Is Suzuki a cult?
I read a book on the psychology of religion a couple of years ago, but it was written by a consortium of lecturers from one of America's religious universities, and it was obvious how much effort they were putting into avoiding the elephant in the room.
So I decided, if a religion is "a cult with official status" (that is one of the official definitions of religion), then religions are a subset of cults, and I'd read a book on cult psychology instead. That worked very well (Marc Galanter).
It always amused me that Richard Dawkins was always very nearly a religious cult leader.
But it only occurred to me after reading some gush about Suzuki on a blog the other day that there's an element of cultism in the Suzuki community.
What do you think?
Absolutely totally agree about Suzuki. Don't agree about Richard Dawkins. So many aspects of Suzuki don't appeal to me (which may tell you which side I come down on in discussions about religion).
To avoid a debate in which the issue actually boils down to the meaning of a word, maybe Andrew could define exactly what he means by "cult"? Maybe an organized belief system that attempts to bind its adherents by exerting emotional or financial pressure?
Nothing amazing going on here: "Culte" is the French word for the Sunday morning ritual--which is why the signs give you the times for them for both confessions (this being the correct word). Words do not always have the same meaning in different languages.
No-though one can make it too much of a group-think issue to the point of near worship-which sometimes is done with the Suzuki approach-but it definitely isn't a "cult" when properly followed. And also, some other approaches also have near cult-level of fandom.
Yes, comparing English and French usage, the words "cult" and "sect" are inverted! In France, Baptists are a in a "culte" (denomination), while Scientology is a "secte" (where you pay to sell your soul). (Discuss!)
I was lucky I received a more "neutral" teacher-training many years ago, but can believe there are more zealous advocates than others. As long as we do not become "cultists" ourselves, all is good.
Certainly there are many revered teachers who do not lead cults although cults depend on "revered teachers" for their existence. Perhaps at times it can be hard to tell the difference.
Quite so Andrew. It's an unnecessarily emotive word
I think Adalberto has it right. I've encountered fanatics, but I don't think the Suzuki Association of America actually tries to promote any kind of cult-like following. The fanatics may be more visible simply because it's the most commonly used method in the US. But as far as I can tell, most Suzuki teachers supplement the books with additional materials and aren't slavish adherents.
I didn't want to get technical, as then the hair-splitters could simply end the discussion on grounds of semantics and specifics, and I wanted to see how it went with people being subjective. Andrew and Steve are wrong to assert that cults don't allow leavers. Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, is deliberately structured as a Christian cult, because cults do work in changing people's behaviour. I don't want to name any more contentious cults. A few don't allow leavers. Others do.
An interesting aspect of Suzuki violin, at least, outside of Japan, is that kids are increasingly getting later starts -- closer to the age of conventional training. At least where I live, a lot of Suzuki-trained teachers won't take kids until at least four-and-a-half, which is practically ancient compared to the 2.5 that kids started at when I was a child.
Starting at 2.5 years seems too cruel for me, which could be why they pushed to later. Lydia, I wonder if a child was forced to practice at 2.5-3.5 years old, how many hours / intensity of practice for the child is imposed?
I don't know about Suzuki as a cult. It seems like the draw is that parents who don't know how to distinguish good from bad teachers have a credential to latch onto, added to the sort of magical thinking that there is some silver bullet to learning violin best, and that the secret knowledge of starting your children earlier gives them some sort of immense advantage, when in reality there are a lot of factors that go into how a child will do in music lessons, and I'd reckon that starting a child too early can often backfire.
I believe asserting that Suzuki is some kind of a cult is a wrong label to apply, and the debate that is sure to follow will thereby be flawed from its inception.
I'm not sure that The Suzuki Method qualifies as a belief system. I also understand the skepticism of the method in response to it's iconic status and that it has all but eclipsed all other methods of teaching.
One could redirect this discussion a little and avoid the loaded word "cult" by asking this: What makes the Suzuki approach so very successful compared to other approaches out there, many of which are perfectly valid? As far as I heard Suzuki is specifically designed for young children, yet it seems to be used on students of all ages. Why? And "Suzuki book X" seems to be in use as a way of describing someone's technicall competence, not e.g. "Doflein book X".
George, what you're talking about doesn't seem like it's Suzuki. It might use the Suzuki books, or possibly it might use a recent adaptation of the Method for public school programs, but it's not the Suzuki Method in the classic sense.
About 20% of the Suzuki Method is using Suzuki Books. The rest is a very well-developed philosophical movement organized around the tenets of "Nutured by Love" and Suzuki's other books, and the underpinning theory that young people can learn music the same way they learn to speak their native language(s) -- primarily by repetitive listening.
It's not just the books per se. There are a set of teaching points for each piece (and I believe that those teaching points have evolved through the years, and may be semi-unique to a teacher-trainer). I suspect that many teachers who just use the repertoire are not necessarily aware of what teaching points are supposed to be conveyed in each piece.
I think Suzuki is less a cult than a marketing tool.
Dr. Suzuki could have been quoted as saying something like "you don't teach Suzuki method, you teach (insert your last name) method." He himself would not think of the method as a cult. Careful study of the method will make most teachers realize that they don't have to bend to the "Suzuki" method but realize that a lot of what they teach and think already lines up with what the Suzuki method entails. The reason I teach Suzuki is that it lines up with my teaching philosophies and with that added benefit of a larger community aspect as well as ideas are succinctly and clearly shared even if I hadn't had a clear way of organizing it myself at first.
BTW: as far as I can tell, Suzuki did not earn a doctorate, but instead received honorary doctorates (like Bill Cosby...). So speaking as someone who actually went to the trouble to get one, I'd say he should not have used that in his title, and nor should he be referred to using that title.
Lydia, et al.,
It doesn't sound like that program is even vaguely "Suzuki based". It sounds like it might be some kind of unique program that may use some Suzuki repertoire.
To be fair, Suzuki didn't call himself "Dr. Suzuki", German and English translators of his materials did (and continue to do so). No Japanese-speaker referred to him by anything else besides "Suzuki-Sensei." On the flip side, my relatives who earned their Ph.D. and M.D. degrees essentially feel that only scientific or medical professionals should use the "Dr." honorific. Having seen the kind of work one of my former students put into his DMA program, I would disagree. It's certainly a contentious topic depending on the social circle!
I was just going to say the same thing Gene did. In Japanese, Suzuki was addressed as "Suzuki-Sensei," which is how all teachers, professors, orchestra conductors, etc., are addressed in Japan. "Dr." as a title, I think, is the translators' attempt to convey the respect connoted in the Japanese title.
I agree with Scott about Suzuki using "Dr." in his title. I've got a PhD (a real one) and I don't go around calling myself "Dr. Deck" when making restaurant reservations and such. When my kids' elementary school teachers call me that, I find it grating, but I tolerate it because they're only trying to be respectful. The only people who I actually prefer use that title are my undergraduate students.
Suzuki had only one violin teacher, Karl Klingler, a pupil of Joachim. Klingler had only one private pupil, and that was Suzuki, whom he taught for eight years. As the Wikipedia article on Karl Klingler points out, Klingler had a direct and positive influence on the Suzuki method of violin teaching. There would presumably have also been a secondary influence from Klingler's teacher Joachim - but that's just my take.
American lawyers have doctorates too: Juris Doctor (JD) degrees. But they don't call themselves "Doctor." They sometimes call themselves Esquire, for example, "Michael D. Cohen, Esq." Abuses of the latter term have led some states to prohibit its use by those not licensed to practice.
Is that similar to when surgeons call themselves “Mister”? (Any female surgeons here? - what do you call yourselves?)
Having dropped out of medical school to become a lawyer, I sometimes like to say I became a doctor after all -- and I like to point out that lawyers were referred to as "doctors" in the English language a century before physicians were.
Sorry, I seem to have led the discussion down a different path. Dr, no Dr, whatever.
In Germany a qualified physician who also possesses a research degree is entitled to be called "Dr Dr...". When he or she also gets to become head of their department they become "Prof Dr Dr...". The guy who became head of my department shortly before I left would no doubt have preferred "His Holiness"
"Cult" doesn't have to imply Fascism, which was a particular political phenomena. Spain's Franco regime was fascist, but I don't think he was bent on world domination. And religions don't necessarily need to part of a cult--socialism had a cult following, but it declared itself atheistic. In fact, we often play fast and loose with the term "Fascism," which technically really only describes the regime of Mussolini, who called themselves Fascisti.
To. be a cult, I think we need to see pressure to join and huge penalties for leaving or thinking in an impure way. Given the flexibility with which many teachers float in and out of the Suzuki books, I think of it as more like the Anglican Church than any serious cult.
A cult has a leader that is worshipped and it is very difficult to get out of, it consumes the wealth and psychological wellbeing of a person.
By definition this website is a cult.
Now wait a second here, as the editor of Violinist.com I must say I'm not running a cult! But I'm happy to host all of you and your conversations! ;)
My remarks were from France. Laurie, you restore my faith in humanity!
If Suzuki is a cult, what are the vegans, the paleodiet preachers, the gym fanatics, the fashion victims, the foodie wannabes, etc, etc?
I've changed my mind. Suzuki is definitely a cult.
...that was interesting...
It's confirmed, no-fly list for you...
I have made a small edit to the OP to make an implication explicit.
I find it extremely interesting that the bandwagon was carrying Suzuki to the cult graveyard until I pointed out that merely by definition and one's interpretation of definition, seasoned with the quotes of a lunatic in comparing said bandwagon to a cult in itself the mode changed from accusatory to defense.
Interesting. People are pulling in many directions, so that if I attempt one of my own, it won't pull against half the people here.
The title “Doctor” seems to have different meanings in some cultures. My grandfather had an Italian gardener who called him “Doctor X”, even though he didn’t even have a PhD. In fact, he called all of his clients Doctor. It was a mark of respect. And he was a recent immigrant. He pronounced “patio” to rhyme with “ratio.”
And Montalbano is usually addressed as "Dottore". I was only observing the origins, not the post hoc usages, although in fact they are all intelligible if they originally meant "teacher", aren't they?
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