How did you first hear about the Suzuki Method?
My first awareness of it was on holiday in Cork, Ireland.
Mr Bernard Curtis, Director of the Cork School of Music and my piano teacher always came to meet me when I went home and in 1974/5, he had news to share about this extraordinary way of teaching. He had been to London, where a Suzuki violin teaching programme had started and he was most impressed.
At that time he told me that there was also a piano programme using the method, but neither he nor I felt that this could work! How could one “teach”, two hands by ear? It was obvious that it could work on a melodic instrument, where there is a tune, which can be picked up by ear, but how to “pick up” the accompaniment – not to mention Bach left hands…
So what led you to getting involved?
In 1979, my son Seamus was born and his older brother, Bill, had remembered hearing Mr Curtis talk about Dr Suzuki’s ideas that from birth the baby could start listening to specific kinds of music – for example, Vivaldi’s Seasons was mentioned.
I had no notion then of what would follow. I simply did what Bill asked and bought an LP of The Seasons which Bill taped so that he could put the music on in our little kitchen while Seamus was being fed – that was one of the key times that Dr Suzuki suggested that the music might be used. For quite a while, Bill undertook everything – he was so sure that he wanted his baby brother to have this musical experience. I had not read anything at this time and only vaguely remembered the bit about babies in the discussion all those years before in Cork.
However, I was aware that a Suzuki programme had started in the schools in Cork, thanks to the determination of Mr Curtis. Two sisters, a violinist and a cellist – Denise and Renee Lane were given a scholarship to go to United States and learn about the method.
Trudy Byron-Fahy, a young American violinist, who had studied with Professor John Kendal (one of the most esteemed Americans who had gone to Japan to study with Dr Suzuki) came to Cork to help develop the programme. Trudy is still in Cork and is Director of the Suzuki Violin teacher-training programme.
In 1980, Dr.Suzuki came to Wembley and there was a conference, with teachers and children from many places. We had heard about this. As a family, we were short of money and decided that we could not afford a holiday that year, but we decided that each member of the family could have a special treat in London.
My daughter chose to go to Covent Garden to see the Irish Ballet Company’s version of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World, with music by Anne’s favourite group, The Chieftains (Anne was a very keen tin whistle player!). My husband, Maurice, chose Death of a Salesman, in the West End, I chose The Story of Fats Waller, a musical in the West End and Bill’s choice was to take his six month-old brother to Wembley and to follow Dr. Suzuki all day!!!!
In 1980, when I experienced the amazing world of Dr. Suzuki, for a day, in Wembley, along with hundreds of others, children, parents and many instrumental teachers, I had no idea that my life would change completely, gradually, as a result of this day… The fun, the games he showed the children, while all the time, teaching them some aspect of violin technique, the enthusiasm and warmth for every child and adult… the quality of sound, and all without notation!!
1981 – The start of Suzuki TeacherTraining in Piano, in Europe.
Many coincidences helped along the way – for example, my own beloved Piano teacher, Bernard Curtis, now retired from his position as Director of the Cork Municipal School of Music, in his mid-seventies, decided to enrol in the first European Teacher Training Course for Suzuki Piano, in Hertfordshire.
Dr. Kataoka, the piano specialist, who had worked with Dr. Suzuki, to develop a Piano Suzuki Programme and Teacher Training Programme, came from Matsumoto, in Japan, for this first course. Piano Teachers signed up and were given individual lessons on How to play the very beginning Twinkle Variations! When I heard this, I was completely bemused. Mr. Curtis, however, was so impressed with what Dr. Kataoka taught him, that he said, “Mary, I have to start from the beginning and undo everything that I learnt! This way is by far the best”. And he went back to Cork and started researching this way of teaching piano. This was wonderful for me, because I was not at all ready for something as unusual as this form of teaching. I needed another five years before I felt that I knew enough to begin such a huge adventure.
1981-1986 – Observation Years for me
I attended, as an Observer, as many courses and lessons as possible, taught by the wonderful Anne Turner, the founding member of the European Suzuki Piano Teacher Training Course, and the most wonderful example of Suzuki’s warmth and kindness, as well as being an outstanding inspiration to us all.
1986-1989 – My Suzuki Teacher Training
What does Suzuki Teacher Training mean?
- Observation of lessons taught by experienced Suzuki-trained teachers. This is the backbone of the training – Learning by Observing.
- Daily listening to the carefully-planned Suzuki repertoire.
- Attending a recognized course, which, normally will mean about twenty days, spread over the year, for each level of the course.
- Daily studying of the repertoire, including memorization of the repertoire.
- Examination on work covered in the year.
- Recognition as a trained Suzuki Teacher. All those who are qualified are included in the European Suzuki Association website, under the country in which they live.
There are five levels of training, covering the study, performance (from memory), teaching strategies, and, most important of all, the Philosophy, which entirely is influenced by “The Mother-Tongue Approach”. Dr. Suzuki’s books and articles are essential reading for the understanding of this most-natural way of learning a musical instrument, and much, much more besides.
1990 – Scholarship from British Suzuki Institute
In 1989, when I received my European Suzuki Diploma, I was awarded a Scholarship to study in Matsumoto, Japan. This period, studying daily, with both Dr. Suzuki and Dr. Kataoka, was definitely the most important experience of my whole life.