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Mark O'Connor

Suzuki Embraces American Method Concepts.

May 24, 2012 at 4:27 PM

New Blog by Mark O'Connor: "Like many other foundational American fiddle tunes, they can have countless variations, and it is part of fiddling tradition to encourage students to combine elements of these variations in different ways each time they play them. In other words, students are encouraged to make these tunes their own...It is apparent though, that the latest Suzuki Journal issue indicates they are now ready to embrace the very principles and concepts I have been talking about the last three years to teachers, students, schools and the press regarding the contents of the O’Connor Method."

From Laurie Niles
Posted on May 24, 2012 at 6:50 PM
Suzuki has long been a bastion of creativity, learning by ear, and open-minded and experimental teaching. You should get familiar with it, Mark, maybe even do some teacher training to see what it's all about, just like Suzuki teachers are open-mindedly giving your method such consideration. There's a big conference in Minneapolis this weekend, and Time for Three members Zach Pue and Nick Kendall are giving workshops and performing as part of the some 120 workshops offered to teachers. Check it out!
From Matthew Grogan
Posted on May 24, 2012 at 7:16 PM
There has been some interesting research into informal learning in the UK recently, which is now starting to spread to other countries. Music education in schools is starting to encourage the 'informal' principles like copying others, playing and learning by ear, haphazard learning etc. You should check out musicalfutures also I recent article I wrote funkyviolins
From Mark O'Connor
Posted on May 24, 2012 at 7:47 PM
Laurie, I have been to many Suzuki camps and festivals. Including the big one in Ottowa twice... My girlfriend is a long-time Suzuki teacher so the kids are coming over to the house, and she helps run a big Suzuki camp. I am affiliated with many Suzuki schools. My girlfriend's mother is a long-time Suzuki teacher, and met with him in the 70s. Actually their whole family took it. My own string camps have seen thousands of Suzuki kids come through them - either current or former Suzuki students. Other close ties, too numerous to go into, but a lot of research. I find it surprising though that I have studied his 30+ hours of films and I run into a lot of certified Suzuki teachers who have never seen them. Isn't that odd... especially in the day of the internet etc... Thanks Laurie for asking and please write me at my inbox... I have a few ideas! MOC
From Adam DeGraff
Posted on May 24, 2012 at 8:16 PM
Mark, why the animosity towards Suzuki? You seem upset at Suzuki for some reason, but I'm confused why? Your new books seem like they are being heartily embraced. For as long as I can remember, Suzuki has been a really open minded, inclusive method. I even remember when my Suzuki teacher brought a fiddle book to my lesson. I'd say "can't we all just get along...." but actually, I'd like to see more than that and I think we can do better than that. Can't we all really love and appreciate one another and support the violin community with love and an abundance of approaches? I think that way, all violinists will win, and win big!
From Mark O'Connor
Posted on May 24, 2012 at 9:06 PM
Adam, yes... of course. You have to understand the reason why I even donated many years to authoring a violin method. It was because Suzuki left out American music, fiddling, improvisation, group playing in harmony, groove and a whole host of things that I thought were really missing in pedagogy for strings in the beginning years. Of course it would be better to practice and get going, than to want to quit because you did not like the materials. So those are several reasons why I have developed it. In talking with not hundreds, but thousands of Suzuki students, parents and teachers over the course of decades, all of these things really resonated. After many decades attempting to influence Suzuki teachers of my teaching concepts (for instance making an official appearance at Ottawa two different countless other official interactions -- and not seeing much traction other than “it is great when Mark O’Connor does it”). I decided to spend the time and the fortune on creating an entire new Method series. After three years of it being out, I see that now Suzuki likes what I have been saying all along now. I would always bring up the "fun" of learning...and that was frowned upon in those circles...the fiddling part was fun and not serious... so it was not taken seriously. I wanted to put in print and state that fun can be serious business! And now we have Nick speaking for the Association's cover story that Suzuki emphasizes ‘fun’ and ‘thinking outside the box.’ the very terms I have been using for my Method rollout, along with ‘American music,’ ‘fiddle tunes,’ ‘creativity’’improvisation...’ for more than 20 years I have been hauling around these talking points to teachers, Suzuki teachers all around the country. And now that mine is out, they say...well of course! But of course no mention of my Method or efforts. So, I thought it was worth writing a thought proving article on it! And it seems to be getting a lot of attention as well. At the very least, it is really an interesting development. Thank you Adam, and I hope that explains the background a bit!
From Paul Deck
Posted on May 25, 2012 at 2:50 AM
I'm sensing a little defensiveness in Team Suzuki. There is a difference between "animosity" and legitimate, informed criticism.

I happen to agree with Mark's claim that Suzuki is weak in the area of developing improvisational creativity. As a violinist and a jazz pianist and a Suzuki dad, I think I can make this observation even though I am "untrained" in the Suzuki philosophy and have never been to a Suzuki conference. What little "improvisational" oriented material there is in the Suzuki books (e.g., Perpetual Motion, Long Long Ago, etc.) is not only hard-wired but uninteresting. One comes away with a very dull impression of what is musically possible through improvisation.

If it is really true that the Suzuki journal article advocates the insertion of fiddle tunes that are already in Mark's books without citing his work, then I am disappointed. In a scientific journal such an omission would be considered incompetent or even unethical.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on May 25, 2012 at 6:35 PM
Suzuki teachers have been doing those tunes for a very long time before the existence of Mark's books, which Mark should well know. This is not legitimate criticism, it's simply misinformation.
From Mark O'Connor
Posted on May 26, 2012 at 6:10 AM
Laurie, the Suzuki Association has never advocated that "Old Joe Clark" can be used in the core and that it builds technique - until now. I think that is the main thrust of the point. And the fact that I use those same tunes in my Method to build technique is very ironic. Also Shin'ichi Suzuki did not play nor teach "Old Joe Clark" or "Boil 'em Cabbage Down" or "Devil's Dream," all central tunes in my Method to develop technique. But now they are being suggested as some core materials by the Suzuki Association. It is misleading to suggest that these materials were Suzuki developed, when he himself did not include American material. He could have, but he did not. He authored his method in the 20th Century, and that century was an American music century, but he still did not include any American music which I saw as a great oversight, and that is what led me to author a new method. American music can lead to creativity in young kids, while early Baroque pieces will not as much. But both can give proper technique. And that is principally why I have taken 10 years to author a method.

I have been advocating "American music, fiddling, creativity, improvisation, thinking outside the box, music as fun...along with disciplined technical acquisition for the last three years that my method has been out. Now a member of Time For Three says that these were products of the Suzuki Method? I needed to write an article about this to bring some factual basis in order to provide some contrast to his statement. I did a lot of research in writing this blog in addition to the years of research I had already done. I studied the Suzuki films again. (I did find two toss off phrases of Jingle Bells though!) Nothing serious about American music and concepts. No creativity in his lesson plans. When teachers taught fiddling to their students, they went off script, and that was never supported by Shin'ichi Suzuki himself, nor the Association. Off script is fine and good (especially in these cases), and I know plenty of those teachers... But my blog was specifically about Shin'ichi Suzuki himself and what he authored, and what the Suzuki Association advocates. Not what great teachers who are more inclusive on their own do, even currently - like yourself in fact! Thanks Laurie!

From di allen
Posted on May 26, 2012 at 4:21 PM
it seems to me that mr. o'connor has set up a straw man, which he can easily known down. as for learning technique with 'american' music, or french music, or arctic music! i suppose it's possible. using the classical repertoire works for me - i prefer a Bach minuet to Old Joe Clark. Mr. O'Connor is a wonderful fiddler, violinist and musician and I have purchased his last two cd's, both remarkably enjoyable. I do wonder how much one-on-one teaching experience, and I wonder why he feels compelled to attack the Suzuki method.
From di allen
Posted on May 26, 2012 at 4:28 PM
CORRECTION; 'straw man should be knocked down'
and 'how much teaching experience, one on one, he has........sorry
From Mark O'Connor
Posted on May 26, 2012 at 5:50 PM
Di, I did not knock something. I thought it was a positive article mostly... There were some critical quotes in there by former Suzuki students, but also some very positive ones. Don't understand how you are getting at that. Thought provoking yes, but certainly not what you are describing it as. Have you read the blog, it my be more clarifying if you did, take notes on what I wrote, and post a comment about what you thought was not factual. And let me take a look at it. Thank you. MOC
From Mark O'Connor
Posted on May 26, 2012 at 5:57 PM
"When Roberta Guaspari at Opus 118 and Arnold Steinhardt asked me to play American music with the students from Harlem at the Carnegie Hall gala and fundraisers, I did. 1993 was the year that I appeared with them at Carnegie Hall and also began my "Fiddle Camps" in Tennessee including classical, fiddling, jazz and world music. Mr. Stern loved my performance of American music, and was fascinated by the potential impact that American string playing could have on education. We got together to talk often about the possibilities of more American string playing and fiddling, and he was ready to offer Carnegie Hall for a multi-day festival celebrating the branches of string playing and introduce it all on a major stage. Mr. Stern died before that became a reality. In the years after, I appeared often with the kids from Harlem's Opus 118 as their special guest on performances at the Kennedy Center Honors, David Letterman Show and a host of news and entertainment shows on television." -Mark O'Connor

Mark appears at 2:40 playing the American tune "Orange Blossom Special" with Roberta's violin students and Meryl Streep at Carnegie Hall!

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on May 29, 2012 at 10:11 PM
I realize I’m coming in late to this, and I never did Suzuki; I started violin as a kid in a public school music program.

Where I’m coming from is as the parent of kids for whom Suzuki instruction didn’t really work. I hypothesize that the reason it didn’t work in our particular case had to do with my kids not being ready at a young age to take any kind of formal music instruction--not from a teacher and especially not from a parent. Instead, they tended to be, well, a little stubborn and oppositional, and to want to do things by themselves and figure things out for themselves, rather than being shown the correct way to do it by an adult authority figure.

I’m not trying to argue against the effectiveness of the Suzuki method *for kids who are willing (and even happy) to be taught and/or led by adults*. But I am saying that there are kids who don’t fit this category, at least not before the age of 8 or even older; and that certain aspects of Suzuki instruction—the early start, the need for close parental involvement, the need to be able to respect and follow an adult’s instructions accurately, the need for regular and sustained focus, concentration, and routine--demoralize them and leave them behind.

Eventually most kids mature, and become better at delayed gratification, at following directions, at sustaining concentration and focus, at respecting authority, and so on, and that leads me to the question of whether and how they can ever catch up, once they are ready. And, it leads me to another, perhaps more interesting question, of whether these same traits (willfulness, stubbornness, independence, mistrust of authority) that are such a liability in the early stages of Suzuki instruction might ever be assets in any other situation. And so I wonder whether an emphasis on creativity such as is in the O’Connor method might be able to tap into and harness the positive aspects of a “spirited” child’s personality. I recognize that there isn’t much data on that yet, but I think it’s a worthwhile hypothesis and a very important question to ask. In that way, I hope the two methods might be able to complement each other and bring music to a wider variety of students!

From Mark O'Connor
Posted on May 30, 2012 at 4:51 AM
Karen, you absolutely bring up a great point(s). Let me assure you, it is not too late to learn the violin and become the best even at age 8 or 9. I was - get ready eleven years old when I first touched a violin! And you are right on, that rebellion, stubbornness, resisting authority - you must know that these are traits that exists in the greatest creative artists in history! Those remind me of myself as a kid... and look what I have been able to do with my violin creativity - compose nine concertos, two symphonies, record on 500 albums... and author an American Music method for strings - that will reach out to both the studious child, and those stubborn types who want at least some autonomy in their little musical lives. I think that is healthy, and to stamp it out, to stomp on that spirit - artistically is wrong to do. I would turn them lose on American materials, and have them make their case! Thank you! Maybe we will see you all at one of my camps soon!

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