose, we have a mind-blowing experience.
The World Will Be One, Joined Together By Children's Music
Today was the official start of the Suzuki Method World Convention, with the opening ceremonies at the Matsumoto City Gym. As we walked in, we could see the floor FILLED with children, arranged by instrument, in rows via the aid of tape on the floor.
There are over 5,000 participants from 34 countries, and around 1,300 of them are children. Instruments represented are violin, viola, cello, bass, guitar, flute and piano. Our seats overlooked the gym from the second floor. At the head of the gym, sat the international faculty orchestra, the conference dignitaries, including her royal highness, the Imperial Princess, and a group of koto (Japanese zither) players in full kimono.
The event began with a video of Dr. Suzuki playing one of his original compositions, the Berceuse. Following that, the faculty orchestra, conducted by Dr. Toyoda, played another composition by Suzuki entitled "Wishing Prayer for Happiness of All Children." Then came greetings from the conference dignitaries, the Mayor of Matsumoto, the Governor of Nagano Prefecture, Dr. Toyoda and even an address by Her Royal Highness. Princess Takamado's late husband and three children were all Suzuki students, so the method has a special place in her heart and she was pleased to be the honorary conference president.
As the various participating countries were introduced, the participants from each area stood and waved proudly. The koto group then performed two pieces, and were joined for a third by a select group of violin students playing a piece originally for koto and shakuhachi (Japanese flute).
The grand finale was the student performance. All the students, all instruments together, performed Paganini's "Witches Dance", "Song of the Wind", "Lightly Row" and "Twinkle." The sound resonated throughout the hall and touched every person there.
After lunch, short (1 hour) group lessons were held. I went to the viola class, which was taught by two Japanese and two Australians.
There were about 8 students in the class from various countries. The class focused mostly on getting a big, but relaxed tone, even on the C string and centered around Twinkle A, Theme and Bohemian Folk Song. It was fascinating to watch Dr. Suzuki's vision come to life in front of your eyes. Some spoke English, some Japanese, but everyone understood what to do via the language of music.
Then we went to the first Symposium, the keynote speech by Ryugo Hayano, a Japanese professor of Physics and CERN scientist who had been a student of Dr. Suzuki's in the 50s and 60s. His topic was on the main principles if Dr. Suzuki's method, and even though he was "preaching to the choir" so to speak, it was interesting to hear and see pictures from someone who lived the method and was part of the Tour Group.
We didn't have tickets to the second Symposium, so instead we decided to walk over to Dr. Suzuki's house, which is now a museum.
As we arrived, we were honored to see Princess Takamado who had been making a ceremonial visit.
In the house are displayed various pictures and memorabilia, many honorary degrees and awards and even letters of commendation from Presidents Carter and Reagan. Some of his manuscripts, including the original "Nurtured By Love" are also there, as well as his piano and violin.
His study looks as if he would come waking in anytime, sit down, and ask you to play for him and his spirit can be felt in every room!
What an honor it is to be in the city where the Suzuki Method all began, and continues to be nurtured. This is my third trip to Matsumoto -- the first was for the Suzuki World Conference in 1999, the second with some students to attend the Suzuki Summer School in 2005. It never loses its charm, however, and each visit is a new adventure.
I arrived by Shinkansen (bullet train) from a visit to Kyoto where we did a whirlwind tour of six temples and the district of Gion. At the station, we were met by a conference volunteer to help us find our hotel and registration. Our lodging is at the Hotel Iidaya, directly across from the station. It is a traditional style Japanese hotel, with small rooms and o-furo (baths) in each bathroom.
We walked to the Performing Arts Center to check in to the 16th Suzuki Method World Convention .. everything is done by Qr code scan on iPads.
After getting our conference bag, and materials, we walked to the Matsumoto castle for some welcome events, which included performance-art calligraphy, sword-fighting, and Ikebana (Japanese flower arranging). We also got to tour the castle, one of the oldest and most magnificent castles still standing in Japan.
Later that night was the teachers welcome banquet. Dr. Koji Toyoda and other dignitaries, including her Imperial Highness, pounded open a ceremonial sake barrel to officially open the conference. We even got to sample the sake ourselves! We were treated to an enormous buffet of many Japanese delicacies, including a sushi station! It was great to run into old friends from the states, and meet new ones from all over the world!
With Ed Kreitman of Chicago
As a part of the ceremonies, we were presented with a live performance by a local Taiko drumming group. The sound resonated throughout the building and in our hearts. We were reminded of the reason we all are here, with a video of Dr. Suzuki playing one of his original pieces. Everyone applauded as if it were a live performance.
My most special moment of the night was running into an American woman, now living in Japan, who was my guide when I came with students to the summer school. Her son had been given viola so my viola student would not be the only English speaker in her orchestra. From that experience, she told me, her son began playing viola as his maininstrument, and now there is a small but mighty student viola contingent in Japan. That made me feel both humbled and proud.
Japan is truly an amazing place, and my second home since I was an exchange student here in high school. I can't wait to see what tomorrow will bring.
Violinist.com Editor Laurie Niles went to Austin, Texas to cover the Menuhin Competition 2014, watching some of the world's top young violinists. Read her ongoing coverage.
Julie Bamberger Roubik is from Shorewood, Wisconsin. Biography
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