The Customer is...
I recently voiced my opinions about who the Suzuki method is aimed at, which produced a terse reply. Since then I've been thinking about this from the perspective of my former career as a Supply Chain Management Expert.
While Bell Laboratories placed me in their "Education" department and I went around the planet teaching I learned that the customer isn't the person sitting in the classroom, the customer is the person authorizing both the money and the time in order to achieve a business objective. Making the customer happy was the key to success even though some students were not overjoyed at what I was teaching them. Because their boss was happy with the results I got a lot of bookings for additional education and consulting.
I see music education in those terms - therefore the customer is the parent who pays the bills, brings the young musician, et cetera. The young musician is both the raw-material and the work-in-progress product. At some point the student becomes the customer when the student takes on the full responsibility including payment.
From what I have observed and read about while learning about Suzuki-san is that his method is aimed at making the parents happy while teaching their children how to play the violin. Suzuki-san knew exactly what he was doing.
Working with the local Youth Orchestra over the years I've been within earshot of the parents comparing their children - "What book is she in?" "My son is playing (Fill In The Blank)" "Your daughter hasn't played (Fill In The Blank) yet?" The parents are very competitive. They love and promote the Suzuki method and as long as they are satisfied customers the promotion continues.
That being said, Suzuki isn't everyone's best method. As an adult I would have been turned off by Suzuki while the Doflein method captured my "thinks like an engineer" mind. There are a lot of other methods that work better with other students.
The bottom line though is that, as the old saying goes, "The customer is always right."
There have been, and will continue to be, methodological approaches to teaching how to play violins and other string instruments and each one will gain customers who will pay for lessons, drive young musicians around to lessons, rehearsals, concerts, et cetera.
Your thoughts and comments will be appreciated.
I always thought of being a self employed music teacher as being a three legged stool. You need to be a good musician, a good teacher, and a good entrepenuer to be successful. Any of those fail, and it doesn't work. My biggest weakness is the business side of teaching. It's just my opinion, I can elaborate more when things settle down after dinner.
Mr. Suzuki disliked competition-that is a silly, unnecessary parent issue. The idea is to encourage the less advanced students by example, not to show off "book levels". Perhaps idealistic of him (though I agree with his higher motives), but know that the "competition" model is not an original "selling point" at all. It was intended to enrich lives, not just making parents "happy".
I don't see how Suzuki especially caters to competitive parents. Any method that has a sequence of books and pieces is going to be treated as a point of comparison. The only reason competition based on Suzuki is so widespread is that the use of Suzuki books is so widespread. If some other method were the most popular, parents would be comparing their children based on that.
Yes, the customer is the decision-maker or more specifically, that one that holds the purse strings. I can go with "the customer is right" until:
I think that Suzuki never thought in terms of "customers", and arguably one of the weaknesses of the present Suzuki Association (whether the ISA or SAA) that preserves his legacy is that they, too, are not a customer-centric organization.
"The customer is always right" if he/she becomes a customer in the first place.
The Suzuki Method may have been anti-competitive by design and intention, but it still might not have turned out that way. Competitive parents will seize upon anything that satisfies their egos. "What book is your child doing" is just one extremely convenient measure. School grades, invitations to join National Honor Society, scouting badges and Pinewood Derby trophies (I still have my first-place car), even volunteer service activities for 7-year-olds are counted and coveted by the competitive parent. After all, when kids are involved in sports, especially individual sports like tennis or golf or track, that's intrinsically competitive by intention, and nobody faults a parent for wanting his or her kid to win. Parents of kids who are more academically inclined have just as much native competitiveness. And I don't think that's necessarily all bad (after all, children must be prepared for a competitive world), but one does often see it being taken too far -- hockey dads shooting one another, millionaire twits cheating their kids into University of Southern California ...
Youth orchestras that rank players front to back:
The real competitiveness doesn't show up until well after Suzuki I thought, then it's more endemic and intense than any academic competitiveness I've seen. Excess supply and limited demand hasn't helped.
Viewing education as a "product" with a "customer" is pretty messed up and probably the reason why American education is also so messed up.
I think George would be better off and more successful elucidating the Doflein method which he understands and supports than taking pot shots at Suzuki.
Suzuki has a devoted following and people are extremely defensive of his method, so take the responses you get with a grain of salt. All opinions aside, however, I would like to point out that your astute observations have more to do with the culture of stage-parenting than any particular method. It's only the popularity of the Suzuki method that brings it into focus. As soon as students get past the point where the Suzuki books have any relevance, you hear the same thing from parents, but it becomes "which concerto is your kid doing? Mine did that last time"...you know the drill.
I suspect part of George's issue with Suzuki is that he doesn't really know very much about it except to the extent that he encounters random parents and students in his small hometown who reference Suzuki repertoire (probably regardless of whether or not their teachers use or have been trained in the Method, as opposed to just using the repertoire books).
A dear friend of mine was a student of Dr. Suzuki as a small child. He studied with Mr Arai and Mr. Takahashi, the flautist and music appreciation instructor in Matsumoto. My friend went on to study at the Paris Conservatory and has had a wonderful and enriching teaching and performing career.
some long, meandering thoughts re: Laurie's post above:
There are a nontrivial number of middle and upper-middle-class parents who look at the investment in music lessons in terms of potential ROI on college admissions and scholarships.
Single reeds might be a bit easier...
I’m grateful that my parents signed me up for Suzuki when I was 7 years old. I’m not sure I would have been interested in western classical music otherwise. Without a doubt, the musical education I’ve received has been the most valuable to me personally.
Competitiveness is an inherent instinct in the animal,world. It’s geared to survival.
Regardless of original intent, the fact is "Suzuki" is done differently by different teachers, so I will always run into people who heard that Suzuki is such and such, think Suzuki is such and such, maybe even experienced various implementations of Suzuki programs. It would be better if they didn't focus on what Suzuki "is" or "isn't" but examine the substance of what I'm actually doing (although the substance of what I'm doing isn't really useful to anyone who isn't a local parent looking for a teacher).
Contrary to what what you might have heard, we actually don’t have bull seals or stags ( or kangaroos, although unbelievably , somehow one did get inside Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport a couple of years ago) wandering the streets.
I only view teaching as a business because I do need to charge my students money and make sure they are paying every month, keep track of expenses, file taxes and (more agressively when I had first started my studio) know how to advertise. I work for a studio now so I don't have to deal with the business side as much.
From a pure business perspective, I think parents tend to be more comfortable going to community music schools which at least give the illusion of structured instruction with teachers who have been background-checked. But parents tend not to have much of a sense of which teachers are good and which aren't, especially if they aren't musicians themselves -- or competently play the instrument that's being taught.
I'm sure you are going to get blow back from many, but IMNSHO you were right in original post about Suzuki, and this post is not far off either.
Let's never forget what Suzuki said, that there was only one person who teaches the Suzuki Method, and that's Suzuki himself.
That was a naughty comment by me, but I figured amongst a community of musicians I was on safer ground. ...
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