There ‘s enough “he said, she said” happening this week between Mark O’Connor and the Suzuki Association to give a gal whiplash!
At the end of this week the Suzuki Association released a response to O’Connor who reprinted the entire response with his responses to the response on his blog Parting Shots.
Read it. I find all of it very interesting.
Even more interesting is witnessing all of the hubub through the eyes of my non-music friends who have children taking violin, piano, flute, guitar, and probably other instruments using the Suzuki method.
They are very confused. Even the band folk are confused, I know this because when you play the violin and something about the violin pops up in the news everyone you know who doesn’t play an instrument comes to you for the scoop. Especially when it’s drama trauma like this.
Their perspective is different. They don’t necessarily associate the method their kid’s teacher is using to learn an instrument with the person who brought it into existence. They also don’t really care that much. They want their kid to learn to play an instrument because science has proven it’s good for them.
For those who grew up learning Suzuki method in the “olden days”, as my daughter likes to say, Dr/Mr Suzuki was a more tangible person. Our teachers were going to Japan to “study” with Suzuki and the ones who went made sure we knew all about it and if they brought a student with them you never heard the end of it. If I compare this to some of the method books my boys use for trumpet (brass) and clarinet I can’t say that there is as much of a connection or preoccupation with the life of the person who wrote their method books. Perhaps it is because those folks never jumped on a marketing train to wallpaper the world with their book – it stands and continues to stand on it’s own because pedagogues respect it and pass it down through generations of students. We have the Arban bible in our house and the ditties in that book are played religiously every day. I’ve never caught myself humming chromatic brass exercises in the shower… often.
I admit that in some ways what I’m suggesting is a comparison of apples to oranges because Suzuki’s method is more life encompassing than a simple method book but I think it is important to recognize that many of the parents of Suzuki students don’t really have the time to care about who Suzuki was. What they are hearing and seeing is a bunch of violinists arguing about a dead man while all they care about is their kid having a teacher they like, respect, and learn from.
On the other hand, quality pedagogical training is extremely important and there are generations of incredibly effective pedagogues who can be traced back through time and in the inner circles of music this lineage is important and people do care about it.
This is where I see Mark O’Connor missing the boat. There are tons of teachers in the US and around the world that teach using the best of everything they’ve learned. They teach and they teach well. Dismissing the value of these pedagogues is a mistake.
Violinist, and pedagogue, Mary Beth Rhodes Woodruff has this to say:
Mr. O’Connor should note the focus when it comes to the issue of Suzuki’s credibilities. To focus on him is to miss the point. Shinichi Suzuki is referred to as ‘Dr. Suzuki’ yet only honorary doctorates seem to have been issued. This is a bit questionable and feeds into the cult-mentality of which many take issue when it comes to Suzuki. If he was largely self-taught, great, but what right does the Suzuki association have to question the rest of us who are self-taught in its closed system of teacher directories and highly expensive teacher certification training programs?
What should be gleaned and learned from this is that no one system of pedagogy should dominate music education. Many of us that have chosen to be ‘non Suzuki certified’ but possess graduate degrees in music education and/or performance consider it an affront that the first page of every Suzuki book delivers an admonition to parents about checking their teacher’s Suzuki credibility. This is as transparent as it comes and shows that this system is guilty, as is the case with so many ‘systems’ of being tainted by monetary gain.
It needs to be clear that the ‘Suzuki Industry’ is a multi-million dollar one. O’Connor’s system is probably just as guilty if not more. There are fantastic pedagogues who are both Suzuki and non-Suzuki certified/accredited and if the Suzuki association is going to ask parents to question their teacher’s ‘pay in’ to the Suzuki system, it shouldn’t be out of bounds to actually investigate Mr. Suzuki’s credentials themselves. It is only fair play if they are asking parents to do this on the first page of all Suzuki repertoire books. Yet, it doesn’t need to be done with malice. It should be done with pure, gentle logic.
I admire so many things about the Suzuki method, yet a monopoly of pedagogy is not a good thing any more than Walmart’s taking over all small local businesses is a good thing. I only wish for more respect given from the Suzuki Association to those of us outside of their system who may possess graduate degrees, positions in symphony orchestras or who have trained under some of the best pedagogues in the world. Mine include Julia Bushkova, Andres Cardenes, James Buswell, and Ronald Copes – none of whom are Suzuki trained or certified.”