- his life & work
Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, was born on October 17, 1898, in Nagoya, Japan: one of twelve children. His father, Masakichi Suzuki, was originally a maker of traditional Japanese string instruments but in 1880 he became interested in violins and by Suzuki's birth he had developed the first Japanese violin factory, at that time the largest such factory in the world. Shinichi taught himself to play the violin as a teenager, listening to recordings and trying to imitate what he heard. Later, he took violin lessons in Tokyo and when he was 22, he went to Germany and studied with Karl Klingler, renowned student of Joseph Joachim. It was while in Germany that Suzuki met his wife, Waltraud. They moved back to Japan in 1928 and Suzuki began to teach violin and perform with his brothers in the Suzuki String Quartet. In 1930 he became President of the Teikoku Music School and conductor of the Tokyo String Orchestra.
During the difficult years of the Second World War, Suzuki and Waltraud, who was classed as a foreigner, were separated. Suzuki developed a strong sense of his mission: to influence the lives of children for the greater good. In 1946 Suzuki moved to Matsumoto, a remote and mountainous region at the center of Japan. Sick from the stress of war and overwork this environment provided him the time and opportunity to work with children from throughout the country, developing a music school that eventually became known as the Talent Education Research Institute. At the heart of Suzuki's mission was his desire to educate the whole child through a nurturing and loving environment. His motto became "character first, ability second". He believed that the creative spirit of music offered every child a chance to discover their inner talents. The method became known at Talent Education, in reference to his belief that all children have talent which must be brought out through a loving environment.
Shinichi loved children and first became interested in the process of teaching after working with the child of a friend. His first breakthrough came in 1933 with the simple revelation that all children could learn music just as they learned to speak. A child could learn music just like a language, by listening to their parents and then imitating. If a child's efforts were met with praise and positive reinforcement then the learning process was easy. At the core of his philosophy, he believed that, since all children can speak then all children have the talent to learn music. At Matsumoto he devised a method of teaching (built upon a repertoire of music) that supported his philosophy on education. Within a short period Dr. Suzuki's students had soon earned him a national reputation for their talent. No one had ever seen so many very young children playing so beautifully. At first people thought the students were musical geniuses. They did not understand Suzuki's idea that all children can learn if they are taught in the right way.
In 1955, US violinist and Ohio professor John Kendall received a grant to travel to Matsumoto and study Suzuki's teaching for American teachers. At that time reports of Suzuki successes were little more than rumors outside of Japan. On Kendall's first trip it became clear to him that something exceptional was happening in Japanese music education, a country that had, after all, only a limited history with classical music. Kendall became one of a small group of professional educators determined to bring the method to North America. Returning to Japan in 1959 and again in 1962, Professor Kendall translated the power of Suzuki's method to the America String Teachers Association. In 1963 the first US Suzuki conference was held and in 1964 Suzuki toured the US with a small group of children performing in 19 cities in 21 days and presenting his children to the Music Educators National Conference. As Suzuki later related, this group of children were not chosen for their skills but merely for their availability to tour the US. However, the exceptional level of their playing was enough to cement the Suzuki method in North America.
The result of Suzuki's trip revolutionized how many American string teachers taught. The International Suzuki movement was born and five regional associations were created to help spread his teaching worldwide - The Suzuki Association of the Americas, The Pan Pacific Suzuki Association, the European Suzuki Association, The Asia Suzuki Association and Suzuki's founding school in Japan, The Talent Education Research Institute. Now there are many hundreds of thousands of children around the world who have learned to play instruments through the Suzuki Method. Through his teaching, Dr. Suzuki showed teachers and parents everywhere what children could do. He believed that hearing and playing great music helped children become good people with noble hearts. Dr. Suzuki hoped that these children would help bring peace and understanding to the world.
Dr. Suzuki died in his adopted home of Matsumoto, Japan on January 26h 1998 at the age of 99.
(text adapted from the SAA website)