Thursday, April 1, 2010

Dr. Suzuki (Ch.1 Pt.1)

My mother taught me to read musical notes before the alphabet. We played countless games and my piggy bank grew full, while hers emptied. But over time, the practicing became more serious. My mother pointed to the little black dots on each page, and placed my fingers on the fingerboard of my half size violin. "Precision," she said. "We'll not play out of tune."
Every day, sometimes two or three times during the day, we'd practice. "The more you practice the better you get," she said. "Do it again."
"Do I have to?" I clenched my teeth.
"You're not in rhythm. This is a Musette."
I repeated the Musette.
"No, that's out of tune. D natural, not D flat. Try open string, Sweetheart."
"I'm using my pinky," I yelled.
"You mustn't yell. Getting angry won't solve anything." Then, in a soft voice. "Let's take a break. We'll come back to Musette later, after cookies and milk."
Short breaks worked wonders.
"Like Mary Poppins says, 'just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down'." She laughed as I licked the cream inside the Oreo.
We returned to our practicing. The Musette no longer seemed as difficult as before. My mother sprang from the piano bench after I finished the piece. "Bravo!" she sang and clapped.
"Was that better?" I asked.
"You're amazing! I told you practice does the trick. I'm telling you, Marjorie Jill—" 
"What?" I asked, inhaling her praise.
"You can do anything you set your mind to."

♪ ♩ ♪

During the 1960's, word traveled to the United States that a Japanese violinist educator, Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, had launched an innovative program of training young children to learn violin; an approach akin to learning language. Dr Suzuki's method met with resounding success all over the world. Shinichi Suzuki instructed parents how to practice with their children each day. Through what became known as Talent Education, children as young as two or three were taught to play the violin, dispelling the myth that only wunderkind could be taught at such a tender age. Dr. Suzuki asserted that all children were entitled to play great music, as long as both parent and child possessed the necessary patience and perseverance to work through challenges. Once the seed for learning had been sown in music, reverence for study would accompany a youngster throughout his life, in all facets of education.

My mother could barely contain her enthusiasm when she learned of Shinichi Suzuki's guest appearance at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston in 1965 for a masterclass. I had been studying the violin for a year and a half, and had completed the first two volumes of his books, "Listen and Play". My mother rushed to have me signed up as a participant. To this day, I recall the shy, slender Japanese man sitting on the stage of Jordan Hall, smiling as he greeted each violinist. His wife,Waltraud, stood by his side, pencil and notepad in hand.
"Look how skinny he is, Margie," my mother said as we took our seats. She shook her head. "Doctor Suzuki is nourished by music. That's his food."
A row of polite Japanese children sat on stage surrounding Dr. and Mrs. Suzuki. They had traveled to America with the couple. Each child bowed, then played their violins in unison.
"Magnificent," whispered my mother into my ear. "Dr. Suzuki is a genius. Those children are so young, yet they play the music of the world's greatest composers, and make it seem easy."
Finally, it was my turn.
"Play the best you can for  Dr. Suzuki. Give it your all—show what you can do," she insisted.
I walked slowly towards center stage from the audience. My long brown hair swung from a ponytail as I climbed to the platform. 
This was my first serious performance. On stage, I readied the violin under my chin and gripped the bow tightly. Fixing my gaze on the fingers of my left hand, as my mother had instructed, I played each note according to her directives. The listeners clapped after my rendition of two Gavottes by J.S.Bach. Dr. Suzuki smiled and bowed his head. He spoke in quiet Japanese. His wife, serving as translator, relayed Dr. Suzuki's suggestions to me. But I was so awed by Dr. and Mrs. Suzuki, and all their students crowding the stage, that I just stared.
As I peeked into the audience to look for my mother, I could read from her face that she was proud. Not just proud—beaming.
"What did Dr. Suzuki's wife say to you, sweetheart?" asked my mother when I returned to my seat, the violin tucked under my arm.
I shrugged. "I think Mrs. Suzuki told me to make each note sing. Did I play all right?"I handed her my violin and bow.
"For a six-year-old? I think you're a Wonder." She kissed the top of my head. "Just wait until next year when Dr. Suzuki returns to Boston. You'll play for him a second time—and you know what?"
"What, Mummy?" 
"You'll be that much better. In fact, you'll be the best. Wait until I tell your father—"
Me at six years