Follow by Email

Sunday, December 7, 2014

New York Times Substantiates Mark O’Connor’s Findings on Shinichi Suzuki Bio

Violin World Yowls at Challenge to Fabled Teacher – Mark O’Connor Fans a Debate About the Suzuki Method
NYTimes:  “It all began when the American violin virtuoso and composer Mark O’Connor who started publishing his own instruction books several years ago, took aim at the giant of the field: the Suzuki method, known for teaching legions of children around the world to saw away at variations of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Mr. O’Connor not only criticized the method but also accused its creator, Shinichi Suzuki, of fabricating parts of his biography to promote it.”

NYTimes: “Mr. O’Connor is a star who has toured with the jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli, worked as a major session musician in Nashville, composed for the concert hall and recorded with top musicians including Yo-Yo Ma.”

NYTimes:  “His main factual charges involve several episodes Mr. Suzuki described in his book Nurtured by Love which is part memoir and part exploration of his method. He questioned Mr. Suzuki’s claims that he took lessons from the German violinist Karl Klingler in Berlin in the 1920s, his account of having been part of Albert Einstein’s circle in Berlin and his description of a 1961 concert that some of his students gave in Japan for the cellist Pablo Casals.”

NYTimes:  "An examination by The New York Times of some of Mr. O’Connor’s key charges found that they were undercut by evidence."

But some of the key charges are substantiated and therefore the New York Times wrote a feature article and lists them here.  When Albert Einstein scholars inform the Times that there was no relationship to Suzuki, therefore a chapter in his autobiography dedicated to how Einstein was his "guardian" and that he "looked after" him was completely invented for the purposes of selling himself to violin teachers.  

Pablo Casals' widow also denies any endorsement of the Suzuki Method.  "Eight Years" of lessons cannot be proven with Karl Klingler of Berlin, and Suzuki does not have a PhD to be titled "Dr." in academic circles.  The remainder of the charges are “undercut” - meaning the Times documents the same flimsy hearsay by Suzuki’s flock, failed auditions, handshakes, nice comments intended for other Japanese teachers besides Suzuki, and the sale of a violin from his factory.  Combined, these “relationships” represent Shinichi Suzuki's credibility as a musician or teacher and his sole professional and academic credentials to introduce a method of teaching classical violin to the world. 


“Dr. Suzuki” does not have a PhD.

NYTimes: “Mr. O’Connor also asked why Mr. Suzuki is often called “Dr. Suzuki” when he lacked a Ph.D. Gilda Barston, the chief executive of the International Suzuki Association, said he did not refer to himself that way, but that many of his followers called him “Dr.” as a sign of respect after he was awarded various honorary doctorates.”

New York Times can only find one single piece of hearsay evidence, that from violinist Alice Schoenfield (in her late 80s) suggesting Suzuki was a private student of Professor Karl Klingler in Berlin.  Suzuki asserted "eight years" but Mrs. Schoenfield cannot substantiate it.  There is no record in Berlin of Suzuki being a pupil of Klingler discovered by the Times reporter.  The audition on record was at the Berlin Hochshule (conservatory) where Suzuki did not pass, and Klingler's signature was affixed to the school document in 1923 stating "refused" to his violin studio.  (Mrs. Schoenfield was not alive in 1921 when Suzuki claims he began with Klingler). 

NYTimes: “In a blog post titled “Suzuki’s BIGGEST Lie,” Mr. O’Connor questioned whether Mr. Suzuki had studied with Mr. Klingler for eight years, as he claimed, and posted a photograph of records showing that Mr. Suzuki was not accepted by the Berlin Hochschule, where Mr. Klingler taught. “Shinichi Suzuki had no violin training from any serious violin teacher that we can find,” Mr. O’Connor wrote.”

NYTimes: “But Mr. Suzuki claimed in the book to be a private student of Mr. Klingler’s. A well-known protégé of Mr. Klingler’s, the violinist Alice Schoenfeld, confirmed in a recent interview that he was.”

NYTimes: ““Klingler told me about Suzuki,” she said, adding that while Mr. Klingler did not generally take private students, he made an exception for Mr. Suzuki, whose father owned a violin factory in Japan.”

NYTimes: “She said that she had the impression that Mr. Suzuki had been an “on and off” student. “But he studied with him, and he gave him also a beautiful violin to say thank you when he went back to Japan,” she recalled. “It was a violin that I played at my recitals. So I know for sure that Suzuki was under his guidance.””

New York Times confirms with several Albert Einstein scholars that guardian/mentor relationship that Suzuki claims with the physicist, is baseless.  Suzuki is quoted that Einstein "looked after" him and was his "guardian" in his books.

NYTimes: “A chapter on Einstein in his [Mr. Suzuki’s] book contains a subheading that reads, in the English translation, “Dr. Einstein as My Guardian.” Several Einstein scholars said that there were no indications that Mr. Suzuki had a close or lasting relationship with Einstein.”

New York Times confirms from Marta Casals Istomin (Pablo Casals' widow) that he never endorsed the Suzuki Method and furthermore, was not even aware of it.

Casals attended the 1961 student demonstration in Japan to see his pupil Yoshio Sata’s Japanese cello students perform Saint-Saens, "The Swan and a Bach "Bourree." His statements reflected other teachers there, not just Suzuki.  Asking to hear the tape finally collected by the New York Times revealed what was suspected all along.  Casals does not mention Suzuki nor his method of violin education in his address.  There is no endorsement of Suzuki's approach to violin pedagogy by Pablo Casals then, nor at any other time.

NYTimes: “Mr. O’Connor dissects this event on his blog with the minute attention to detail that some people use to analyze the Zaprude film of the John F. Kennedy assassination. He charged that an old edition of “Nurtured by Love,” which has a blurb on the cover from a Newsweek article about Mr. Suzuki that mentioned the Casals visit, falsely implied that Casals had endorsed the Suzuki method. He questioned why a photograph of the two men at the event obscured Mr. Suzuki’s face, whether the event even took place and, if it did, why there was no tape of it.”

NYTimes: “Casals was 84 at the time, not 75, as the book said, and the remarks attributed to him were evidently translated from the English that Casals spoke into Japanese, and then back into English for the English translation of the book.”

NYTimes: “Casals’s widow, Marta Casals Istomin, said in a telephone interview that she did not wish to be drawn into a controversy over competing violin methods.”

NYTimes: “But she confirmed that she had attended the Suzuki concert in Tokyo with Casals in 1961. She said that Casals, who had taken a lifelong interest in children and music for children, had been “very moved” by the sight of so many young children playing music, and that he had embraced Mr. Suzuki, but that he had not endorsed the method or given much thought to it.”

NYTimes: ““He was very touched to hear these children,” Ms. Casals Istomin said in an interview, adding that Casals had wept, as he often did at concerts. “At that moment, he didn’t think of it as a method. He thought of it as an idea of bringing young people together with music, not whether it was a good method or a bad method.””


Pablo Casals visit in 1961 to Japan and chronicled by Shinichi Suzuki was principally to see one of his former cello students and his group of young Japanese cello students play a demonstration. The speech Casals gave at the conclusion of the event would have largely been about his former pupil and his cello students. Since Casals does not mention Suzuki's name in the speech, nor at any other time for the remainder of his life did he mention the name Suzuki or the Suzuki Method, the only logical explanation is that it was more about the cello students than Suzuki's violin students. Casals is the iconic cello player after all. He comments a lot on the music itself - mostly Bach. But never on how it was played by the students. Just the fact that it was being taught in Japan and there were many children involved learning classical music 15 years after WWII.

Since he did not mention "Suzuki" for the entire speech, it easily could have been about the cello students who weren't taking the Suzuki Method or Talent Education approach at all.

Excerpted from Suzuki's own "Nurtured by Love" autobiography:

"Following this part of the concert, 15 young cello students taught by Yoshio Sato, a pupil of Casals, played Saint-Saens, "The Swan and a Bach "Bourree."

It seems to say that the cellos students were last on the program... but whatever the order, his speech followed the final aspects of the program. So invariably he would have been mostly referring to how well his own pupil taught Japanese children how to play Bach on cello. If you will, the Casals "method." 



For the full NYTimes article, read here:
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/08/arts/mark-oconnor-fans-a-debate-about-the-suzuki-method.html?smid=tw-share


Suzuki quotables:
"Teaching music is not my main purpose. I want to make good citizens, noble human beings. If a child hears fine music from the day of his birth, and learns to play it himself, he develops sensitivity, discipline and endurance. He gets beautiful heart."
"Where love is deep, much will be accomplished."
"My dream is for the happiness of all children. I feel respect and friendly feelings for everyone. In particular, I cannot help but feel respect and warm feelings for young children. And my heart brims over with a desire to help make all the children born upon the earth fine human beings, happy people, people of superior ability. My whole life energies are devoted to this end."
"Man is the son of his environment."" --Shinichi Suzuki

 O'Connor quotables:

"The beauty of music for children is found in melody, harmony, counterpoint and rhythm. Not just playing the melody. It is found in listening, sharing, feeling, accompanying, leading, smiling and laughing. Not just perfected memorized performances.

Instead of putting children ages 5, 7, and 9 years-old through endless musical etudes - drilling, repeating, memorization ear-training, mimicking, foot charts, learning by rote and tethered to a teacher’s hand signals, it is all too robotic for kids. What about some musical creativity and fun? Let children learn the fundamentals, improvise and create music through the diversity of American music styles and literature now. It is time to move the string world forward again." –Mark O’Connor


Shinichi Suzuki with students - Mark O'Connor with students (Photos from the New York Times)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

NPR’s Weekend Edition reports on Suzuki & O’Connor


'Twinkle' Sparks Fireworks As Fiddler Guts Violin Method
By Liz Baker November 16, 2014 5:41 AM ET

If you're a parent, the sound of a small child sawing away at the strains of the "Twinkle Variations" may be all too familiar. 

It's Song One, of Book One, of the Suzuki method, a musical pedagogy developed by Shin'ichi Suzuki in the 1960s. 

But lately there has been discord among music educators, a feud over methods and credentials and accusations of fraud.
Fiddle player Mark O'Connor  — who has his own instruction method — has been criticizing the Suzuki method for years. But what started out as a debate over technique and style turned personal. O'Connor laid out his allegations against Suzuki to NPR two weeks ago. 

Suzuki "claimed that he was taking lessons in Berlin for eight years from a big professor of violin called Karl Klingler, and it turned out that he failed his one and only audition with him," O'Connor says. 

O'Connor also blogged that Suzuki, who died in 1998, faked a mentor relationship with Albert Einstein and faked an endorsement from one of the leading string players of his time, cellist Pablo Casals

Suzuki "was able to introduce his methodology from Japan to the United States based on these credentials," O'Connor says. 

However, Mark George, spokesman for the Suzuki Association of the Americas, says Suzuki never claimed to have been enrolled in the Berlin Hochschule für Musik (now the Berlin University of the Arts), the esteemed German conservatory where Karl Klingler taught violin. 

"So he did audition, and he was not accepted," George agrees. "But he did in fact study with Karl Klingler in his studio outside the school proper." 

The problem with this stuff is that it all went down in the 1920's. Concrete documentation is hard to come by. The parties involved are deceased, and a lot of the confusion could be chalked up to mistranslation and even word choice. We are talking about a Japanese music student in pre-World War II Germany. 

Anyway, the facts are almost beside the point. This all blew up because the accusations against Suzuki felt so personal to his friends and followers, like George.
"Mrs. Suzuki named my daughter," George says. "So you know, when somebody says not so nice things about them, of course I'm going to respond." 

The International Suzuki Association now holds copyright over the Suzuki method, including the Suzuki name. It estimates 6,000 registered Suzuki educators in the U.S. are teaching half a million students each year. Suzuki is the dominant method in this country, which is why O'Connor jumped loudly into the blogosphere. 

"There should be room at the table for other methods," O'Connor says. "The Suzuki system seems to be shutting us out from a lot of environments like schools."
"It's not," says Charles Avsharian, CEO of the online string instrument retailer Shar Music. "It's just a popular movement." 

Shar Music has sold and supported the Suzuki method from the very beginning. It also publishes the O'Connor method. So Avsharian called for a cease-fire. 

"I contacted Mark personally and in so many words suggested that he does not have to blow out another candle to make his burn brighter," Avsharian says.
It worked. O'Connor apologized on Facebook for his harsh words and agreed to dial it down a bit. He did not, however, back away from any of the factual allegations. And his apology has since disappeared from his page. 

But in the trenches, was anyone paying attention? 

Baltimore Bows Orchestra teacher Yonatan Grinberg tries to keep the attentions of about 30 string players, aged 5 through 12. They play a mix of easy Suzuki staples, O'Connor tunes and folk songs. 

"I am not a purist in any method," Grinberg says. "I very strongly believe there is value in many, many different methods." 

Grinberg says he takes bits and pieces from all of the pedagogies, and thinks outside of the books, too. 

One of his students, 10-year-old violist Mendy Quittner, didn't know about the controversy or even that there are different methods. His mom signed them up for this class because this class was nearby. But his favorite piece of music is a Suzuki staple.
"Twinkle," Quittner says. "'Cause I'm the best at it." 

And that's how it should be, Grinberg says. Kids should enjoy learning. 

"Did Suzuki know Albert Einstein?" Grinberg asks. "Maybe he did, maybe he didn't. Is that relevant to a kid who's learning to play the violin? Absolutely not."
For his part, O'Connor seems to have moved on. He just got married, and his Facebook page is now dominated by wedding selfies.


Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Description: http://www.google-analytics.com/__utm.gif?utmac=UA-5828686-4&utmdt=%27Twinkle%27+Sparks+Fireworks+As+Fiddler+Guts+Violin+Method&utme=8%28APIKey%299%28MDA1MTkyNjA1MDEyNzM1MTQ0ODk3NTA1NA004%29

Transcript
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST: 

If you're a parent, the sound of a small child sawing away at the strains of the "Twinkle Variations" may sound all too familiar. It is Song One of Book One of the Suzuki method, a musical pedagogy developed by Shin'ichi Suzuki in the 1960s.
But lately there has been discord among musical educators, a feud over methods and credentials and accusations of fraud. 

We asked reporter Liz Baker, a former Suzuki student herself, to look into it. 

LIZ BAKER, BYLINE: Fiddle player Mark O'Connor, who has his own instruction method, has been criticizing Suzuki training for years. But lately, what started out as a debate over technique and style, turned personal. O'Connor laid out his allegations against Shin'ichi Suzuki to NPR two weeks ago. 

O'CONNOR: He claimed that he was taking lessons in Berlin for eight years from a big professor of violin, Karl Klingler. And it turned out that he failed his one and only audition with him. 

BAKER: O'Connor also blogged that Suzuki, who died in 1998, faked a mentor relationship with Albert Einstein and faked an endorsement from one of the leading string players of his time, cellist Pablo Casals. 

O'CONNOR: He was able to introduce his methodology from Japan to the United States based on these credentials. 

MARK GEORGE: First of all, Suzuki has never claimed to have been enrolled in the Berlin Hochschule. 

BAKER: That's the esteemed German conservatory where Karl Klingler taught violin says Mark George, spokesman for the Suzuki Association of the Americas. 

GEORGE: So he did audition, and he was not accepted. But he did, in fact, study with Karl Klingler in his studio outside of the school proper. 

BAKER: The problem with this stuff is that it all went down in the 1920s. Concrete documentation is hard to come by. The parties involved are deceased. And a lot of the confusion could be chalked up to mistranslation or even word choice. We are talking about a Japanese music student in pre-World War II Germany. 

Anyway, the facts are almost beside the point. This all blew up because the accusations against Suzuki felt so personal to his friends and followers like Mark George. 

GEORGE: Mrs. Suzuki named my daughter. So, you know, when somebody says not-so-nice things about them, of course I'm going to respond. 

BAKER: The International Suzuki Association now holds the copyright over the Suzuki method, including the Suzuki name. It estimates 6,000 registered Suzuki educators in the U.S. teaching half a million students each year. It is the dominant's method in this country, which is why Mark O'Connor jumped loudly into the blogosphere. 

O'CONNOR: There should be room at the table for other methods. And the Suzuki system seems to be shutting out us from a lot of environments like schools. 

CHARLES AVSHARIAN: It is not. It's just a popular movement. 

BAKER: Charles Avsharian is the CEO of the online stringed instrument retailer Shar Music, which has sold and supported the Suzuki method from the very beginning, but also publishes the O'Connor method. So Avsharian called for a cease-fire. 

AVSHARIAN: I contacted Mark personally and suggested that he does not have to blowout another candle to make his burn brighter. 

BAKER: It worked. O'Connor apologized on Facebook for his harsh words, but did not back away from any of the factual allegations. And his apology has since disappeared from his page. 

But in the trenches, was anyone paying attention? 

(SOUNDBITE OF REHEARSAL) 

YONATAN GRINBERG: Guys, guys, I need you to focus for two more minutes, then we'll take a break. 

BAKER: Baltimore Bows Orchestra teacher Yonatan Grinberg tries to keep the attention of about 30 string player's aged 5 through 12. They play a mix of easy Suzuki staples, O'Connor tunes and folk songs. 

GRINBERG: I'm not purist in any method. I very strongly believe that there is value in many, many different methods. 

BAKER: Grinberg says he takes bits and pieces from all the methods. One of his students, 10-year-old violist Mendy Quittner didn't know about the controversy or even that there are different methods. His mom signed him up for this class because it was nearby. But his favorite piece of music is a Suzuki staple. 

MENDY QUITTNER: "Twinkle" 'cause I'm the best at it. 

BAKER: And that's how it should be, says teacher Yonatan Grinberg. Kids should enjoy learning. 

GRINBERG: Did Suzuki know Albert Einstein? Maybe, maybe he didn't. Is that relevant to a kid who's learning how to play the violin? Absolutely not. 

BAKER: For his part, Mark O'Connor seems to have moved on. He just got married, and his Facebook page dominated by wedding selfies. For NPR News, I'm Liz Baker.

Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
http://www.npr.org/2014/11/16/364140413/twinkle-sparks-fireworks-as-fiddler-guts-violin-method 


Mark O'Connor Response:

This interview was conducted a few weeks before it aired on November 16th. When NPR's 'Weekend Edition' asked me for an interview on the subject of the Suzuki Violin Method and what my thoughts on him were, I urged them to get information on their own to refute our claims of Suzuki inventing his biography to better sell himself to violin educators in the West. If that took place, I could provide retractions if necessary to some of my articles. They delayed the interview by a couple of weeks to get other angles to the story but NPR fell short of any real investigation into the matter. While they say that it is too difficult to investigate what people were doing decades ago and the people in question now deceased, it certainly has not stopped many scholars from researching other subjects from the same time period and before. Mark George, who is a surrogate of the SAA and knew the Suzuki's personally cannot claim Suzuki took eight years of private lessons with Prof Karl Klingler of Berlin just because he says so. He was not there, nor was Klingler's daughter, as she had not yet been born - at least for part of that time period in question. 

We compel serious journalists and music scholars to look into the allegations, report on these findings and to bring clarity to the research so we can get this behind us. We have done quite a bit on our end, and frankly I personally have moved on from this research. As I recently told a reporter that I had researched several methodologies in order to better author one of my own. However as long as there are major news outlets contacting me about this, it is an obligation to respond to the media as I am a pubic figure in music. While I may be perhaps the most visible critic of Suzuki and that of his violin method at this time, there are many others who have contributed much time and attention to these findings, and there are countless thousands who agree with me with regards to Suzuki. 

The central points and facts put forth in my succession of blog posts that go to Suzuki's veracity are still irrefutable at this time. The reasons why this is important is because these are Shinichi Suzuki's sole professional and academic credentials as a violin player, musician, author and teacher on the international stage.

1. Suzuki failed in the one and only audition with the violin professor Karl Klingler of Berlin in 1923 making eight years of lessons an impossibility. It is on record that Suzuki left Berlin in 1928 for good. We also have evidence of him being in Japan for a series of house concerts in 1925 with Dr. Michaelis, an amateur pianist. Since it is a one month-long journey from Berlin to Japan in the 1920s before commercial aviation, it reduces the time that is possible to be in Berlin. The most he could have been in Berlin for lessons is 5 years, but that does not mean that he got lessons from Klingler. In addition there is no photo (beyond the audition photo we believe, that is already published on my blogs) nor any correspondence that the two had a relationship of teacher/pupil. Suzuki would have been about age 24 to 30 during this time. Klingler lived until 1971, many years after the Suzuki Method rolled out in America. Why was Klingler never contacted for a quote on his famous "pupil" by Suzuki or his publishers?

2. While we have already written this, Pablo Casals did attend the Suzuki demonstration in 1961 in Japan with Suzuki and approximately 250 children playing classical music. There was a speech given by Casals from the reports. Incidentally Casals was there at this demonstration in Japan to principally see one of his former cellos students who performed with his own Japanese students at the same event, and the speech Casals gave could have easily been about his former cello student and his young Japanese cellos students, even more so.

As I have said, since Casals did not mention "Suzuki" for the entire speech, it could have largely been about the cello students who were not taking the Suzuki Method.

Excerpted from Suzuki's own Nurtured by Love book and quoted from my blog: "Following this part of the concert, 15 young cello students taught by Yoshio Sato, a pupil of Casals, played Saint-Saens, "The Swan and a Bach "Bourree."

 
-->
It seems to say that the cello students were last on the program... but whatever the order, the Casals speech followed the final aspects of the program. So invariably Casals could have been mostly referring to how well his own pupil taught Japanese children how to play Bach on cello.


We cannot find a single written word or a verbal comment that even has Casals saying the name Shinichi Suzuki or Mr. Suzuki. How can you endorse someone and never refer to them by name in your lifetime? In addition, during the same time period, Casals along with his wife Marta began their music school in Peurto Rico together. They did not introduce the Suzuki Method instruction there for beginners. When Casals died 10 years later, Marta continued as the head of the music school and still did not bring in the Suzuki Method for beginners while she was President for many years. This is not an endorsement of the Suzuki Method. Suzuki puts words into Casals mouth shouting "bravo" for his students and that Casals "wept" on Suzuki's shoulder. These are claims by Suzuki. However the facts are what they are - no proof of an endorsement. No endorsement. (Marta Casals Istomin has gone on record with documentarian Peter Rosen that she and her husband were horrified by the Suzuki approach - quote in full below).

3. Albert Einstein mentorship. Unless you want to say that Einstein mentored Shinichi Suzuki for the couple of hours that he helped the physicist choose which violin to take as a gift, there is no proof of Einstein "looking after me." There is no correspondence between Einstein and Suzuki for nearly 30 years after their encounter during the violin sale in 1926. The lone autograph to Suzuki is on a mimeographed sketch of Einstein. A mimeograph is similar to today's press photo that I sign for fans. It was not a unique sketch for Suzuki! There is absolutely nothing remarkable about the autograph other than simply cordiality and thanks for the violin. There is no proof of a relationship. It is not plausible as well. Just like the other 2 gentleman reviewed here. Eistein would not have time nor interest in mentoring an amateur 25 year-old violin student who could barely speak German and who was not a scientist.

To add to the Klingler scenario. Karl Klingler would have been a professor like any of today's Julliard violin professors. Can anyone imagine one of those professors at Juilliard auditioning someone for their studio, rejecting them, attaching their name and signature to the rejection audition papers, and then turning around to teach them privately for many years? There is simply no proof that it happened and the idea is simply implausible. Let's hear about a name of somebody who had the same experience with a major professor of violin, in the proximity of a conservatory with the same reputation? It all adds up to a story of tall tales. We have many more of these kinds of tall stories that we uncovered - such as turning his violin factory into a toy plane factory during WWII being another one. It is a clear pattern of deception to sell his Violin Method beyond reproach. If we are wrong, let's see it. Let's see the evidence that points the other direction.

Once again we welcome any evidence that changes these three relationships with the iconic figures, the sole basis for Suzuki's professional credentials. We will report them here and make the retractions, and if necessary wipe the egg off our face if we get the proof. The last thing I want to be is wrong on this - believe me. But I am in a way saddened to have to report our findings on it all. But after 3 years now of these inquires, nothing has come in with any vindicating evidence. One of the commenters from the public regarding the NPR piece said that it is outrageous to make these claims about Suzuki with no further evidence. I would counter to say that it is outrageous to make these claims about having relationships with iconic figures and not provide any evidence. Especially so, if a million people took your violin method based on these kinds of claims.

-Mark O'Connor 

[Quote from O'Connor Blog]
"Marta Casals Istomin confirms that neither she or her husband Pablo Casals endorsed this in any way, and she personally as a life long music educator has always abhorred this type of dogmatic teaching method. She remembers that Yamaha tried something like this for pianists in the 90's, endorsed by Rostropovich. (He needed Yamaha sponsorship for something.) When she went with Slava to see the young pianists, she thought it was "frightening" for the same reason." -Peter Rosen 11/27/13

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Laurie Niles/Violinist.com Harms O'Connor Method


From Laurie Niles Blog on her Violinist.com website published yesterday November 3, 2014 entitled “Mark O’Connor Harms the Violin Community.” Her text is reprinted here in its entirety. My responses are included.
[Laurie Niles] For a long time, the Suzuki community has tried to ignore Mark O'Connor's efforts to discredit it, but his recent attempts to carry a blatant misinformation campaign about Shinichi Suzuki into mainstream media cross the line.
[Mark O’Connor] I have only been writing articles about the truth of Shinichi Suzuki’s background and about my criticisms of his pedagogy. I certainly don’t control mainstream media. It is up to them to cover the stories they wish to, the ones they see merit in. There are a lot of blogs written out there, and mine are but just a few of them.
[LN] At this point, and very unfortunately, it's impossible to separate Mark O'Connor's efforts to create American music books for children, and the inspiring music camps that he ran in the past, from his mean-spirited misinformation campaign against Shinichi Suzuki and his personal bullying of music teachers and anyone who wishes to defend Suzuki (who is not alive to defend himself).
[MOC] Again, I am only interested in the truth about Suzuki’s story and credentials. There have been several researchers on a volunteer basis looking into this for a few years and sending me all of this evidence to print. I myself do not have the time or would have the inclination to do this kind of digging, although I have done some work on this certainly. But a vast amount of credit goes to researchers and music scholars who contacted me from South Africa, Germany, Japan and here in the U.S. (Several of their names and credentials are listed throughout the blog site). Just in the last couple of days, I have heard from more people who want to give me information on the invented stories of Suzuki’s bio as well as confirm various aspects of these findings.
[LN] The broader violin community has recognized a problem evolving with Mark over the past few years, during which time Mark has been kicked off almost every violin-related website there is, including Violinist.com, Facebook Violinists and other fiddle, viola and mandolin sites, due to excessive self-promotion and bullying.
[MOC] I have been banned from several violin sites and it was centered around the Suzuki stories and findings. A knee jerk reaction to most of it from various string players is “why don’t you promote your own books instead.” And invariably when we begin to do that on those forums, we get the “excessive self-promotion label.” We may not have done a good enough job at balancing criticism of existing pedagogical practices with ones that I am authoring. The balance is a sensitive one. As one could view, we don’t excessively promote the O’Connor Method even on our sites so there is a good balance with other music, concerts, old photographs etc…
[LN] His claims about Suzuki (which have been refuted many places, and are nevertheless tangential to Suzuki's accomplishments) have appeared in a one-source story in the rather unreliable British tabloid broadsheet, The Telegraph. They also appear on his blog, which many people simply have stopped reading because of the anger and inaccuracy.
[MOC] All of the discoveries we have made on Suzuki’s invented credentials have never been refuted to this day – to this hour. That is the amazing thing in all of this. All of these invented credentials have not been explained away, by the Suzuki Association nor anyone. They simply say it is not true, leaving at that. And then shooting the messenger. The only evidence that is coming in to us, further substantiates the findings and we are asking for any exculpatory evidence so we can make the retractions if necessary of course. I would not want any wrong information out that is untruthful from my writings without a retraction affixed to it.

It is not true however that people have been turning off to my blog site “Parting Shots.” I had quit writing about Suzuki about 6 or 7 months ago, but my blog site was being read daily as if each Suzuki article there were brand new. I showed the results of the views to several people over the last month, somewhat in dismay that the Suzuki articles are being read as if I had never stopped writing the articles. Even the articles from over 2 years ago are being read over the last 6 or 7 months as if I had just posted them. Here is today’s snapshot of by blog’ view count over its lifetime. My blog has only been up for about 3 years. But one can clearly see that it has done nothing but increase its viewership on an ongoing basis. I have no idea on how many views Violinist.com gets, but my blog is really not a business enterprise at all, I don’t sell advertisement there etc. It just expresses my views and the views of guest bloggers, writers, scholars and researchers that I want to feature. I don’t slander people on this blog. It is not possible to slander a deceased figure or a corporation.

[LN] Unfortunately, this all serves to turn people off, to Mark's work, to Suzuki, and to the violin overall. Recklessly tearing down one way of doing something doesn't mean that people will embrace another. It just tears us all down.
[MOC] I personally thing that criticism does not bring down music. Look at the critics of Rock and Roll with Elvis and the Beatles – constant criticism, but the genre took off like a rocket. The criticism of Rap music, of Country music… those genres again took off to the stratosphere despite constant criticism of the music and its artists. I think one can make an argument for both sides obviously. But I don’t believe that less Suzuki means that violin lessons aren’t covered by a whole host of other approaches out there.
[LN] The vitriol is so toxic, distracting and inaccurate, I have simply turned off the channel on Mark O'Connor: unliked the Facebook page, turned off the Twitter, and completely quit going to his website, even if it's just to see what degree of unbelievable inanity he's come up with now.
[MOC] Well, as many musicians can do, we post a variety of materials, but for the most part we keep it informative and entertaining for my fans. We have 41,000 “likes” on Facebook fan page. While that is not a lot compared to pop superstars, it is quite a bit for a violinist. Probably in the top 20 in the world. The Suzuki Association fan site is 10 times less with 4,300 ‘likes” but honestly that does not mean much in that Facebook is all about interaction with fans. We try to do that with our fans on Facebook, as well as YouTube. We have over five million views to my own YouTube Channel. The Twitter is just over 12,000 followers. So it is not as much as Perlman or Lindsey Sterling, but it is still quite a lot. A lot of people listening and watching the music in total numbers.
[LN] I've enjoyed his music in the past -- embraced it, performed it, written about it, taught it to my students. But it is not compelling enough to outweigh his personal offensiveness and blindness to the destruction he is causing not only to those he criticizes so mercilessly, but to himself.
[MOC] I appear in public nearly every day – I am a public figure if you will. Performed Sunday as a featured artist to a sold out concert hall of 1,000 people in Miami. Yesterday I did 4 classes, seeing about 30 university graduate and doctoral candidates. Perhaps my work has helped to change the course of many musicians who are in music schools today. I don’t know, it is all playing out right before our eyes I think.
[LN] Given my past experience, I fully anticipate that, in response to this blog, Mark will attack the level of my violin playing, the veracity of my resume, my ability to write, everything about my website, my abilities as a teacher, maybe even the color of my hair, the quirkiness of my personality, my status as a woman and more, as he has done to so many other people who have dared to say anything critical about him. I don't intend to read it. I believe his response will reveal more about him than it does about me.

[MOC] Well, while I have met Laurie a couple of times several years ago, I certainly don’t have anything against the majority of what she just listed about herself. I wish she would treat me more even handedly since she does operate a journalistic website on violin. The depth she is into the Suzuki camp, makes it hard for her to treat me with balance. I know for certain that she has left out positive/supportive comments about me on her comment list after this article she posted yesterday. One person just sent me their comment that Laurie refused to let on the comment list, and Laurie gave him a derogatory statement in response to it personally – he quoted it for me. That is not even handed there at Violinist.com to say the least. We also ran into the same thing when Pamela Wiley printed her article “Confessions of a Former Suzuki Teacher” and Laurie weighed in against it and kept the positive and supportive comments from appearing on the comment list towards Pamela and towards me. When I write on my blog, I represent myself only. When she writes on her violin.com site, it would seem that she would want to have more balance, but maybe Suzuki is just that big and strong that it is central to violin. And everything else takes a distant 2nd place?




Saturday, November 1, 2014

O'Connor response to Internationalsuzuki.org

Internationalsuzuki.org has released the following statement to the media. I have inserted my responses to their slandering me. Their entire statement is printed here below.

"Inaccurate and false statements by American fiddler Mark O’Connor about Shinichi Suzuki"

[Mark O’Connor] We have made every attempt to tell the truth in our articles about Shinichi Suzuki and to this day we believe we have told the truth. We have also asked the hard questions that have not been answered satisfactorily by Suzuki teachers and representatives. Suzuki Association has not provided any materials to counter our findings stated by my ‘Parting Shots’ blog to date. Several researchers and music scholars have been involved in collecting data and have contributed to the blog articles on a volunteer basis only. Some of them are named within the blogs, a few have wished to remain anonymous including a former Suzuki personal family associate. References are listed throughout the blog.

[Suzuki Association] Mainstream media has recently reprinted comments from the blog of Mark O’Connor, a violinist in the United States. In his blog, Mr. O’Connor alleges that Shinichi Suzuki, the founder of the popular music teaching approach named after him, lied about his past and is therefore ”the biggest fraud in music history”. To call Shinichi Suzuki “the biggest fraud in music history” is groundless and malicious.

[MOC] The comment was made to a reporter from the U.K. Daily News and was selected from a lengthy interview I gave and not a part of any blog article I have featured. The quote was sensationalized by the paper as a headline, however the question of “fraud” has been addressed regarding Suzuki in the ‘Parting Shots’ blog by many people including myself. The one and only audition that Shinichi Suzuki took with the legendary violin professor Karl Klingler from Berlin, was failed in 1923. When Klingler did not accept him into his studio then or at any other time with his signature affixed to the Berlin Hochshule audition protocol stating “refused” by Suzuki’s name, Suzuki’s sole credential for violin training “eight years of violin lessons with Karl Klingler” as he has stated in every biography, is invented. This information is neither groundless nor malicious to report. It is proof of a fraudulent action created to get ahead in the music education business. We welcome any document that contradicts this statement regarding Karl Klingler and Shinichi Suzuki. The one and only correspondence or photograph known between the two men is a single photograph that we believe was taken at the audition and is featured at the conclusion of this article. The fact that Suzuki has his violin out, and Klingler does not suggests that it was at the audition, a portrait taken with the famous Klingler before heading back to Japan after not being accepted by him as a student. The body language clearly suggests just that, it is hardly a congenial pose for the camera.
 
Making the Case:

Similar articles on my blog site examines a purported speech given by the iconic cellist Pablo Casals that praised Suzuki’s students in Japan. It is featured in most all of Suzuki’s biographies, a speech that was used as a significant endorsement of Suzuki’s talents and excerpted for the cover of Suzuki’s ‘Nurtured by Love’ book for marketing purposes. But what researches and music scholars have found who have contributed to the articles at the ‘Parting Shots’ blog is that he placed those words right into the mouth of the historic cellist. This invented speech has since been rebutted by Casals’ widow Marta Casals who was there in Japan in the early 1960s when this was said to have taken place. She and her husband disliked the presentation they saw and she told documentary filmmaker Peter Rosen “frightening” in describing the nature of the Suzuki student presentation. There is no tape recording of this speech to substantiate Suzuki’s version.

How can Suzuki print an entire speech from memory by a famous music icon years later for his biographies? Why was it translated from Casals’ preferred English (in non-Spanish speaking countries) to Japanese and back to English for the biographies if it were real? And why is the only recording of this speech provided by the Suzuki Association of a Japanese speaker reciting Suzuki’s words claiming they were from Casals? Pablo Casals’ only known remark about Suzuki or the Suzuki method comes as a single line derogatory sentence in his own biography. He and his wife Marta never used the Suzuki Method in the 1960s or 70s in their own string music school in Puerto Rico. We believe that this was a fraudulent action with all of the evidence pointing in one direction. This was clearly designed to invent and trump up a major endorsement by an iconic string player so Suzuki could better sell his teaching materials to the West.

The Albert Einstein letter claimed by the Suzuki Association as proof of some kind of mentoring relationship, one that Suzuki claims is proof that the great physicist looked after him as a young man, is also discussed in the blogs and researched thoroughly. The marketing of a young violinist from Japan being mentored by the great physicist, having discussions about music, science and other intellectual topics on an ongoing basis is absurd by the fact that Suzuki and by his own admission could barely speak German or English when he visited Berlin in the 1920s. And to think that Einstein would not select a young person well versed in the sciences to mentor instead? The only correspondence we can find and the only one that Suzuki Association offers is addressed to the father Suzuki. The note thanks him for the gift of a violin from his factory and acknowledges that the two Suzuki sons (one of them being Shinichi) delivered the instrument and helped him choose which one of the four they brought for him to keep. There is not a single word or hint at a mentoring relationship with Shinichi Suzuki or any relationship with him whatsoever. There is no document that Suzuki Association has provided to claim any other scenario than what we have found, or they would have come forward with it by now certainly. Albert Einstein’s records are claimed to be complete as well, with all correspondence by Einstein preserved in the Einstein archives. There is no letter to Shinichi Suzuki in the nearly 30 years after their purported mentor-protégé relationship.

[SA] The allegations have no factual base and can only be interpreted as an attempt by Mr. O’Connor to manipulate the media.

[MOC] We believe the media cannot be manipulated by a single musician. The media is obviously free to investigate the information provide in my blogs themselves. NPR’s Weekend Edition spoke with me today in fact. The national radio show with millions of listeners has taken a look at the evidence and believes it rises to a substantial level, and enough to put in the news. I doubt that NPR would ever believe they were manipulated on a story that contains photo documents of the actual failed 24 year-old Suzuki audition protocol from the Berlin Hochshule along with Klingler’s signature attached to it. Putting all of these things together not only suggests fraud, but a pattern of fraud carried out as cleverly as possible, only to be perpetuated by his corporation ongoing and for decades with each biography they reprint of the same faulty information. So the truth never comes out? His Suzuki Association that he leaves behind refers to people who investigate information and documents in order to find the truth, character assassins? We live in a free society where research and the truth is necessary to discover and write about. It is especially so when it adversely affects many children and families potentially to this very day, and especially so if it adversely affects the health and position of the violin as an instrument in our culture.

[SA] Shinichi Suzuki had violin lessons with the prominent German violinist Karl Klingler in Berlin in the 1920’s. Klingler’s daughter, Marianne Klingler, was a strong supporter of Suzuki’s teaching principles and became the first chairperson of the European Suzuki Association. Ms. Klingler confirmed many times that Suzuki had indeed studied with her father.

[MOC] A couple of researchers provided clarification on this point to us and it is contained in one of my articles on the ‘Parting Shots’ blog. Karl Klingler died in 1971, supposedly more than 40 years since their final unsupported lessons together in 1928 without so much as a single letter of correspondence, photograph or documented visit in all of those decades. After Klingler’s death, Suzuki contacted the daughter Marianne Klingler, befriending her, and offering her a job to run a Suzuki branch of his association in Germany. As much as we can discern, Suzuki told Marianne of their alleged teacher/student relationship, she did not know that information from her father. By 1928, the time of Suzuki’s departure from Berlin, Marianne was between 4 and 6 years old we understand. Suspiciously, there was no contact between Marianne and Suzuki until after her father died in his 90s, never caring to visit or be in touch with his “beloved” teacher. Suzuki was jet-setting around the world in the 1960s, and could have dropped in to see his old “teacher” in Germany, or at least send a letter, and receive one back.


[SA] Many honorary doctorates and awards were bestowed upon Shinichi Suzuki during his lifetime. Some of these include:
Honorary Doctor of Music, New England Conservatory of Music (1966)
Honorary Doctor of Music, University of Louisville (1967)
Ysaye Award from Eugene Ysaye Foundatiion (1969)
Order of the Rising Sun, Third Class (circa 1970)
Honorary Doctor of Music, University of Rochester E
astman School of Music (1972)
6th Moil Music Award from Japan (1976)
Honorary Distinguished Professor, North East Louisiana University (1982)
PALMES ACADEIQUES from France (1982)
Japan Foundation Award (1983)
Honorary Doctor of Music, Oberlin College Conservatory of Music (1984)
Bundesverdienstkreuz 1.Klasse from West Germany (1985)
Venezia Award from Italy's Venezia Award Society (1985)
Honorary Doctor of Music, Cleveland Institute of Music (1990)
Honorary Doctor of Music, University of St. Andrews=, Scotland (1990)
Nobel Peace Prize Nominee (1993)
How a person uses honorary doctorates (Dr. or Dr. h.c.) follows different traditions in different parts of the world. (In Japan, Shinichi Suzuki was referred to as “Suzuki-sensei.”)

[MOC] This brings to light a couple of remarkable things; how much Suzuki capitalized on by inventing his bio, credentials and pedigrees to even be considered and nominated for so many distinguished awards; It also shines a light on the fact that he was not a PhD because that item is not mentioned in this list. Therefore he should not have been addressed in violin academic circles as “Dr. Suzuki” in the United States. Suzuki’s claim of “eight years of violin lessons with Professor Klingler” sets the stage for claiming a PhD and the designation of “Dr. Suzuki.” To think that Suzuki felt good about having actual PhDs refer to him as “Doctor,” can be left to your own judgment. I am sure a lot of people reading this has met a PhD scholar or knows one, and recognizes how hard they worked to achieve such a distinction. I myself have been bestowed the honorary doctorate degree, but would not wish for fellow professors and colleagues to call me “Dr. O’Connor.” It all plays into this narrative of beefing up credentials to sell his teaching materials to the U.S. Once in through the front door and introductions have been made with prestigious overtures, then they take him seriously. It is classic business fraud.

[SA] Throughout his professional life, Shinichi Suzuki was open to new ideas and development in teaching aimed at improving the learning environment for children studying how to play a musical instrument. He strongly encouraged teachers to develop new ideas and share their ideas with one another. This continues to be central to Suzuki teaching throughout the world, implemented by the many teachers who today apply Suzuki’s teaching principles.

[MOC] Because he had very few ideas of his own. What are the ideas and principles that Suzuki had that were of his own making regarding actual violin lessons? I would argue that they are the parts of his method that work the least. Such as; having “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” be the first tune, which is too difficult for a first tune, and then have the student repeat it until it is memorized, playing it without a mistake before moving on. Or the parent taking the lesson on violin along with the student. An all unison group class of the same lesson repertoire for some 5 or 6 years hence... Such as leaving out American music, improvisation, creativity, ensemble playing with harmony, counterpoint and rhythm, singing. The exclusive use of mostly baroque era music, never getting past the year 1850, memorization-ear-training, and not reading music early enough. These are Suzuki’s ideas. The occasional great teaching comes from great teachers. A good teacher can teach from most any material… so of course Suzuki wanted the best teachers and their ideas. They made him look better while taking the credit evidently.

[SA] One can only speculate as to why Mr. O’Connor, who publishes and sells his own approach to violin playing, is so eager to discredit Shinichi Suzuki and why he has chosen to manipulate media at this time. These may be questions for serious journalists to work on further.

[MOC] I think it is perfectly legitimate to be a critic of something and also be published at the same time. Most experts and critics have books of their own they are selling in most all fields of endeavor. What expert in any field does not have some articles printed or materials published? Having this kind of experience gives us the knowledge to be critical of something that does not work well, and be able to ascertain it and illustrate it.

In the end, however, it is not what Shinichi Suzuki did or did not do in the 1920s that is of importance. The important issue is the successful use of his teaching principles which have enriched the lives of students and impacted music pedagogy worldwide for the past 70 years.

[MOC] May we represent then, the many, many string students who dropped out because of Suzuki style teaching? The hundreds of thousands who quit the violin or even hate the violin because of the way they learned the instrument through the Suzuki Method and Talent Education. The term “violin lesson” has become a negative term in the last 50 years whereas 50 to a 100 years ago the violin was revered as a great instrument in both classical and pop culture. As Suzuki describes it in his own writing, he was self-taught at age 18. The same kinds of drills, repetition until it’s note perfect, memorization-ear-training all with a narrow body of repertoire from the 1700s may have worked better for an 18 year-old, than it does for students at the tender ages of 3 to 12. But did it even work for himself? We believe it is the lesson plans established by Shinchi Suzuki, who was not a professional soloist, recording artist, orchestra musician or a good player.

We are witnessing an era of classical violin playing over the last 50 years that has contained the least amount of creativity, new literature being performed or even technical development in the history of the violin. I have been a director of 40 string camps in 20 years seeing 7,000 unique enrollments, in addition to all of the many students I see in class settings across the country. I have an experienced perspective as an expert and leader in string music culture on these subjects that should not be slandered by the Suzuki Association who appears to be a company providing violin lessons through corporate power, bullying and intimidation. A win at all costs and eliminate the competition approach that we are tiring of. What’s next? Suzuki Jazz Tunes, Suzuki Rock and Roll, Bluegrass instrumentals by Shinichi Suzuki? Suzuki did not include any American music in his method, because he disliked it. He didn’t know how to play it. But of course one could also say that he did not know that much about Classical violin playing either. One has to ask the question - how in the heck did we get here?

-Mark O’Connor

A letter by Dean Seabrook on this subject that is worth reading:
“It matters because the whole system, no matter what its intrinsic value is, was created upon a fraud. Several decades ago, Suzuki bolstered the value of his system by citing connections and depth of connections that didn't exist. If someone wears military decorations they haven't earned, it's a federal crime. Professors or administrators in higher education who claim false credentials are fired or forced to resign. If someone tried to start a technology business 20 years ago and as part of the pitch said they had been endorsed by Bill Gates and Steve Jobs (but hadn't been), a part of any success of the resultant business would have been built on a lie.
One of the core tenets of Suzuki's philosophy is "I want to make good citizens." How is making money on a lie being a good citizen?
Whether the Suzuki Method works, and how well, and whatever advantages and disadvantages the system has, is a separate conversation. The Suzuki Association, either by strategy or by being duped by the founder, has promulgated the connections that Suzuki himself used to validate his method: he studied with Klinger, he was a close friend and ward of Einstein, Pablo Casals "wept" at the beauty of young Suzuki players (Casals' wife has refuted this). Without these incredible bona fides -- you're talking about some of the most revered and admired people of the 20th century -- what you're left with is a guy who doesn't play the violin well at all, and his family makes violins. He built his business upon a fraud.” -Dean Seabrook

An interesting and important glimpse of life in a rather bizarre cult of personality, by Peter Daley, November 1, 2014

Review: Memories of Dr Shinichi Suzuki: Son of His Environment (Kindle Edition)

"I loved it, but perhaps not for the reasons intended by the author. The book reads like a series of random Monty Python sketches that do nothing to dispel Mark O'Connor's allegations that Suzuki was a complete fraud, rather they support it. The book is full of so many facepalm moments, I really don't know where to begin.

I guess his magical ability to heal - which is later forgotten when he himself is injured in his twilight years - and his ability to hold white hot metal
(white hot steel is 1,200 degrees Celsius) are worth mentioning right away. Regarding his teaching, what emerges is a picture of a bumbling mentally ill person surrounded by indoctrinated followers. If that was the author's intent, then she has succeeded brilliantly. Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

"His ever caring, devoted wife understood Shinichi Suzuki’s simplicity as well as his brilliance. Since there was no room in his thinking for the ordinary things of life, Waltraud dealt with all those. ‘Ach, that man, Suzuki!’ she laughed, fondly. ‘Every morning he asks where is the orange juice. And every morning I say the orange juice is in the refrigerator where always is the orange juice. Ach! That man!’"

"As he listened to Monday concert items (or indeed to some performances in his teaching studio), Suzuki often appeared to fall asleep but was immediately alert when the kenkyūsei stopped playing. I asked him once how he kept going through his long hours of teaching. ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘When a student plays, I decide in the first two minutes what I’m going to teach and then I sleep till he finishes."

"In Matsumoto, in the middle of his teaching, our master would leave his studio and we’d all wait till he returned from watching a sumo contest on TV. He loved watching those huge men wrestling. I was amused at that. They were such a contrast to his small frame."

"It was an expensive lesson; one paid for a month’s tuition whether there for a month or just a day."

"Dr and Mrs Suzuki visited my students at the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind (RVIB) School. Dr Suzuki happily posed with a nearly blind, partially deaf child with severe learning difficulties but he complained about her bow-hold after she played."

"Waltraud (Suzuki's wife) lived all her married life in a cigarette smoke filled home (the 50-60 Camel cigarettes per day). ‘Ach, that man,’ she said. ‘He kills me with his cigarettes.’ Mrs Suzuki eventually died of emphysema in 2000. Dr Suzuki told us that when he was young he saw a picture of the world’s oldest man. It was a Russian with a cigarette in his hand, so Suzuki determined that to attain a long life he too must smoke. It must have worked; he passed away in his 100th year."
Well it didn't work for his wife.

Please read it for yourself. It's an important cautionary tale of how cults of personality permeate our society and how your level of education is not always a defense against those that practice the dark arts of deception and nut jobbery to enrich themselves." -Peter Daley