Teaching music is not myShinichi Suzuki
main purpose. I want to make
good citizens. If children hear fine
music from the day of their birth
and learn to play it, they develop
sensitivity, discipline and endurance.
They get a beautiful heart.
... perhaps it is music thatPablo Casals
will save the world.
The first week of August, my family and I were at the Suzuki Summer Institute in Stevens Point Wisconsin. It was a fantastic experience for me and my son who was the main participant in our family. Although Stevens Point is the original summer institute, there are now many other ones throughout the US (and maybe even the world). It's an immersive week of music for students and the parents and teachers who work with the students. There are classes and recitals every day for the whole week. In fact, there are classes for all, although the majority of the week focuses on the student. I was greatly encouraged to see the progress in playing and enthusiasm made by my son. And I also came away with renewed goals and desire to feed the musical fire in both my children.
More than Music
But you might find the quotes above to be rather curios as they are not just about learning music or about creating great virtuoso players. Although, if you look into it, many of today's finest violinists have had some degree of exposure to the Suzuki method. And the method has and is being adopted and adapted to other instruments (including Classical Guitar). But you can see that Suzuki was interested in something much more substantial and seemed to believe in something much more powerful when it comes to great music. This something appears to be nothing less than the human soul.
Is this too grand of a dream? Is it misguided or a misplaced expectation? I don't think I can really answer these questions very well. Although some of my Christian friends might view this as a distortion or an ignorance of the Gospel, I don't think this has to be the case. For me, music is a gift and a tool. Used in the right way and with the right perspective, it could be a powerful tool. Suzuki's understanding that good music making can positively effect the human soul is, for me at least, an inspiring thought. Even though I am getting older, I am reminded that making music and improving my own ability and understanding of pieces is a good thing. And passing on the skills and knowledge that I have (with the help of the Suzuki Method) to my own children is having an effect for the better, even if it seems rather small and insignificant at this time. If we consider this quote from the Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:8), I think we can at least conclude that good and lovely music is certainly not a drawback but a positive thing for children to engage in:
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right,
whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is
any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
Another benefit to consider is this: I don't have to struggle with my motives. Am I trying to create the next Perlman or Zukerman? Do I have to worry over how good my kids are and how much progress they are making compared to others? No this is all about cultivating the soul and spirit of my children. Of course this is not exclusively the realm of learning music, it is just one of several tools. This also gives me a good motive for spending the resources (time, energy, money) on learning music. It all goes towards making a good and whole (as well as) godly person.
What Motivated Suzuki?
All of these thoughts began to dawn on me as I was watching the documentary movie, "Nurtured by Love" one night at the summer institute. Although there is a book by the same name which was written by Suzuki himself, this movie gives a biography of Suzuki and describes his method of teaching. What I was mostly interested in was trying to understand what motivated Suzuki to start this work. There is a brief description in the movie about the city of Berlin in the 1920's. It tells of how Suzuki lived here for a while and experience almost daily exposure to great music. And it was here that he carefully selected a violin teacher to teach himself.
I was surprised at how quickly life seemed to change for Suzuki. He met and married his wonderful German wife Waltraud. But not too long after this, his teacher, who was Jewish decided he must leave Germany due to the political situation and Suzuki decided he must return home to Japan. And when they arrived in Japan, things went further down hill as the war ramped up. So Suzuki really lost everything in terms of Music. The beauty of a city deeply involved in good music and culture to the austerity and sacrifice of a country in the grips of war.
It struck me that out of this poverty and destruction came a strong desire to create something new and wonderful. Something that could effect a fundamental change in the world that would give hope for a better future. A future filled with wonder and appreciation. What better way to do this than with teaching children from a very young age to appreciate the most beautiful music? Surely this is what Suzuki decided to pour his heart and soul into for the rest of his life. Out of the ashes of the massive destruction of World War II which Suzuki lived through and experienced, came a dream of a future full of hope.
In 1993, Dr. Suzuki was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. The prize was given to Nelson Mandela that year. And although Mandela was certainly a worthy winner, I wonder who's work will have a lasting impact on the promotion of peace in the world and in modern history? Hard to say I suppose but perhaps in terms of an easy way to accomplish it, I would have to say that Suzuki's idea is hard to beat.