Earlier this week my violin teacher posted a link to an article that declares Dr. Shinichi Suzuki a fraud for padding his resume and lying about a number of other things. Apparently this is old news but for some reason we are all talking about it and the news outlets are now picking up on it. Anyway, I clicked on the link and read the article and was bored until I read the following:
I think it is one of the biggest frauds in music history,” said Mark O’Connor, a violin teacher and professional fiddler who has spent years delving into Dr Suzuki’s past. “I don’t believe anybody has properly checked his past.
Uh. Say what? This is the same Mark O’Connor I encountered as an undergrad at Vanderbilt and admired for his tenacity and drive, who helped legitimize the partaking of non-(uptight)-classical music for those of us “serious” music snobs? The MOC of the O’Connor Method that so many of my Suzuki teacher friends and my own children’s (non-strict) Suzuki teacher have incorporated into their teaching? Wow, is he really biting the hand that feeds him?
Wait. Is he trying to discredit Suzuki so that people jump ship and teach only his method?
Yes, he is. And at the same time he is inadvertently creating a diversion of epic proportions.
So, Mr/Dr Suzuki was an entrepreneur marketing his method to the masses (sound familiar?) and because he didn’t have the pedigree folks expected he took liberty with his bio. If he were alive we could fire him and crucify him and make him pay for his sins.
Too bad he’s dead.
His teaching method, however, is not dead and like it or not there are a lot of very talented and passionate musicians and educators that have and are using his method (or variations of it) to inspire young string players.
The crisis is not whether Mr/Dr Suzuki falsified his resume, whether the method is “cult-like” (it sorta is… I was chastised at the Beaver Creek Suzuki Institute during a parent meeting for letting one of my boys take a year off when he was 9 and hated the violin and everything about it and barfed on the teacher’s front lawn before every lesson for three weeks straight), or whether you should make sure your teacher is Suzuki certified, or, as MOC told me today on Twitter, “Suzuki helped strings to be less and less relevant in our culture – “violin lesson” becoming a negative term”. OH? Where was I when that happened? I didn’t get the memo. I plowed on through and was stupid enough to enjoy the whole dang thing!
I propose that the crisis here is not one of fraud (or who has the better method) but of how the heck we are going to work together to get string education back into our schools.
For years Americans have been cutting school music programs and now that research has proven music education is a valuable and important endeavor many communities are actively pouring money back into music education programs. Where is all that money going? To bands. My own community had money to fund a string orchestra at the middle school level but because there is no feeder program in the elementary schools it died out when there were only 6 kids in the orchestra (who, by the way, were all privately taught Suzuki students). Our middle school band director teaches 7 periods of band EVERY DAY and we happily fund it. Almost all 5th grade students in Redondo Beach, CA take a band instrument and continue into middle school. This is awesome but statistically my head tells me that we have untapped potential string players in this demographic. This scenario is played out in many many communities around the country.
People say there are no string programs because the bands play at football half time and I say shut up or put up because there are plenty of kids who would have chosen a stringed instrument given the chance and if they wanted to fiddle on the field many a school has sunk thousands into the perfect amplification system for them to stroll and play. There are no excuses good enough for why string programs are non-existent. Put simply, string educators must UNITE, find a voice, and make it happen.
I was feeling chatty this morning and took to Twitter and ironically the only person to engage with me was Mark O’Connor (or whoever he has tweeting for him-hopefully it was him). Here is my dialogue with him from today. Are you as fluxommed as I was?
I wondered why someone with such a powerful platform would waste it on bashing and alienating an entire segment of string educators no matter how much he disagreed with their methods. Why not summit? Why not unite? Why not negotiate and go forth with strength in numbers? If the goal is truly to get string education back into our schools, why not work together to make it happen? The thread speaks for itself – it was very disappointing.
My very eloquent and beautiful fellow Interlochen Arts Academy graduate of the Julia Bushkova Studio – friend, Mary Beth Rhodes Woodruff, pointed out today:
This discussion needs to be happening with representatives of El Sisteme, Suzuki, O’connor and other stake-holders in music education
I also believe that the more important issue is not about what Mark O’Connor says or the Suzuki method or “fraud” or whose method trumps whose method. MOC is not the only dawg in this fight but he is admittedly positioned well to do some serious good for the future of string education. Sadly, it’s hard to move mountains when you don’t want to work with others and people don’t like you very much.
UPDATE: I reference the link to the Suzuki Association response and O’connor’s response to their response HERE