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What would Dr Suzuki do?

Edited: August 14, 2022, 3:42 AM · I’m at a Suzuki Institute with my child. Doesn’t matter where. And no, I’m not one of the True Followers, but the head of this institute allegedly is.

General rehearsal for the end of week concert, and the night before at 10.30 pm, there was an email reminding everyone which tempo was expected for Bohm’s Perpetual Motion in book 4.

So after a week of work on the piece, none of which was done by the head, who only ever takes the pre twinkle and twinkle classes, some of the book 4 and 5 kids are almost there, but not quite. One kid in the first row was dragged off the stage during general rehearsal. One stepped down on their own. The rest kept playing, panic in their faces.

One of the younger book 6 [edited - not 7] kids was ordered off the stage during Seitz because they got one bowing wrong. (The parent yells at the kid, as opposed to the the teacher, which is its own kind of insanity - it’s not like the kids are being paid to play, the parents are paying an insane amount). Would it KILL them to take the Bohm at a couple metronome beats less? And to tolerate that a young kid, even though very advanced, may make an occasional mistake?

And what has this got to do with the intent of the original method?

Replies (58)

August 12, 2022, 9:57 AM · That’s horrible.

At the very least I would be sending an email to the organizers explaining why you will never return to that Institute, and copying your child’s teacher as well as the SAA on it.

Those poor traumatized children.

August 12, 2022, 10:18 AM · Sounds like a highly efficient way of teaching groups of children to hate music and performing
Edited: August 12, 2022, 1:41 PM · There is only one program on the institute list that has in-person events going on this week. (edit: SAA covers North, Central, South America, I checked on the off chance that I might have been there before or know someone who has)

Bohm - dragged off by a teacher? parent? (by the way, I estimate Preucil's performance at around quarter note = 152-160; I haven't heard Hadelich's yet)
Seitz - dragged off by parent? bodily/physically? with a gesture or a word? middle of the piece, end of the piece? told to sit out the piece for the performance?

There is a lot of visceral vocabulary here. Being that you are in it right this minute(?) and emotions are likely running high, I'm trying to get a more objective sense of what happened. However, regardless of the details, it sounds like they (parents, faculty, whoever) are experiencing a clash of their ideal performance expectations vs. reality of youngsters' capabilities and instead of meeting the youngsters where they are, are clinging to the imagined, unachievable ideals. It's unfortunate and detrimental for the students/families to feel punitive rather than supportive actions.

I was at an institute a few weeks ago and saw this example of giving correctional feedback: teacher asked everyone to close their eyes, tapped the ones on the head or shoulder, and said, if I tapped you...blah blah feedback etc. A few years ago, I saw a teacher intentionally take some book 2 pieces at a faster than expected tempo, maybe for class only not performance, because I think they wanted in that segment to have only the kids play who *knew the piece well*, not who learned it just last week and are still searching note by note. And at another institute, there were multiple times when my student's masterclass teacher apparently worked on the notes of a new piece rather than "raising ability with a piece you know", which is also outside of "original Suzuki intent". It can happen that people end up with different priorities, some mild like my last example and some severe. (I no longer promote that program to students because it's just not worth my burden of having to repair new-piece-itis.)

August 12, 2022, 11:27 AM · I believe the objectives so poorly sought in the OP's example were handled very well in the Suzuki school of my previou residence.

The entire school appeared on stage at the beginning when the easier pieces were played. As the more difficult pieces started the less experienced young players did not play. This ws clearly all pre-arranged. No feelings were ever hurt.

Edited: August 14, 2022, 3:38 AM · I’m not in the US. So, probably not on the list you’re looking at.

We are here for the first time and it came highly recommended, though we were warned that teachers were going to be very strict and “pure” Suzuki. Which was not even the case - the teachers all were warm and caring and met the kids where they were at, and in the masterclasses took them way beyond Suzuki. You could hear tremendous improvement. Orchestra and masterclasses are truly fantastic.

However, the head declared themselves extremely unhappy with this year’s standard of achievement, including their own classes, and was aggressive with everyone. Yes, one kid dragged off stage by the arm, after breaking off after a few bars (had to break off to do it because they were conducting themselves). One kid gestured off in the middle of the piece. Lots of tears. Apparently does this every year, and every year clashes with a few parents, teachers and accompanists, who then don’t come back.

Sure, you can say that there’s the fast recording out there. And the bowings are in the books. And the 10.30 pm email at least let parents know that book 1 kids weren’t allowed to play Gossec, and book 2 kids weren’t allowed to play Mignon, but there was still a lot of confused little ones ordered off the stage just before the piece. Still think the teachers should have told the kids, kindly and individually, the day before, which piece to sit out. But at least no other child was humiliated like those two.

I consider those end of institute recitals as part of the learning and pedagogy. They had a week to get the kids where they wanted to have them. But then you gotta work with what you have, and part of what you learn in the group playing is achieving what you couldn’t have achieved on your own because you are being carried by he group, invaluable for youth orchestras I find. It’s okay to have standards, but you’re also working with kids, not professional adults. And there was a pandemic! Bound to have affected standards over the last two years.

Not sure what we will be doing. We may come back next year and just do orchestra and masterclass, but I’d think it a bit sad to forgo the group classes, which were great, and the head never showed up, and a good thing that was. We’ll see.

August 12, 2022, 11:54 AM · Did they take the Bohm faster than the "official" Suzuki recording (the reference recording, as they like to call it these days)?

You should expect that the performance tempo at an Institute will be the tempo of the recording. That's the tempo that the students should be playing at. If they can't get to that tempo, they actually haven't mastered the piece. (Fluency is part of what is being mastered, not just the ability to slowly stumble through the correct notes.)

But otherwise, I would echo Mengwei's questions.

Edited: August 12, 2022, 1:53 PM · So, what is the role of the teacher? Is it only to set high goals, expect each student to achieve them to perfection, and punish the ones who don't? Not where I come from.

The word is "teacher," NOT "expecter."

August 12, 2022, 2:48 PM · You'll note that the OP said that the parent yelled at the kid -- not the teacher.

That said, it is the teacher's responsibility to work with the child to get the piece up to a level of performability -- i.e., at tempo, memorized securely enough that the notes are not an issue, with correct bowings so that it doesn't stick out in the ensemble.

By the way, the institute in this case is readily identifiable.

There's no reason why "strict" Suzuki shouldn't be warm and caring. That would seem to be the essence of the man himself, who was a marvel with small children. (I don't know if Shinichi Suzuki ever met Fred Rogers, but I imagine they would have gotten on fabulously.)

If the child isn't ready to perform the piece, they should sit out. Why stress the child out by forcing them through something they're not ready to do?

(I would privately bet that the parent pushed for the not-ready child to perform, and then freaked out when the child was understandably not prepared.)

August 12, 2022, 4:20 PM · It sounds like there were two "drag-offs" - rehearsal of Bohm (dragged off by whom? if by a teacher, I'm going to project myself onto the parent and say I'd 1) be furious that someone manhandled my kid and 2) make a scene immediately about the adult's inappropriate behavior) and book 7 kid during rehearsal of book 4 Seitz (by parent) and also, I suppose there would have been an expectation for book 7 player to have reviewed Seitz for institute, which doesn't excuse the dragging off though

One step-down by kid - during rehearsal of Bohm

One kid gestured off mid-piece - I couldn't tell which piece but maybe Bohm? (also, gestured off by parent or teacher?)
(I didn't understand the "breaking off" comments and what that had to do with "conducting themselves")

And multiple "confused little ones [bk1-2] ordered off" - by a teacher during the performance in front of the audience and everyone? That's no good for sensitivity of the heart/soul, if the manner of "ordering off" was abrasive. On the other hand, I've seen plenty of institute book 1 groups where not everyone has made it to the end of the book (same with book 2). In fact, it wouldn't be uncommon that a Gossec player ends up in a book 2 class. If someone had recently learned the notes and wasn't up to "reference performance tempo" of quarter note = 120-126 (personally, I'm satisfied with 104 at this level), it's fair to not play, but yes, that should have been communicated at a more appropriate time and place. It sounds like there was questionable behavior all around (charitable interpretation), and I'm just having trouble not getting distracted by the incendiary tone of reporting.

Original post was Fri morning US Eastern time and the first reply around midday - last day of institute and the final concert has happened between post and reply? If so, I'd think it was in a timezone ahead of the US.

Edited: August 14, 2022, 3:42 AM · Ah no, not in that particular case. That one was a book 6 [edited - not 7] kid, taking masterclasses and solos in the orchestra concert. Who has probably been playing Seitz at that workshop for the last 3 years or so, but was, for a moment, unfocused and played a wrong bow. And was sent off stage for that by the head, in the middle of the piece. Plenty wrong with the parent yelling, too, but that was cruel and unusual punishment of a child in the first place.

I get the problem with the Bohm, and the idea that the kids were expected to arrive having the piece under their belt at the tempo of the recordings, will edit my OP accordingly. But…some didn’t. And the teachers who did the book 4 pieces worked so hard to catch them up. I’m told that at the very end, they’d managed the speed in class - we’re not talking laboriously working through the notes. Just one of the younger ones, again, being nervous, was thrown, and again immediately forced off the stage, physically. And that is NEVER okay.

I’m not angry on behalf of my kid, who is currently suffering from long covid fatigue, headaches and dizziness, who arrived with a doctors note I sent to all the teachers beforehand, explaining that she might have to sit out classes or pieces and why, and who realised on stage that she simply didn’t have the energy, not for that piece in that particular situation. She walked off, and will sit out tomorrow, and that’s totally okay, we knew that piece was iffy and she simply couldn’t prepare it the way she would have if she had been healthy.

Oddly, almost all the soloists at the orchestra concert tonight messed up, even the competition winners planning to go on to conservatory’, even those who never did so in the rehearsals. Not sure what was going on there, but that wasn’t a healthy atmosphere this morning.

August 12, 2022, 4:34 PM · Lydia, is it a problem that the institute is identifiable? If so, I’ll delete.
August 12, 2022, 8:32 PM · "teachers were going to be very strict and “pure” Suzuki."

That's a big red flag...avoid anyone and anything in music education that claims to be "pure Suzuki." That's pretty much the opposite of what the man himself advocated for his teachers-to-be to do!

Edited: August 13, 2022, 4:21 AM · Someone needs to take over from Dr Suzuki and lay down the law on his behalf. If it's not done, institutes will drift apart in their teaching and some will become heretical.
August 13, 2022, 7:15 AM · Is there a danger in placing dogmatic trust is a teaching method? Surely, across a range of educational fields, it is widely recognized that there are several good practices, but no single best practice that will work for all students everywhere, and never fail to deliver outstanding results. What I would LIKE Dr Suzuki to say is, 'Figure out what is right for each student, in each circumstance, using all of your musicality and humanity.'
August 13, 2022, 8:09 AM · A further reflection on the True Believer of the OP's post:

A few years ago, I attended a performance of 'Tosca' at one of the world's greatest opera houses (which I won't name as it would be unfair to the protagonist of this story). In his very exposed Act III solo, the principal cello made an absolute horse-biscuit of the top note. The conductor did not drag him from his chair: he was not publicly forced to face the firing squad later in the act. I image he quietly saw the maestro afterwards and apologised. Wasn't there a phrase in 'Forrest Gump' about the way things randomly go wrong?

Edited: August 13, 2022, 9:12 AM · "However, the head declared themselves extremely unhappy with this year’s standard of achievement, including their own classes, and was aggressive with everyone..."

I'm speechless. Hopefully that declaration wasn't made at the final concert in front of the kids.

Edited: August 14, 2022, 3:55 AM · No, at the recital, everything was, and had been, wonderful and perfect, of course. No one sent off stage.
Only my child woke up with stomach cramps in addition to her fatigue, barely made it to the concert hall, threw up in the bathroom, went on stage, played the book 5, 4 and 3 pieces, had another quick throw up during book 2, and came back on stage for book 1 and the big Twinkle finale. And the Bohm ended up being the encore, which she sat out as planned.

I should go down in the Suzuki annals as World’s Worst Mom if child hadn’t insisted on doing this by herself: “I worked so hard all week, I want to play!”

August 13, 2022, 11:57 AM · Whatever occurred sounds nuts! Maybe your child ate some bad rosin?
August 13, 2022, 2:45 PM · Dr. Suzuki would have tolerated a wrong bowing. The description appears to be the opposite of the methods and goals of the Suzuki method, which is not to produce professional musicians with technical perfection in playing and to browbeat students but to produce good people through hard work, perseverance, and being polite at mistakes. I was terribly shy as a youngster yet I was never nervous playing in class because of the good manners of everyone, especially the teacher, Marilyn Kesler.
August 13, 2022, 2:53 PM · "Apparently does this every year, and every year clashes with a few parents, teachers and accompanists, who then don’t come back."

Is the board of directors aware of this? It may be worth writing a letter to them to express your concerns.

Edited: August 13, 2022, 3:44 PM · I usually resist the temptation to respond to most stuff, but, I do actually know What Dr. Suzuki DID for my daughter when she was about 4 years old. Our program was the one at Eastman and he was visiting. This was in the 70s. All the kids were adding to the group on the low stage - easy access - as soon as something they "knew" was being played. There was no barrier or urging, just opportunity.

The group began playing the Vivaldi, my daughter's favorite piece. She was still in Book 1 but could sing it all. So, she sat there in tears in the front row of seats watching the kids play. Suzuki saw that and approached her asking what is wrong in English and knowing the potential for misunderstanding, he urged her to go up. I pointed out that she was in Book One and did not actually know how to play the piece. He laughed and guided her up to the group where she proceeded to bow it and pretend to the best of her ability/desire. He gave her a BIG smile.

Yeah, he was a sweet guy and very tender with the kids. My daughter was beaming to be in the midst of that piece. So, that is what Suzuki actually did. With a smile!

August 13, 2022, 3:06 PM · Jane Rose, What a delightful experience!
August 13, 2022, 3:31 PM · I don't think it's an issue that the institute is identifiable (and we're all carefully not using its name here, but it's also helpful for people to actually know which one it is, especially since this seems to be a pattern and not unique).

I think it's reasonable (and even kind) to tell a child, based on the rehearsal, AFTER the rehearsal is done, that they're not ready to perform the next day and should sit that piece out. Gesturing them off-stage during the rehearsal is entirely unnecessary and arguably cruel, and it's certainly not in the least consistent with the spirit of Suzuki.

I'd certainly be writing a letter were I the OP, and arguably, this belongs as an open discussion in the SAA forums.

Edited: August 13, 2022, 4:00 PM · Yes, my daughter played her little heart out loving every minute of the piece that she had loved since she was two. He made it a delight. The funny part was that he was a heavy smoker and smelled like tobacco, but it didn't deter my kids from enjoying his exuberance. He bounced with enthusiasm.
August 13, 2022, 6:26 PM · Richard Pairaudeau, your example regarding Tosca and the cello player is very good.

Professionals would of course never do anything to someone during a performance just because of a mistake. That would be completely silly and useless. Don't give mistakes speciel attention during a performance. That is similar to an amateur shaking his or her head in order to show the audience that he or she is aware of the flop. That is a no go. Instead you focus on what you are doing now.

Anyway, as has been pointed out, Suzuki was a caring person. If any teacher's students experience great joy being part of a performance Suzuki would be happy if he was present at that event.

Edited: August 14, 2022, 4:29 AM · @Christian Lesniak, yes! it was nuts!

Me: Are you sure you want to go on stage?
Child: Yes! I’m fine now!
Me: please stand at least by the stage door, so you can slip out at the back.
Child: *proceeds to stand with best friend, so she has to walk across half the stage and concert hall to get out.

But it was also strangely freeing, being surrounded by all those parents whose standard was “don’t play a single wrong note!”, to have as your standard “please don’t throw up on stage”. You’d think you’d be past that after pre twinkle stage, LOL.

August 14, 2022, 3:37 AM · @Jane Rose, what a lovely lovely story! Thank you so much for sharing! I feel much better now.
August 14, 2022, 3:54 AM · @Gene Wie, in fairness, it’s not a claim the institute puts out, it’s what our teacher told us.
Edited: August 14, 2022, 4:25 AM · I want to make sure that the institute is not MISidentified, it’s NOT under the purview of the SAA.

And it’s really important to me that it not be identified, because I am talking about other people’s kids here, not just my own. If any of you do any further sleuthing and drop more hints, I’d feel compelled to delete, to protect the privacy of those kids. And that would be sad, because you all have taken the trouble to give me so much to learn and think about, for which I thank you.

For that reason (those children’s privacy), I will not be writing to any association or board - that decision must be left to the parents whose kids were, identifiably, treated badly.

And thirdly, the head announced that they’re retiring after this year, so in the future, the atmosphere may be very different and that person’s particular personality may no longer colour the experience for the families. We may or may not go back ourselves. As I said, the other teachers and the orchestra were fantastic.

August 15, 2022, 1:08 PM · I find the sub-theme of pursuing perfection running through this thread. As one who assists with a Youth Orchestra I interact with many parents as well as the young musicians.

The one thing I find strange is that almost none of these young musicians nor their families listen to music at home. The reason is always, we're too busy, too focused on homework, music practice, sports practice,...

I guess that is why I see a lot of young musicians playing as work rather than playing as fun/enjoyment.

Maybe music is just one more box to be "ticked" on the application for Harvard/Yale/Columbia...

August 15, 2022, 1:31 PM · I think that’s unfair, George. I very seldom listen to music at home myself because it trivializes the music to treat as background, and I’m often too busy to really give it my full attention.

That my students treat their youth orchestra seriously does not mean they’re not enjoying it.

Edited: August 15, 2022, 1:38 PM · George, I think you are on to something here. I think a lot of younger potential audiences/musicians do not listen to very much music, or listen for any extended period of time. Perhaps, as you suggest, there are too many claims on their time for listening to seems valuable. I also wonder whether YouTube, Spotify etc offer too much all at once, and confuse rather than focusing the mind, in the way that huge menus offer excessive choice and reduce critical decision-taking. I wonder whether the logic of this is that one day we will have a generation of wonderful performers playing the Mendelssohn concerto at 10 years of age, but who have never heard the Hebrides overture or the Italian symphony. Furthermore, they may be playing in empty halls because nobody can be bothered to go to a concert and listen. We need to remember that novels are not written primarily for other novelists, art galleries are for an interested and wider viewing public, and that the art music of the western world is not a yellow brick road that is designed exclusively to lead to university and conservatoire entrance.
August 15, 2022, 2:06 PM · I think George and Richard are missing the mark a little bit.

None of the serious musicians that I know listen to music much. In my case I stopped listening when I started playing except to listen to something that I was working on or that was by the same composer. Using music as a background is a distraction whether people admit it or not.

I could tell who the serious workers were in my workplace, they were not wearing headphones. And at review time it was telling.

None of the professional musicians that I know ever use music as background because when they listen to music they want to hear it rather than ignore it.

August 15, 2022, 2:11 PM · I'd be shocked if kids weren't consuming far more music than previous generations. It's far more common for kids to have personal audio devices these days, together with headphones. And various technologies have made it far easier for them to be able to share their music and listen together during an activity.

My son, by age four, had probably heard more classical music than I had in the first fifteen years of my life or so, due to the sheer accessibility of it. Thanks to the Naxos app for kids, he has a pretty robust identification of classical composers and their best-known works.

Thanks to Spotify and an Amazon Echo device, at now age six, he listens to an eclectic mix of music on his own that spans a broad range of the classical canon (and he especially loves opera, a genre that I don't have much depth in myself), jazz, film scores, Broadway, oldies (mostly the Beatles) and hip hop. (He's heard quite a lot of classic rock but doesn't normally listen to it on his own.)

That's probably a broader range than most of his classmates, but certainly his classmates have heard plenty of pop and children's music.

The smorgasbord that is YouTube, Spotify, and other music services ensures much broader exposure, even within the classical genre, by having much less emphasis on the narrow range of works that are heavily recorded.

August 15, 2022, 2:37 PM · Mary Ellen, Ann & Lydia: I should have clarified that by 'listening' I meant that the music is given full focus or very close to 100% attention, almost as though at a live performance, and yes, I too listen to relatively little, but I listen carefully, and not for background. When I listen, I often sit or stretch out on the sofa. I can listen while doing certain task that are quiet and leave plenty of mental space, such as folding socks or putting clothes away, dusting, tidying etc. I can ONLY do my ironing with music, and opera is particularly good here - not much to iron: 'Dido and Aeneas'; a couple of weeks' worth 'Tosca'; just back from holiday/over a month of build-up; 'Tristan and Isolde'. If there is an interruption I like to wait for a cadence before hitting pause. Phone calls are annoying because it only rings for a few bars.

I often listen to things I am going hear live in the coming week, or have recently heard, but never on the same day. The overly-polished recordings spoil the ears and in live performance your attention becomes too much drawn to the coughs, squeaks and other little incidental sounds that in fact we should welcome as part of a live, social event. Each January 1st. I resolve on some focus music for the year to come. Recent choices have been the Beethoven & Bruckner symphonies but in REVERSE order; Ravel, and currently, the Ferrabosco family and Schoenberg.

Ah! as a final point in a post in which I am rather droning on, I don't own portable headphones. People sometimes say to me that I could then listen to music all the time, to which I reply that that is already the case.

Edited: August 15, 2022, 2:57 PM · I do not listen to classical (or rather, baroque) music much. I find that I want to give it my full attention, and I can only do that in a concert hall. I still enjoy making it.

I found that I loved listening to to the Institute youth orchestra practicing the same three baroque concerts every day for hours (and my child played in only one of them). Once I fell asleep, the Handel was so relaxing.

My child really enjoys playing the overwhelmingly baroque Suzuki pieces. The other day, I asked her what she liked listening to on her phone. She said Taylor Swift and Rammstein, lol.

Not many US parents at that particular institute, and the rest all from countries where extracurriculars are entirely irrelevant. And still some parents are crazy ambitious.

August 15, 2022, 4:13 PM · I agree with the others here that have said they don't really listen to classical at home. It wasn't meant to be listened to over speakers.

Think of the difference between watching a live play at a theatre vs watching a video recording of the same play. Totally different experience. The latter would bore me to death.

August 15, 2022, 5:25 PM · I guess I'm one of the few that listens to music pretty constantly
Edited: August 16, 2022, 1:03 AM · I get the feeling that many of the (amateur) violinists of my acquaintance really aren't very interested in music per se. For me it's always been life's blood. As time goes by I'm playing less and less but listening more, and harder. Without trekking into London on the slow train opportunities for attending live concerts are infrequent and the quality is pretty mediocre, but with the unlimited choice of recordings that the internet offers I'm like a pig in
Edited: August 16, 2022, 1:51 AM · I first got into playing string instruments because of music I heard on classical radio, and most of my listening is still on radio. I rarely had opportunities to hear any kind of live music before college, so I've tended to be more interested in the composition than the performers, performance quality, or audio quality.

One thing I've seen, especially among younger violinists who started very early, is that some (a minority but a noticeable one) seem to have extensive knowledge of the violin concerto repertoire and listen to it obsessively, but have very little knowledge of or interest in other classical music -- almost a belief that the violin concerto is the pinnacle of musical art and nothing else is very important. I would guess that this is mostly the result of excessive focus on competition.

August 16, 2022, 8:16 AM · I'm a bit defensive. When I use the word "listen" I'm using that as an active verb. I'm not considering "acoustic wallpaper" as listening. That is a problem - we are surrounded by acoustic wallpaper.

As a musician I do make a point of listening. Often when we go to concerts I will bring a pocket score or a printout of the first or second violin part of the music on the program so that I can read along while actively listening.

So, when I ask parents or young musicians if they "listen" to music I do explain that I mean, sit down, pay attention, listening. Going to concerts is not something that I expect but I do offer to bring some of my students to performances. Almost always declined - we're too busy.

My point is that I encounter, what appears to me, to be parents pursing academic excellence because they have heard/read that playing music makes their children smarter, better students,... Not to develop a love of music, more to check off the box that will fill the college application resume.

August 16, 2022, 8:56 AM · Andrew, a goodly chunk of that is familiarity and accessibility. As a child, I had access to a handful of super-common recordings, on one of a handful of LPs that my parents owned. They liked the violin concerto repertoire, so we had a bit of Perlman. Later on, we got a Time-Life set of Heifetz concerto recordings from his RCA days, on cassette. Eventually late in high school I began spending my own money on tapes, back when you could get 'em for $2, and that got me the core of classic symphonic repertoire.

I spent a lot of college studying in the music listening lab, but I tended to pick unfamiliar artists playing familiar repertoire, so that meant I listened to a lot of violin concertos and some symphonies. New things I became familiar with largely came from whatever else was paired on those CDs, and assigned listening for music classes. (That was broad enough that it pretty much took me through the symphony and opera canon, at least.)

But I didn't really begin listening to the recital-hall repertoire until I was well into adulthood, whether violin or other chamber works. Even now if you ask me about the violin repertoire, what I know is still mostly the concertos and the stuff commonly played pedagogically.

My pay-attention listening is almost always either works I'm actively studying or am considering learning in the future. Otherwise, I effectively have the habits of a Suzuki student -- lots of repetitive background listening of the repertoire I'm working on, with a big stable of different recordings of the same works to avoid getting a single interpretation into my ear.

August 16, 2022, 9:12 AM · I didn't realize until I was an adult how much classical music I learned by watching Looney Tunes as a kid.
Edited: August 16, 2022, 11:50 AM · @Steve Jones, I guess that music not being their life‘s blood is precisely why they’re amateur violinists instead of [potentially failed) professionals.

The kids I meet that are on a conservatory track are precisely those for whom it’s their life’s blood, and the parents report that they’re driven by their children, instead of being the other way round, and frequently they’re somewhat ambivalent about the child’s path, even though they support it. The other day, I heard of a musician whose parents thought she was working too hard and limited her practice. She pretended to go to bed, got up after her parents were asleep, and took her violin down to the basement to practice more in secret.

But while those kids are *also* to be found in Suzuki programs, I’d posit they’re not the kids the method is designed for (not least because they so quickly outgrow the group classes). In fact, if the method is designed to produce “beautiful souls” and “good citizens” (as much as those can be produced) it is no more and no less than basically what “education”, in its widest sense, is supposed to produce. “Why, to make him happy and useful!”, as David Copperfield’s aunt says. Music education, yes, as part of academic excellence, yes, but also designed to be inclusive and with a focus on the communal aspect of it. Which is why I wanted it for my child, who is emphatically not on the conservatory track, but on the ,amateur who will definitely do something else for a living” one.

The inherent contradiction is, of course, that unless it is offered as part of some kind of free or subsidised program, it will always end up being somewhat exclusive and elitist simply due to the expense and the need for a parent who has the time and energy to be very involved (which is hard if both parents work full time, whether they are musicians or not).

But to circle back to the topic, even within the majority demographic that does take part in Suzuki, ie middle and upper middle class kids on a college but not conservatory trajectory, whether in the US or elsewhere, the kind of elitism and exclusivity that would compel a teacher to send a child off the stage for making a bowing mistake seems to be a perversion of the method.

The title of my thread was of course tongue in cheek - I never would have dreamt someone would be able to come up with a story of what Suzuki actually once did. And which perfectly illustrates my unease with what I witnessed.

August 16, 2022, 12:51 PM · I don't think that sort of behavior has anything to do with elitism and exclusivity. It's individually toxic and wrongheaded in a way that no one, inside or outside Suzuki, would condone.

Importantly, sending a kid offstage (or making them stop, or whatever) when they make a mistake, robs that student of the opportunity to learn one of the most vital skills for a performer: that of how to recover from a mistake. None of us are perfect, even at the very top of the profession. Therefore, we all need to learn to smoothly recover from, say, a wrong bowing, so that it doesn't throw us off -- and in an ensemble setting we can seamlessly re-sync with everyone else.

Indeed, in a group lesson setting, it's valuable to teach the kids: What do you do if you get lost? What do you do if the tempo is too fast for you to keep up? How do you hold it together psychologically (remaining calm, etc.) if everything seems like it's going wrong?

August 16, 2022, 3:21 PM · Yes, exactly! That’s one of the values of both group classes and recitals.
August 16, 2022, 7:11 PM · In my view a Suzuki summer camp should be about what the students learn, the friends they make, and the inspiration they take home. A successful camp should add some extra jet propulsion to their own internal motivation for a few weeks or even months. Here is what you want your child to say:

"Camp was so much fun. I loved my violin teacher. I learned how to deal with certain passages in my working piece. I got to play in a quartet with three new friends. The fiddling class was a blast."

I cannot help but take this moment to wholeheartedly recommend a camp that my kids have thoroughly enjoyed, many times -- Blue Ridge Suzuki Camp in Virginia. The teachers there understand that "Suzuki" training comes in many forms. For example my kids' teachers changed some of the bowings. It's all fine. A super laid-back, welcoming and nurturing place.

Edited: August 17, 2022, 6:24 AM · There's a Japanese proverb - "if a nail stands up, hammer it down".
(Warning: context alert) Japan was a militaristic society which evolved during the first half of Suzuki's lifetime from Samurai-based to technology-based. Perhaps Suzuki, to be kind to him, was attempting to amend the philosophy of compliance into something more humane and benign. It is clearly at risk of being reverted to a malignant form by some of its teachers.
I don't like to see him referred to as "Dr Suzuki" in the third person. Forms of address are forms of address. We never listen to "Dr Perlman" play the violin. But it is possible Leonore was being ironic.
August 17, 2022, 6:15 AM · In relation to making mistakes while playing, whether practicing or performing, there's a professional musician I like to refer to, Rusty Young of the country-rock band Poco, in his book The Pedal Steel Handbook, pg 76:
Everybody makes mistakes. Now that we've got that out in the open, let's talk about some of the ways you can cover yourself when you hit that embarrassing 'clunker'.
The first thing to remember is to stay calm. A lot of people won't be able to figure out who make that horrible mistake if don't give yourself away by making a face. If you can't break the habit of making faces when you blow it, try making faces all the time. Then no one will notice that you're making a face every time your playing gets off.
Another good tactic is to point the blame towards someone else. [...] Just glance their way and frown disapprovingly. That always works.
And finally comes the most difficult move of all: the breakdown. This is used only as a last resort. When you're sure that everyone knows it's you, go for sympathy. Drop your [instrument] and begin crying. [...] Remember: Everyone makes mistakes!"
(For what it's worth, I think James Galway in his Yehudi Menuhin Music Guides book Flute, makes pretty much the same point.) I think it horrible that kids should be held to professional standards when they're only kids, unless they are also professional, such as Yehudi Menuhin was.
Edited: August 17, 2022, 7:50 AM · Lydia's point is a very good one.

Perhaps some parents put their kids into such a school because they have no idea what it even means to be a musician?

For instance, how many of us have heard, "Let me hear what you are practising at the moment." So you start playing Bartok's Bagpipers, and they interrupt you with, "No, what I meant was, let me hear you play something perfectly, and it has to be something that I like."

August 17, 2022, 8:12 AM · “But it’s possible Leonore was being ironic.”

@Gordon, very possible.

August 17, 2022, 4:10 PM · I work for an international company, and my colleagues usually refer to each other by bare first names in a casual sense, and when writing email outside the immediate team, by first and last name (for clarity). Men, especially, may refer to each other by just the last name.

But when referring to Japanese colleagues, clients, etc. we always use polite forms of address -- "Mr. so-and-so" or "X-san". I can't exactly explain why -- I suppose it's a safe way of ensuring no offense is taken.

August 18, 2022, 9:28 AM · My general perception is that the difference between "Suzuki would say ..." and "Dr. Suzuki would say ..." is a quart of Kool-Aid.

I don't particularly care, however, if Suzuki is given an "extra" honorific because I think he was an amazingly gifted person who made a lasting, positive impact on Western culture.

August 18, 2022, 10:28 AM · Everyone can make a mistake. Many years ago my then girlfriend was taking lessons with the solo flautist of the Berlin Philharmonics. He told her a story about one of the first concerts he played with the orchestra. There was a passage that was passed around between the woodwinds. He played a wrong note and the oboe and then the clarinet played the same wrong note when it was their turn. Just to let him know that they had heard it. ??
August 18, 2022, 10:36 AM · I agree with Paul and I will add that, at least in 1984 when I was there for six months, Japan had a much higher expected level of formality than did US culture. I doubt that has completely changed. I have a Facebook friend who was a colleague of my father’s, meaning that he is both highly educated and quite elderly. I would not dream of addressing him by his first name. It is always “Dr. Lastname.”
Edited: August 18, 2022, 11:36 AM · "My general perception is that the difference between "Suzuki would say ..." and "Dr. Suzuki would say ..." is a quart of Kool-Aid."

And mine is that the latter might be more likely to have a cult mentality.

I made a mistake in talking of forms of address - I meant titles.
Address is when you talk to someone, not about them. Then you might use their title. In Britain we refer to "the queen". We address her as "your majesty". We don't refer to "her majesty the queen" unless we are a sycophantic journalist.

Lydia's observation of formality in the office is valid. But in the civil service department where I worked we addressed people with a PhD by their first names.

The rest is about cross-cultural honorifics and the difference between the living and the dead, and I'm not writing an essay on that.

Now that Stephen Hawking is dead, to refer to him as "professor Hawking" would be over-formal.

Edited: August 18, 2022, 12:14 PM · The Austrian neurologist, Dr. Freud, was referred to as "Sigmund" by American acquaintances when visiting the USA. I believe he was bit taken aback by the informality in speech.

The English writer, Martin Amis, refers to President Donald Trump as Don the Realtor, which both acknowledges American informality and the elevated importance of real estate in the USA.

Edited: August 18, 2022, 12:24 PM · I hope you are not referring to Der gnädige Herr Doktor in such a casual manner, Ha! 20 years ago I addressed my professors by their first names. 40 years ago we addressed them as "Professor x", and "Professor Sir James" (Lighthill), who held the Lucasian chair before Hawking landed that number.
I knew a woman who studied law at Cambridge in the late 60s/early 70s. Undergrads weren't even allowed to talk to professors at Oxbridge in those days!

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