Ideas from John Kendall's Teaching Legacy

June 3, 2012, 3:36 PM · Suzuki pioneer John Kendall was not just a teacher, he was a teacher of teachers.

A number of those teachers who benefitted from Kendall's wisdom gathered at the Suzuki Association of the Americas Conference last weekend to present some of those ideas from their mutual mentor, who died a little more than a year ago.

Kendall Teachers
Suzuki teachers Christie Felsing, Carol Smith, Susan Kemptor, Kimberly Meier-Sims, Allen Lieb, Margaret Shimizu and Vera McCoy-Sulentic

When it comes to the Suzuki movement in the United States, John Kendall was a major player. Kendall pioneered the teacher training program, he organized the first Suzuki Institute, he started the Suzuki newsletter, and he was crucial in getting the Suzuki books published in English. He was literally a farmer, and "he was more of a planter than a harvester," said Carol Smith.

So many of ideas are now widely used in string teaching, they don't even seem new or unusual any more, she said.

One of his ideas was to use the pieces that students know to build technique, she said. "Be your own Sevcik," Kendall would say. In other words, you can make up your own technical exercises, building on pieces already learned, which fits with Suzuki's idea of review and repetition.

Susan Kemptor, who wrote the first review of Kendall's book of memoirs called Recollections of a Peripatetic Pedagogue, said that "every time I met with John Kendall, I learned something."

Kemptor spoke about Kendall's saying, "Teach by principles, not by rules." While rules are precise and process-oriented, principles are more slippery and result-oriented, allowing for more experimentation. Discussing and experimenting helps us to become better teachers and learners. "We don't do something because someone else tells us to do it, we do it because it works," Kemptor said. "Value the process, experiment with the process, and all of us will benefit."

Teacher Kimberly Meier Sims spoke about Kendall's saying, "Finger, Bow, Go!" A violinist prepares finger and bow before moving with the bow. Inserting these preparation breaks in practicing can help a student get their act in order; if the fingers go after the bow, we know that the result is a mess!

Allen Lieb spoke of Kendall's fondness for "unit practice"; in fact, Kendall sometimes joked that unit practice was one of the three great discoveries of man, besides the wheel and fire. It's important to stop and set things up for correct repetition, to isolate patterns and not to practice mistakes.

Another favorite of Kendall's was to "reduce it to open strings," said teacher Margaret Shimizu.

It's almost always possible to isolate a bow stroke and to play it on one note. Margaret held up a piece of paper on which Kendall had written, "Life and violin playing is a series of alternatives."

Vera McCoy-Sulentic spoke about the idea of teaching the big muscles first. "Playing the violin happens with the back," Kendall used to say. The more one can use those larger muscles, the less the strain on the smaller ones.

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