Follow by Email

Thursday, May 24, 2012

SUZUKI HAS GONE FIDDLIN'


My method for string playing, the O’Connor Method, is distinguished from the Suzuki Method in a couple key ways: It uses American repertoire (folk songs, classics, blues, jazz, spirituals, ragtime, American classical, fiddling etc…), and it encourages students to develop creativity and learn how to improvise while they acquire technique. Over the last couple years, it has generated quite the debate in the Suzuki world, as you can imagine.

Naturally, I was taken aback when I read the latest issue of the American Suzuki Journal.

In an article entitled “Suzuki and Fiddling – A Natural Combination”, Amy Matherly explains that fiddling reinforces “technique, builds rhythmic skills, and expands knowledge of music theory.” She proceeds to mention three of the foundational pieces in my ‘O’Connor Method’ (though she does not reference me). “‘Boil Them Cabbage’ works well after the Twinkle Variations have been learned…‘Old Joe Clark’ is a good tune to introduce before, or along with, Etude,” she writes. Moreover, she believes Book II students should love the tune “Devil’s Dream” (which I rename “Fiddler’s Dream” in my Method).

Hold on a second.

Unlike the pieces in the Suzuki Method books, “Boil ‘em Cabbage Down”, “Old Joe Clark”, and “Fiddler’s [Devil’s] Dream” are not tunes one learns just note for note. Like many other foundational American fiddle tunes, they can have countless variations, and it is part of fiddling tradition to encourage students to combine elements of these variations in different ways each time they play them. In other words, students are encouraged to make these tunes their own.

Matherly’s article is both ironic and telling because, in the last half-century, the prevalence of player-composers, improvisers, arrangers, and bandleaders – the types of creative musicians that my Method aims to develop – among classical violinists has been weak. After conducting considerable research, teaching and speaking with thousands of students and professionals, I have come to attribute this unfortunate circumstance to the ubiquity of the Suzuki Method itself being the most dominant method for learning strings by far, and which is focused intently on technical development for violin pedagogy, not on creative development.

Take Shin’ichi Suzuki’s historic visit to the American Suzuki Institute in Stevens Point, WI in 1976, for instance. There, Suzuki delivered a series of lectures and demonstrations, all of which were filmed. Here is a list of the main topics he covered:

  1. Bowing techniques
  2. Changing strings
  3. Finger flexibility and thumb power
  4. Musical tempo
  5. Posture and left hand techniques
  6. Tonalization
  7. Tone
  8. Vertical power
  9. Posture and bowing techniques
  10. Basic skills and concepts of teaching violin
  11. The mother tongue method
  12. Tonalization and bowing techniques
  13. Tonalization, tempo training

I’ve reviewed the films. There is no discussion anywhere of creativity, improvisation, composition, or arranging music. No inclusion of American music. (The “mother tongue method” is about learning by listening and imitating, not about being creative). If you adhered to all of Shin’ichi Suzuki’s advice as you learn “Old Joe Clark”, you’d still be a long way from truly learning it.

Now that my Method has attained a higher level of visibility in the last couple of years, is Suzuki beginning to realize the importance of some of the concepts from my Method; “American music” and “creativity?” Is Matherly an anomaly at the American Suzuki Journal, or is my perspective on string education really beginning to penetrate the circles of staunch Suzuki advocates?

The well-known string trio Time For Three is an interesting ensemble with regards to these questions. In the same issue of the American Suzuki Journal, the cover story is on Nick Kendall, one of Time For Three’s founding members. (Nick was a member of the chamber orchestra that toured with me across the country as I performed my American Seasons concerto. He (and the other two musicians) modeled Time For Three on my Appalachia Waltz Trio with Yo-Yo Ma and Edgar Meyer, and about a decade ago, I spent roughly 10 hours with him and the other members of the group, advising them on how to emulate my career, per their request. He and one other member of the trio also taught at my String Camp around that same time.) In the recent interview, Nick starts off by setting the stage, so to speak, for a change in the way classical violin is taught:

“I think over the last ten years, at least in the classical music world, there's been a kind of a major shift in attitude. I think especially because of the rich American heritage music that we have….improvising was a part of what I loved to do as a kid – playing in bands and all these varying forms of musical expression. So, when we were at Curtis, it was still a very new thing...even though there was an awareness of it as a tradition, we didn't know exactly how that all fit in…we've actually seen how a couple…students who were avid fiddlers in their small towns are now getting into Curtis as classical musicians, but started as fiddlers. So, it's a shift, and a very steady one.” –Nick Kendall

But then:

“I was very good with my ear always, and so obviously the Suzuki method just completely enhanced my inner creativity and provoked me to think outside the box…It's the fact that through the Suzuki Method and through the philosophy Suzuki had, it's okay to have fun while playing – in fact, it's a must, it's encouraged, is the sole reason why Time for Three plays, it's the sole reason why we're able to communicate with such abroad audience, most of which don't go to classical music concerts, and why we are able to do such creative programs.” –Nick Kendall

Nick’s creativity was sparked by Suzuki? In all the Suzuki classes and lectures on film, thinking outside the box creativity and improvisation has never been a matter of concern. There are a lot of influences from American music in Nick’s Time For Three string trio.

Nick’s experience does not seem to align with that of Zachary DePue, the other violinist in Time For Three. Here is an excerpt from a 2007 interview he held with Violinist.com:

Caeli [interviewer]: Did all four of you [DePue brothers] share a teacher?

Zach: No, our dad was very careful to pick the right teacher personality for each boy. I started out in the Suzuki studio of Grace Baker. Then after a year I moved to the private studio of Vasile Beluska, a professor at Bowling Green State who's originally from Romania.

Caeli: You four were all trained in the classical tradition. When did you get into fiddling?

Zach: Immediately.

If, as Nick claims, Time For Three can attribute their very existence to the Suzuki Method, then I would be curious to know why Zach lasted just a year with the Suzuki Method at age 5.

Zach’s brother, Alex – an accomplished violinist who also improvises, composes/arranges, and leads ensembles in his own right – has more to say on the matter. In an email exchange dated May 11, 2012, he wrote:

"My teacher did use the Suzuki MATERIAL but he was such a GREAT teacher that the Suzuki “method”, as we know it, was ignored for the most part…I began private lessons at age five and was never involved with anything like Suzuki master-class-ish situations.  If you're building robots, I'm sure that “method” works just fine. As a matter of fact, we already know it works…but no, not for me…I'll never forget that feeling of “graduation” when I began to work on the Bach A minor and moved away from the Suzuki material." -Alex DePue

I’d like to call this a bit of a conundrum. Closely associated musicians with analogous careers have such disparate perspectives on the creativity inherent in the Suzuki Method. It is apparent though, that the latest Suzuki Journal issue indicates they are now ready to embrace the very principles and concepts I have been talking about the last three years to teachers, students, schools and the press regarding the contents of the O’Connor Method. As one representative of a major retailer carrying the Suzuki Method wrote to me after reading the new articles in their Journal, “It’s extremely interesting and quite amazing…they can’t ignore your teachings. Sort of an ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ approach.”

Your thoughts?

-Mark O’Connor

77 comments:

  1. Learned Classical starting with Suzuki, but was getting tired of the violin... it was sooo boring.... it was only after I started class with a fiddle teacher and went to Strawberry for the first time, I realized there was another way. I found a classical teacher in town with the same freedom in his approach, Gilles Apap, and my love for classical came back.

    Currently live in Japan, where Suzuki method is not that famous, strangly enough. But the fact that I learned great skill while never having touched the great classics (i learned a fair ammount of Gypsy and romantic music where my interest lied) Is a mystery to the violinists here... they can't believe I can make such a huge powerful sound and not know certain "standard" classical tunes.
    I'm mainly a Jazz player now, but learning the music from your new nashville cats album helped me focus my ear in a way that no suzuki book could.. and of course Gilles allowed for that to blossom. I only wish there was an Oconnor method back then :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Peter, that is an incredible story...but...the nature of your story I think could become increasingly familiar to more and more students. Yours is really a great American music story of learning how to play, and succeeding. All my best to you. Can't wait to come back to Japan for a concert one of these days. My tour there was my first trip abroad at age 16! (1978). MOC

    ReplyDelete
  3. Your story about Nick Kendall underscores the reality that as individuals we have doors opened to us in different ways. I would echo Marks sentiment that not many people have the words “creativity” or “improvise” in mind when they think of the Suzuki method. So it would seem the natural progression to have someone (Mark) peel back the layers of the old way and see a better way to arrive at the goal. Nicely done sir.

    I’m pretty sure as time goes on; others will pick up on the O’Connor Method and tweak it to be “better”. And it just might be Mark that already has some ideas or will see new ideas for how to improve a Method that is already proven (it's in the entrepreneurial gene code to do so). It’s not unusual for one human to see a nuance in someone else’s process, and find a way to make it easier, clearer, more efficient, or just plan better.

    The global issue is; can we as individuals learn to be flexible inside an institution (Suzuki) that has previously been viewed as ridged? The O’Connor Method recognizes that flexibility not only has its place, but also has intrinsic value to the student. If that flexibility helps the student keep at it and develops a drive to become better, who can argue with the result?

    Learning that there is more than one way to arrive at the goal can be a life changing experience for some. Learning how to take a song and make it your own is priceless. Song after song after…

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wonderful words, and thanks for sharing them. I really love all the things you have said. I particularly like how you describe arriving at your goal and having more than one way to do it. That is the spirit of my own musical journey (essentially how does a Texas Style fiddle tune arrive on Yo-Yo Ma's cello), but even Nick in the article describes how "fiddlers" are getting into Curtis right now! It is an exciting time for American Classical music. Maybe we will have a real shot at it now, and make Gershwin proud!

      Delete
    2. I would very much like to see our musically minded populace jump in nationally on the subject. The fact that traditionally classical learning institutions may be taking the blinders off and considering other genre's of music is truly huge.

      Our hats are off to you for opening minds by presenting them with a credible option to the norm. With a unified voice, we the musical minded people might be able to finally show the stodgy minded ones that music has something nothing else does; a clear path to intelligence, enlightenment and a darn good time.

      I contribute the best I can by providing beginning players with a good way to learn the note locations on the fingerboard. It's a small thing, but from the feedback I get it seems to really help people. And I guess that's what it's all about in the end, helping each other know the gift of playing music.

      Thanks for the inspiration to keep up the good fight. Your breaking barriers with non-traditional methods gives me energy to take my efforts forward.

      Steve Ravagni

      Delete
    3. Thank you Steve! And thank for what you are doing as well! The strings are the most beautiful instruments, and they have fallen behind in relevance to our culture. We all can turn this around now... We are doing it. And orchestra, string orchestra is picking up and still an untapped opportunity to save "orchestra" in schools. My string orchestra composing and Method Companion Books will be key in my efforts here!

      Delete
  4. Mark, let me first say that I would love to get my hands on this article. Although I have heard of supplemental materials (such as fiddle tunes) being introduced to students through the Suzuki method, this article is clearly a testament to your influence in the string teaching world, even if Suzuki won't credit you with it! ;) Kudos on your efforts!

    I, like many, also began studying violin through the Suzuki method. Eventually "graduating" from the Suzuki material and more recently becoming an avid supporter of the O'Connor method, I clearly see the limitations of a purely Suzuki method way of teaching. However, I will nevertheless be the first to acknowledge that both sides of the spectrum do have their benefits.

    Therefore, as a teacher, I strive for a hybrid of the two. The "American" music and creativity-oriented approach of the O'Connor method coupled with the classical materials and structure-oriented approach of the Suzuki method, in my opinion, expose a student to a wider range of music making, creating a diverse musician with a very comprehensive skill set.

    Though it's often difficult ignore the inherent "competition," I really don't believe it's about one method "beating" the other. I think that the most advantageous approach for the future of string playing (and in many other cases as well) is to put labels aside and to fully embrace the best of both worlds. As said by Henry Ford, if everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hear you, and I do not doubt that your approach will be an approach that many teachers will take. But I am an advocate for using one or the other for several reasons. Both Suzuki and his research/consultants spent countless years sequencing perfectly a Suzuki series. I have done the same with the American series... There is perhaps the most important aspect of it all; the "transition" from one tune to the next. This is so carefully designed in my American Method. I have always known that there was a way to connect the dots. It took me decades to develop this concept of learning, 20 years at my camps, thousands of students... (how hoedown transitions to ragtime, how spirituals transition into blues etc. etc... A sequence that quite literally is a method for learning to play using American music. My design is that a student will be playing so well by the time they are out of Book III, they can basically begin to call their own shots...more classical or more fiddling, orchestra, country or rock music...where ever their tastes take them now that they can play so well. The sky's is the limit to that student... that is the goal of the O'Connor Method. Have you been to any or our teacher trainings? We actually have one this very weekend in PA! Thank you so much for using my Method. It is a privilege and an honor to know that!

      Delete
  5. Hey Mark - I'm a huge fan, and although I didn't study your method, I have followed your career for many years and admire the crossover violinist that you are and consider myself to be on a similar path of interests.

    I grew up very actively in the Suzuki tradition. From age 3 until 18 I was the typical Suzuki kid. I had great ears and an older sister who played as well, so I learned all of the rep by listening to her practicing and/or listening to the tapes (showing my age! :), as all Suzuki students are recommended to do. Reading finally clicked for me when I joined a local youth orchestra (outside of Suzuki), because I no longer had tapes to learn the music with. I actually had to sight read!

    I am a huge believer in the language learning method that Suzuki teaches, however I totally agree with you on the point about the lack of creativity and improvisation that the Suzuki method allows for. I was always passionate about music and performing (I'm also a singer), but I was not overly passionate about playing violin. I was a creative kid, but when I look back I see how none of that was really nurtured until I quit violin at age 18 and pursued a career as a musical theatre singer/actor and was involved in some bands.

    Upon discovering this creative voice for the first time (on my own initiative), I decided that it was in fact music and not theatre that I wanted to pursue, and enrolled in a university program that allowed me to explore jazz violin, gospel music, improvisation and fiddling. I finally had broken out of the classical idiom and it was so freeing to me.

    It wasn't until these years that I realized that being a professional violinist didn't have to mean that I was limited to playing classical music. I remember being in my Jazz Theory 101 class in university and realizing just how little I knew about music after 18 years of studying the Suzuki method. Although I am a huge fan of Suzuki, and do still highly recommend it, I also now believe that it is important for every musician to "get off the page" at some point in their training and be given the space to create and play where there are no rules. Luckily for me, I had another instrument to play around with (voice), which opened my eyes to the broader scope of opportunities that were around me.

    I now work as a freelance fiddle/mandolin player and background vocalist in the music industry and it has been the most freeing experience to get to do what I love, and to use my classical foundation as a launchpad for something more. I needed to quit Suzuki to realize that I loved music, but I also needed to walk away from Suzuki to realize that music is so much more than what Suzuki has to offer. - A

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow...your letter is amazing. Gave me goosebumps... What can I say, yours is a true American musician story that reminds me of mine in the way that you had to reinvent the wheel, just to find the wheel you thought you had in the first place. There is something about American music that is just completely inspirational to be a part of. The young students feel that. When I did the O'Connor Method play-down at Turtle Bay school last week, during the interval for the silent auction, all of these beautiful little kids were sitting on the stage floor, but they were not clowning around or poking each other--they were playing and practicing the method tunes over and over again with the biggest smiles...It was, well... it would be a lie to say that some tears did not come and I had to fight them off... Thank you!

      Delete
    2. Well.....I'm actually Canadian :) But yes, there is something about American music (as a genre) that is inspiring to be a part of. I don't know if it's because it's less structured, or if there's just more focus on creativity and authenticity versus being "right" or having "good technique". But I'm very happy to have had my eyes opened to what other kinds of music violinists can play, and that we aren't limited to one genre. But I'm also very grateful that I can do both - read music as well as improvise. A well-rounded skill set in the competitive world of freelancing :) If you're interested, you can check out more of my work here: http://goo.gl/vZweP

      Delete
  6. Mark-- as a bluegrass musician by trade who had a Classical Music college education, I have been continually frustrated by the lack of creativity and composition in the classical music education of violinists and pianists. I've played with excellent classical violinists who claimed they could improvise, and really couldn't do anything like what I was used to in the bluegrass world. I would love to see classical students be taught to improvise/compose cadenza's, learn to make changes, and write or improvise in the style of the composers they are playing (who could improvise). When the teachers can do it, though, the students will do more of it. Andy Hatfield

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, a point I make exactly. Bluegrass players today have great technique, and more importantly the ability to acquire more if they want to... and they have the creative wave. So there is a lot that can be done here. I know personally many "fiddlers" who grew up fiddling who are in professional orchestras now. So turned around, American music education has a lot of branches and it means that you can still acquire your technical skills, but the creative aspects will take you places you never knew about!

      Delete
  7. I learned how to play violin under a Suzuki teacher who has since decided to teach in her own way. I do have to say that I did enjoy playing, but I am very sure that it was because of the teacher....not the method/books. In fact, I studied music in college and now I teach violin, but I am not a Suzuki teacher and do not plan to be. I do, very much, like your new method books and hope to come to teaher training some year soon.

    I am very interested to see how to encourage students to be more creative. I will definitely admit that I have a hard time thinking off the printed sheet music page. I want to learn how to jam and think outside of the box. Suzuki did not teach me this at all, and I have always wanted to learn more :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, my Method concept makes the "jam session" the final component to ensemble training. My Method concept includes solo, group, orchestra and jam session...being the final and necessary piece of a complete program for children learning music in America. The combination of these environments I feel will make the complete musician, the creative musician, the string player for the 21st century!

      Delete
  8. Here's another anecdote for you. My son has been taking Suzuki for 4 years. I would say the teacher is everything. When I approached our first teacher about trying the first Mark O'Connor book, he was more than game-- when my son played the simplified Appalachian Waltz, this teacher played the O'Connor/Ma/Meyer version from memory right along with him as a duet. It was awesome! Unfortunately we lost this teacher, and the new one took one look at the O'Connor book, and said, "well, you could use this book for sight-reading." After two years of this teacher's uber-emphasis on technique, I am sorry to say that my son hates violin. His skills have improved, there's no doubt of that, but all the joy is gone. We have decided not to continue with this teacher or with the Suzuki method. Whether I can salvage any further desire to play the violin for my son after this experience remains to be seen. Right now our plan is to work through the O'Connor book 2 over the summer at our own pace.

    On a related note, my daughter takes Suzuki piano from a teacher who does a hybrid method of some Suzuki method, some early-learning-to-read music books, and some "fun" books such as Christmas songs or movie theme music, etc. She is a fantastic teacher, I love her hybrid method, and I hope we can continue with her for many years to come.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Michelle, this is such a sad story, and if only the teacher would have just taught out of my method and kept it going... oh my. So sorry. We just have to get the word out that American music is going to work so well for so many. Not that the other won't, but we have to be flexible enough to know all options for kids. We should not be in a my way or the highway kind of environment with children's music education. Thanks for sharing this. (piano is automatically a safer bet with Suzuki because the children can play and enjoy harmony. The violin at the beginning stages is absent of that... so other things need to come into the picture!)

      Delete
  9. What was commonly thought as a 'make it up as you go' method of learning American music, is actually a bit of a misnomer. While many Suzuki violin students wondered why they missed something in their training... it is very rare to find the American musician who feels like they missed out on something they really wanted. It is so interesting like that. Sure everyone of them can't play Paganini Caprices, but here is the funny part, most classical violinists can't either - at least not good enough for a stage performance. So all of the memos were out of order and music kids will be the first recipients of a new and more inviting culture into their musical creativity. Please come to one of my camps this summer! Boston or Charleston!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Well, I raised two kids in the Suzuki method, one on piano and one on cello.
    I only wish I had two more to raise, and I'd use your method (on violin) and let you know how it came out...-sp

    ReplyDelete
  11. Mark, Your drive to promote open creative music education for all people but esp. for the next generation of musicians is so refreshing. Thank you too for your love of the fiddle, Americana genres, respect for where our music came from and your open spirit towards all music. I have followed you and your work ever since I heard you speak about fiddling on public radio.
    All you wrote concerning the rigidity of "classical" form of music education and others testimony on this blog of how they were bored/quit the violin rings true for me. That rigid mindset was in all of my teachers when I first learned the violin. I also was discouraged from that "classical" mind set I did not pursue the violin when I went to college.
    But I always LOVED the instrument so took up the violin again after 18 years of not playing. Again there still was a such a harsh rigid voice inside from my former style of instruction that plagued me. It was very difficult to enjoy playing.
    When I came to your String Camp in 2006 my eyes, ears and heart was opened so wide to all styles of music/fiddling. The teachers at String Camp were so open and of such a different mindset than I ever experienced. It set me free inside as a musician. I play my fiddle at home, church, with a community fiddle group and at jams. From time to time I have been asked to improvise. That never would that have happened if I did not come to your camp.
    Sincerely

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hey there Mark, I'd like to through a wrench in the mix, if you'll permit. ;-)

    A little background first: I have been playing violin for 20 years now (eek!) and started with Suzuki at the "old" age of 9. 10 years later, I took Book 1 teacher training and learned about the method I grew up with. The Suzuki method was created to support his radical notion that talent *can* be educated and every child can play well. Prior to Suzuki (and still quite a bit today), children who showed some indications of musical ability were groomed to become musicians and others were turned away because they did not show any particular talent. Note that I only mention children since that was his original audience. Adults are a much different matter, in my opinion.

    I'd like to think of Suzuki as a valid stepping stone in the evolution of teaching all young children. I expect your method takes the evolution one step further, teaching creative techniques and introducing other genres.

    Somehow, I managed to find my own way out of the mainstream Suzuki repertoire. At age 12, my mom started Irish dancing and being the good little Suzuki student that I was, I listened to her dance tape over and over until I learned a tune. My Suzuki teacher was very supportive of me striking out on my own and discovering this new genre for myself. As I listened to more tunes, I discovered that sometimes the same tune would show up on different recordings and they would sound mostly the same, but different in places. I concluded that people had different versions and you had every right to take what you liked from one and make it your own.

    I appreciate the skills I learned in Suzuki, but the method did not teach what I learned on my own about fiddle music. Luckily, you sparked this conversation in the Suzuki world, which may improve the situation.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One of the "lucky" aspects of the O'Connor Method, is that while it appears revolutionary to classical pedagogues...it's not at all like the experiments of this last century where people were attempting to discover something new, even attempting radical concepts to aid social transformation. Mine is based on a centuries old American system featuring music and ways to learn that have been tried and tested, not just through the era of WWII, but through all wars and times of struggle for hundreds of years in America. Perhaps I am a change agent in this matter, but it is only through the ideas that have been in the field for a very long time that I am then.. Creativity is not a new concept in music, it has been the backbone of our musicians in America for 400 years. Without it, we may not have succeeded. Just before he died, John Kendall was able to review my Method Book I and II, and told his son to tell me that he was greatly impressed. I will always treasure that.

      Delete
  13. My daughter started on the Suzuki method at 3yo. When she was 4yo, I took her to a local concert featuring Irish fiddler Kevin Burke so she could experience a different kind of "violin music." She fell in love with Irish music and begged me to buy his instructional DVD even though the lady selling the DVD told her she was too young for it. I placed the DVD in the played at home the next morning and she started learning Irish tunes from it. Her musical ear and ability to discern details, both either developed or at least enhanced by her Suzuki training, gave her the ability to learn the tunes on her own.

    Not long after, we went to a Suzuki institute in DC and she was fiddling around while waiting for class to begin. Another Suzuki kid came in and said she knew the tune so the girls played it together and the mother of the other child told me her daughter's Suzuki teacher taught fiddle tunes once a month or so to their group class.

    That conversation got me thinking that maybe fiddle music and Suzuki were not completely opposed to one another so I found my daughter a fiddle teacher, who happened to be the woman who tried to talk her out of that DVD, and she began to learn Irish music while continuing her Suzuki studies. At 6yo my daughter won her first MidAtlantic Regional Fleadh Under 12 Irish Fiddle championship and went to compete in Ireland at the All Ireland. She currently studies fiddle with Brian Conway and at 9 years old, will be headed to the All Ireland for her 4th year in August. She is just as happy fiddling on stage with The Chieftains as she is sitting in a pub with the "guys" at a session. She is great at coming up with variations to make the tunes her own and also enjoys creating her own fiddle tunes.

    At the same time, she has continued her Suzuki training, as have many of her fiddling friends also regional place winners in Irish fiddle in various age groups, and can play Meditation from Thais or Praeludium and Allegro just as beautifully as she fiddles.

    I don't agree with your premise that Suzuki creates robotic playing children. Her Suzuki training has been very important to her fiddling by developing her technical skills on her instrument. She has learned a lot from her fiddling so who knows "which came first" when it comes to a lot of her abilities. I have met many Suzuki teachers over the years, way before your method came out, who include different fiddle tunes in their students' repertoire either methodically or as a treat. Maybe your method does what both the Suzuki plus fiddle lessons has done for my daughter. If so, than I commend you for putting it all together in that way.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I did not write the "robotic playing children" that you say I did. Please read the blog again. I did not write that at all. A former Suzuki student wrote something similar to that as his own view, but that was not my view in the blog. If you could read it again and make that correction please. I say and write a lot, but I want to make sure that people are not attributing the wrong quotes to me. You are referencing someone else who is quoted in the blog.

      There are a lot of people, including some of the folks who are quoted in the blog who learned fiddling like your child alongside of Suzuki - obviously this is not new, and unique. Did you read that part of the blog, where others were quoted about learning fiddling along with their Suzuki when they were kids?

      I think the main point of the blog has been overlooked by you a bit. And another read through might be clarifying. The central point is not that rogue Suzuki teachers went off script and either allowed fiddling, or taught some fiddle music on the side, the central point is that the official Suzuki Association (who never condoned anything like that before, and actually frowned upon it) is now saying that not only fiddling is a good idea, but creativity and improvisation as well as having fun, thinking outside the box... (basically all my talking points and tenants to my own method) are now a good idea. Let me know if this is what you are getting out of the article. There is a difference between the Suzuki Method and what it is... and a lone Suzuki teacher going off script and teaching fiddle, or even Rock and Roll to his students... Obviously it becomes less about the Suzuki Method at that point, as it is not a part of his teachings nor his books.

      Delete
    2. Sorry, but that is not how I read the article. It sounded more like you were saying that fiddling within the Suzuki world is new and followed your introduction of your method. I admit that often things can be taken not exactly as meant when reading something as opposed to hearing someone speak it. I just happen to know that there are and have been many Suzuki teachers who go "off script" not just lone teachers out there and we have taken fiddling classes at most every summer camp/institute we attended.

      I was also congratulating you for putting both technique development and fiddling together officially in one method.

      Maybe this is the first the Suzuki Association has allowed an article of that sort in their publication. I admit I don't know the whole history of the Suzuki Association. I think the fact that they are changing with the times and culture is wonderful but maybe some of those "rogue teachers" had quite a lot to do with the change as well.

      Delete
    3. I am still not sure you understand the blog...which is fine... But please don't be critical of something that you are not registering. The best thing to do is to read again, and then quote anything that you find you have a question or issue about (a sentence or two perhaps) and then quote it here, and ask me to clarify your understanding with it... Let's try that, because I am just not sure you are understanding what I wrote, and I worked very hard to make it very clear, sentence by sentence, the context and general message. Let me know!

      Delete
  14. I grew up in Australia and am now bringing my children up in the UK. I learnt Suzuki violin starting from the point where I was still tone deaf and had fluctuating hearing due to resolving glue ear. No non-Suzuki teacher would have remotely considered teaching me.

    We had a Japanese-trained teacher, and a lot of workshops so we had loads of friends through music and exposure to a variety of inspirational teachers. Our music reading was started through other routes, but we played string orchestra music regularly through Suzuki and supplemented this by many years in youth orchestra. My sister has always been the best sight reader I know.

    Where we were, at any rate, Suzuki teaching has transformed the teaching of violin, including that by "traditional" teachers.

    In the UK I am not seeing the same results and joy from Suzuki teaching and have been trying to understand why not. Rigid technical teaching is not something I associate with Suzuki violin as I was taught - but does seem to be widely characteristic of the method's use over here.

    Just as you comment on the partial use of your method, I think that extensive supplementation of the Suzuki method with additional material actually detracts from its results. Why? Because it slows down the progress of children through a well thought out sequence, and in the end they get bored. I'm seeing teenagers graduating in book 6 and 7, at an age where my sister and I had moved past book 10 and had the confidence and skills to tackle any music we wanted to.

    There is a role for supplementary material but it should remain as a supplement, something done extra, not a delaying tactic!

    The teacher of violin needs to understand the technical skills they seek to develop in their students. But the younger student of violin doesn't need to know WHAT they are doing, they just need to know how to do it, what it feels and sounds like.

    My youngest child is nearly 7 and a wonderfully creative musician. He needs structure and discipline periodically to allow him to achieve his potential; but I'm going to make sure he keeps his spontaneity - he is imitating and improvising all the time without any need to be taught or told to. Not all children will do this but actually I still think that an "authentic" Suzuki-based approach will support children developing the skills to play "anything they want" in that way.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Improvisation is an art form, not just something that a child does running through the house and twirling around the room with their instrument in hand. Improvisation and creative development leads to the ability to be able to play a lot of music on violin and strings that has been left out of current pedagogy. My method also supplies the necessary technical foundation in addition to the creative concepts as a part of the lesson, not something that one may or may not accidentally pick up. This has been the issue, that many people who have studied the violin for 10 years in the Suzuki method, still don't feel comfortable taking a solo in a Rock band or Country band as an example. That is a lot of training, to come to a place where it is still difficult to do something like that. My method combines rigorous technical training with the added training of improvisational studies on each of the tunes as well throughout. The additional histories of the music is also part of the lesson as well as learning chords, hearing harmony etc... A lot of these things have been left out of 20th century methods and I wanted to come forward with an inclusive and holistic violin and strings method that could intersect in the musical environment we know and live in more naturally.

      Delete
  15. The central point of Suzuki is that, through music, children develop sensitivity, discipline and endurance; they get a beautiful heart. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and your method has imitated the best by modeling much after the Suzuki method. The Suzuki method is about being inclusive rather than exclusive and as such, Suzuki students will be even more enriched by your contribution to the repertoire.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Julianna, imitation is too strong a word to apply to my Method. I know that you are complimenting me...but I would rather stick to the facts. The facts are that it is a huge departure from Suzuki. One of the things that one could argue is similar, is learning by a sequence of tunes and learning some by ear. But that is my tradition... the tradition of American music and American fiddling. That is Shin'ichi Suzuki perhaps imitating the folk music learning approach that has been around for thousands of years. So not sure about the imitation. Could you please provide the examples since you make this charge? I realize fully that I have been inspired by Suzuki to create a Method, just like I was inspired by Copland to create my Americana Symphony. But to put forward that I am imitating Suzuki or Copland is too strong of a charge. Please provide some examples of what you mean please?

      Delete
  16. Yes, of course I was inspired by Suzuki's Method to even think about creating one... Just as I was inspired by Copland's American Classical music to even get the idea that I could compose symphonies in an American styles. Certainly the historical icons are to be acknowledged. I have always acknowledged Suzuki the technique based methodology that he features in all of his musical materials and films. All of the other philosophy withstanding, the actual musical content is what I wanted to look at... the repetition, and technical. Philosophically, we have a lot in common. Both believe that every child should play music, and that music makes better and more loving people, more caring people, and better students as well. Establishes good character. I am really wanting to develop the actual pedagogy more to include many other aspects of learning that I think we should be doing. So yes... it goes without saying. Since I brought up Copland... I also did not want to just repeat him... I thought I could actually bring the art of American fiddling, style, language, sound, phrases, techniques, bowing styles, articulation... to the classical orchestral setting. I look at it similarly. Thank you so much!

    ReplyDelete
  17. I am reading the line at the bottom of your blog page - Musicians Should Not Be "Silenced". I totally agree. Of course, listening is another aspect of a musician's life, is it not?

    “It takes two to speak the truth - one to speak and another to hear.”
    ― Henry David Thoreau

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Julianna, I want people to give constructive and productive comments, not pettiness and personal grudge comments. This blog is for the exchange of ideas, not the insulting of family members. There is a line, and that was crossed we felt. Keep it on topic, and let us hear from you! If there is a debate about what I wrote in my blog, let's hear it. We are not going to get anywhere with Suzuki teachers sniping at each other. Maybe that has been part of the problem - the infighting in your circles... American music is about coming together. I think it is time to embrace the best of who we are as a culture... and we can do it with our music, or at least a lot more of it than we have been doing in string circles. And on that measure, the title of my blog is good - Suzuki has gone fiddlin'. Who ever thought that those words would be a title of a blog! I think it is interesting and good in many ways, but I wanted to also point out some irony in it as well, and I have every right to do that. (I have been giving demonstrations at Suzuki camps for decades) If there is anything I wrote that is inaccurate, lets hear it. But the pettiness should stop. If there is criticism, let's have it be constructive, so we can all learn from my blog postings. If one of my teachers wrote a comment filled with inaccuracies, personal pettiness and grudges defending my Method, I will encourage that teacher not to do that as well. Exchange of ideas is what this blog is all about. I did not start a blog for people to be dismissive of family members. Thank you!

      Delete
  18. Hi Everyone! Mark, I'd like to read Marissa Murphy's response as well. I have been teaching violin for 40+ years, first trained for 2 years in Japan with Suzuki in the late 60's, and learning about teaching ever since. What I find is that teachers have to keep learning new things to teach in order to cover everything a musician needs. For example, when I lived in England, I had to really focus on sight reading; here in the States, I not only have to focus on getting the students competent technically (orchestra auditions, competitions, etc.) but most importantly, I have to try to prepare students so that they will WILLINGLY WANT TO CONTINUE PLAYING IN THE FUTURE! This is so hard!!! Mark's method is so perfect for this: the technical training is great, the recordings are superb, and above all, the material is enormously appealing to the students! After a student plays Red Wing, Dill Pickle Rag or Fiddle Boy, there are so many kids who come up and say, "Teach me that one next!" Starting in Book One, the "Ear training and Improvisation" part of the method gives a very comprehensive step-by-step guide to how to improvise---a course in itself! And because American music---which is universal, all over the world, in every corner, believe me-- is so rich, and greatly lacking in our violin repertoire from beginning to advanced, this method is highly welcome! Because I have been doing Suzuki teaching for so long, I have seen its many weaknesses, as you have, Mark, BUT the philosophy---"every child can learn to play, but we, the parents and teachers, must find the way"---lends itself perfectly to everything one would want to teach, European AND American Classical music!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Doree, wonderfully said. Many ask me - what about the great European masterworks - should those not be taught? Of course they should be taught - but young children do not learn European masterworks, unless they are child prodigies, as is the case with Hilary Hahn, Leila Josefowicz, and even the subjects of my blog - the DePue brothers... they were moved out of Suzuki at age 6. There is a time and place to study European masterworks (if that child and family wish to do so) and that is later in a student's development of playing skills. My Method (like Doree states eloquently) is about learning to play. Once you learn to play, and not quit the violin (also as Doree addresses succinctly) which is the greatest issue that plagues Suzuki circles in my opinion, it is only then that the masterworks should be approached. We start them far too early, they are way over the heads of most kids, and the creativity of their own music making gets stomped out in the process, and in most cases never to return. My Method fixes this issue for children.

      I have proven, and Nick's comments in the Suzuki Journal prove out as well, that even "fiddlers" turned classical talents are going be accepted at the Curtis Institute in a few cases. This is a 180 degree paradigm switch and it proves that training as children can be found other ways. The main thing that Shin'ichi Suzuki and I have in common is the philosophy that every child should learn to play music. Where we depart is that I feel that we should keep those children playing music and if they are quitting, we must find other methods to keep them in. This is the principle reason why I have taken 10 years to author a new method with new principles. It is a new era, and our materials have to meet and address the challenges of that new era.

      Thank you for doing what you are doing Doree. You are certainly a leader in teaching, and knew Suzuki himself. This is really not about him or me - if it was, we could examine each of our biographies (which might be an interesting blog in the future - who knows) but this here is about the kids. We must get the children playing and not quitting the violin. If they stay with it, then they have a chance to add to classical music, in new ways that will increase the health of our classical environment. Or they could go into jazz and revitalize that genre since the days of my own teacher Stephane Grappelli. Or even in fiddle music circles, as I see issues cropping up with Suzuki students turning to fiddling, with their "memorized fiddle music" that does little to keep those traditions developing as they always had in the past. We must keep nourishing the music and our musical soul.

      Delete
    2. Hi Doree, I would like to say you are doing a wonderful job. Since the tragic loss of our violin teacher, Jamie Haubner, my son and I have been watching your violin lessons on Youtube. They have been very helpful while we have searched for our new instructor. We will be starting with our new instructor next week.

      Delete
  19. I am 45 years old and grew up in a home filled with the sounds of Country and Bluegrass music. I could not wait until the 4th grade when I could start taking violin lessons in the public school that I attended. My parents bought a used, full sized violin that I could grow into and I soon found myself bored by the cookie cutter style that they were teaching. By 5th grade I had quit lessons but would sit for hours with records and cassettes of my favorite players, listening over and over again until I had learned to play fiddle by ear pretty well. My parents searched for a fiddle teacher but never found one. By the time I was 20, I had given up and sold my fiddle.

    I now have a son that is almost 6 years old. About a year ago, he wanted to play so we rented a properly sized violin and started him in traditional violin lessons. The teacher clearly did not like children and certainly did not understand them so after 3 months, my son wanted to quit. We continued to rent the instrument to see what his interest would be. He continued to get it out and play so we began looking for another instructor. Our homeschool group announced a new instructor for small group lessons. Her name was Jamie Haubner and she taught your method. At that time, I knew of you very well but did not know that you had your own method. Needless to say, I was thrilled! Brandon loved Miss Jamie and loved the method. He was so proud to tell his Pa Pa that he was learning to play the fiddle. He played until the tragic loss of our beloved violin teacher last March when she was attacked by a bull on her farm. It has taken us quite some time to find another instructor but we will be starting with another wonderful teacher, Julia Proleiko on Tuesday. She will be learning to teach your method over the summer. I just want to thank you for developing this method and let you know that you have not only been an inspiration to my son, but to me as well. I am now playing again for the first time in 25 years.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I read Marissa Murphy's comments and didn't understand why it was removed. Her viewpoint is as important as everyone reading this blog and those responding to it.

    I started in the Suzuki method at age 4 and now have my own Suzuki program. I am grateful for my experience as a Suzuki student and teacher. Using this approach has opened doors of creativity for my students and myself! I taught traditionally for 12 years and see the difference the Suzuki approach has made. There isn't a day that goes by where my Suzuki students aren't improvising and creating their own music as a result of rote learning. Improvisation is important in child development (Jerome Bruner) regardless if there is a musical instrument in their hand. I am thankful to Dr. Suzuki for his philosophy as it has enabled me to help my students love music and cultivate individual creativity.

    When I was an undergraduate at the Eastman School of Music I remember you came during the 1990's and performed one of your pieces with the RPO. I had no training in fiddle music but have always respected all genres of music as an artist, including the art of fiddling.

    I am disappointed in your recent remarks regarding the lack of creativity and improvisation that stems from studying the Suzuki approach.

    On Thursday my 150 students had their first STRINGS IN SHOW production. They performed several skits that I wrote featuring various songs from Suzuki book 1. We also performed two of my original compositions. Our finale number was Dean Marshall's Old Joe Clark, complete with original choreography by myself. The number one compliment I received from the parents and audience members was this: What a creative way to showcase what the students have learned this year!

    I am a product of the Suzuki method and know this has given me the platform to bring creativity and improvisation to my students. Consider that there are students and teachers that are able to compose, arrange, and improvise music because of the training they received as a direct result of the Suzuki method.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Adrienne, you sound like a great teacher, and of course I could use a teacher like you too! Shin'ichi Suzuki did not improvise, nor teach it, nor advocate it. It is an art form that American music features, and it also requires training and some hard work. If you are infusing American influences in your studio...then it should be called that, as Suzuki himself would not recognize what you are doing. But it is a testimony from you of how hard you and some teachers have striven to depart Suzuki and find additional meaning in music education in order to get things going for kids. My Method is holistic in approach where it contains within the lesson plans - how to be creative with music as well as learn technique. Will you consider coming to one of my camps or teacher training sessions to see this at work with kids?

      Delete
  21. I (Phyllis Freeman) have been a Suzuki violin/viola teacher for 30 years, and besides helping students become proficient on their instrument, I also prepare students to play in youth orchestras and frequently, help students prepare for auditions to enter music schools/conservatories to pursue careers in "traditional" classical music. I'm curious about how you see your method affecting the course students follow to become professional musicians of the future? How would students raised on the O'Connor method eventually become the orchestra musicians of tomorrow? Or do you envision there being two professional tracks for students to travel, one a more improvisational and for the sake of a better word "pops" route and another a "traditional" classical route through the usual music schools/conservatories? How do you see your method playing out in the context of today's music institutions, (schools and orchestras)?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Phyllis, thank you for the great question. You may not know this evidently, but I just released Orchestra Book I Method Book for grade school, and I am releasing Orchestra Book II for Middle School this Fall for schools to begin at the top of the school year. We have had many requests. From the inception of the Method, the orchestral component is a bridge to the solo method...this is the first time that any methodology has provided, or conceived of this. I felt there was a great need for it. And this is the portion of the creative aspect of the teaching concept, that children learn to see the same material through different prisms, or lenses.

      The concept of a methodology is to have a system that works for the majority of our kids... This is the only reason why I have authored the method...because it mattered greatly to me what was happening around us. I have performed my nine violin concertos nearly 600 times with symphony orchestras. I know the orchestra world as much or more than I do the "pops" world as you say, or the jazz world. I think I am the one to connect the dots...and I have. It is one "track" in the beginning, and that is to make sure that children love the violin and continue to play. Once students become teenagers and can begin to make musical choices for themselves, is when we will know their professional course (none of us know that when they are grade school). And at that time they will be much more prepared than current systems allow, to make the right musical decision for their future professional training.

      In my method, students can make those decisions with all the tools necessary to make the best choice for them - whether it is an orchestra, or a Rock band, or a jazz ensemble, or a Hip Hop group, or a world music tour, or a fiddle contest. It is all right there in front of them to choose!

      Please review my '20 Points of Creativity' essay on my website. Thank you again for the question. Future blog material!

      Delete
  22. For any Suzuki teacher that seems to take issue with the facts of this blog, PLEASE refrain from the personal attacks and insults, and give us some of your wisdom. Suzuki was wise, let's see some wisdom here. If there is a fact stated in my blog that is not correct, please quote it in your comment, and let's discuss it. But the general dismissive, insulting, personal attacking approach from some Suzuki teachers is quite telling in fact, it is not going to help music education and it will be deleted here. Teachers should be acting at a higher standard, I for one want to hold us to a higher standard. So please comment, provide the quotes that you believe are wrong and should not have been printed... and if it is inaccurate, then I can provide a retraction. But at this point, everything in the blog stands, as there has been no specific challenge on anything I have written. So far it seems like sour grapes. Let's elevate the dialogue - let's have one. I still don't see what there is to dislike much about this blog, except for the few quotes by an ex Suzuki student that were negative, but that was more than balanced by a former Suzuki student who was over the top positive. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  23. My son learned violin from the Suzuki books, from a teacher who also throws in fiddle tunes and leads a Fiddle Kids group.

    His teacher did not follow the book very strictly, and after having a look at the teacher guides, I realize that she did not really follow the Suzuki "method" much at all. She did, however, spend a lot of time on creativity, a joy of playing, and playing from their heart and mind - the essence of improvisation.

    Reading some of these replies, and hearing from other fiddlers, it sounds like it is very common for teachers to follow the "Suzuki Fiddle" method - using the Suzuki books as a guide, but not as a strict method. Fiddle tunes are often added to the repertoire, and creativity is encouraged.

    Wouldn't it be nice if there were a formal training method that is based on the actual methods used in practice by many, probably most, Suzuki teachers? A method that was developed from years of experience, feedback, training, observation, music theory and research? ... Wait a minute, there is - it's the O'Connor Method.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dave, I think you nailed it. I mean, if we are going to have scads of Suzuki teachers teaching fiddling and creativity as well as improv, then why not become experts in these! The methodologies that many teachers are putting together can be random and haphazard... in essence, everyone of these teachers you describe, is authoring a method themselves - something that both Suzuki and I spent decades developing with the purpose of having the greatest effect, impact and success possible. The training that we went through and experience before authoring a Method is a huge part of this process... and then becoming an expert in the field with the very materials we advocate... interviewing and teaching thousands of kids, and parents. A lot has gone into it. But I agree, it is like each teacher is making up their own method, using materials that just float into their life and they begin to apply many of them without serious editing, auditing, consensus among a group of experts, concept development, road map, professional tract...

      I have seen Suzuki fiddlers - in some cases it can be a little different shall we say... these note-perfect kind of "fiddlebots" as authentic fiddlers are describing these high level competition fiddlers... it still does little for creativity, and it hurts the authentic understanding of what real fiddling is, and the great traditions of those styles. It all becomes homogenized - cookie cutter with memorized renditions even into their late teens. I am here to state that the cookie cutter aspect of this is different than what fiddling really has to offer for all music students. It is not just the tunes, but the creativity of the experience of developing your own playing and artistry through those tunes, through that music and other styles of American music in my Method - along with acquiring technique. It is my philosophy that this process leads to a creative life full of happiness. But we should be training as teachers. I invite any of the teacher who read the blog to get more training. Come to my teacher training on the O'Connor Method... no one is going to hold you to teaching out of the books... but you will be certified and maybe there are things that you will be impressed with and resonate with.... I think that is the main thing. In this great period of transition, experts like myself in American music should come forward, and this is what I have done! Let me hear from you!

      Delete
  24. Mark,
    Thank you for your response to my other post. You know, though, that I have to comment on the fiddlebot reference above. Can you please post a video of these fiddlebots? I just watched a news story about students who use your method (3rd street) http://youtu.be/ocFCbL5j02s. Can you describe the playing of these students here? Maybe their notes are notes are not perfect? What is the difference between what I see here and the fiddlebots? Obviously, I hear the difference when you play - my 5 yr old son's eye's lit up "Is that When the Saints Come Marching In?" That is his favorite song in the world.

    Also, separate question - I would love to hear more about the classical track for students.

    Thanks, Ingrid

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The term has been applied to contest playing with older teens and adults (not little children learning how to play). The orchestra component to my Method has just as much potential as the solo method... and the bridge between them bring in new opportunities that never existed before, but will aid us in the transition that it is clear everyone wants now. That transition includes saving our orchestras and what is already great about orchestra, but with ushering in new creativity models of learning music on string instruments. Since I have composed nine concertos and two symphonies, with nearly 600 performances of them with symphony orchestras (I am actually playing with orchestra this weekend in Meridian, MA) I have a unique understanding of both sides of this coin. That is why I took 10 years to author this method and 7 more years rolling it out, with 30 years before that putting the concepts together for an American Method. Have you read my essay "20 Points of Creativity" and my Manifesto? They both can be found on my O'Connor Method page of my website at markoconnor.com. Thanks Ingrid!

      Delete
  25. Ok, I didn't realize it was a term of art in the fiddle world for adults. Thanks for the clarification. Highly sensitive over here!

    I started reading the 20 points document and will finish it as soon as I get a chance. I'm sure I'll have questions.

    I hope you have a great concert.
    Ingrid

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ingrid, over sensitivity is an issue if it is misplaced. If there is something specific, then yes...let's talk about. You have to understand, that is not my term... I am merely printing what many others have told me. It is derogatory yes, and I don't like it, but I am not saying it. I am quoting it. There is a huge difference. I think the fact that we have this development of Suzuki fiddlers is "different" from the history of American fiddling that has taken place. (that was my term - "different!") I just want to make sure that readers are crediting me for my words, and not crediting me for words I am quoting from others. As a writer, I do include other people's quotes if they come from important or reliable sources.

      Delete
    2. Are "fiddlebots" common in American fiddling competition?

      I know in the Irish fiddling world especially at high levels of competition the ability to make the tune "your own" through variations rather than playing exactly like your teacher is regarded much more highly than playing something "note perfect."

      Is it different with American fiddling competition?
      Just wondering.

      Delete
    3. This term is not my term... it is what is being used by some authentic fiddlers who don't like the memorized versions of fiddling coming from former Suzuki students in high level competitions, in adult or open divisions of major American fiddle contests.

      Delete
  26. Hello Mark, This is Wallace DePue Jr., the eldest brother of Zachary and Alex DePue. I also know Nick Kendall of "Time For Three". I taught the Suzuki Method quite extensively during my years at the University of Texas String Project (1995-98), In my opinion, the Suzuki Method is one of several different methods that is vital to the early development of technique and musicianship for the beginning string student. I was not trained Suzuki. I was trained by a Julliard graduate, Dr. Paul Makara, at Bowling Green State University. He was a pupil of Zino Francescatti. The method Dr. Makara taught me (and to some extent Alex as well) was a mixture of the Franco-Belgian school, made famous by Ivan Galamian, and the traditional Russian school, as taught long ago by Leopold Auer (the teacher of Jascha Heifetz). These methods, of course, have a proven success rate in history that is indisputable. One must remember that these methods were taught during a time when a child did not have so much going on in his/her culture that got in the way of practice time! In the late 19th century and the first three-quarters of the 20th century, children were not side-tracked by hundreds of channels of cable tv, thousands of video games, and the internet. Today, there are so many extra-curricular after school activities available to a child/adolescent that there would not be enough room on your blog to list them! Everything you can imagine...from football to chess club. We must face the FACT that we all live in a fast culture; with fast information, fast transportation, fast money, fast food, etc. Giving a young child several volumes of Schradieck and Sevcik exercises to develop a firm foundation in violin technique is, in my opinion, ridiculous for any teacher to do nowadays. There is simply NO time in a child's life, or in the lives of the child's parents for that matter, to thoroughly go through all of the traditional etudes, scales, and repertoire that was once so successful back in the days of Auer and Galamian. Back then, a child had the convenience and opportunity to practice 2, 3, 4 + hours a day with at least one stay-at-home family member to 'enforce' the practice time. Today, a lot of children are lucky to spend even 3 hours a week with their working parent(s). So, along came the Suzuki method during the latter half of the 20th century that offered VERY CREATIVE WAYS TO TEACH YOUNG CHILDREN STRINGED INSTRUMENTS IN A FRACTION OF THE TIME IT TOOK TO TEACH IN THE PAST. And today, the Suzuki method has a proven success rate as well, evident in the mastery of the violin, both technically and musically, that Nick Kendall enjoys today as an active performing artist. So, what I think Nick meant by his quote that the Suzuki method "enhanced his inner creativity", has to do in the way in which the Suzuki method was taught to him, which in turn, sparked his fire for musical creativity at an early age because the Suzuki method provided him a means by which he could learn his instrument very quickly. Nick is able to "absorb" different genres and styles of music, such as fiddling, super fast because he is able to call upon the skills he learned using the Suzuki method as a child. Call me old-fashioned, but I still believe in the old saying: "Musical creativity stops where technique ends", pertaining to what one can (or can not) do with his/her instrument. And in my opinion, the faster and more efficient a child is able to learn technique, the better. Now, do I believe that the Suzuki method should be the end-all say-all method used for children/beginners to learn a stringed instrument today?? ABSOLUTELY NOT!!! Violin/fiddle pedagogy has come a long way since the Suzuki method was introduced. And I am all for incorporating classical training in fiddle style as well as incorporating fiddle training in classical "style". I believe the two are inseparable. So Mark, I am very much looking forward to studying your method books! Best of luck to you! Wallace DePue Jr.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wallace, thank you so much for coming on to the blog as Zach and Alex's oldest violin playing brother! Welcome. And... I would love to get you to my Boston Camp this summer at Berklee... we have teacher training there on the O'Connor Method and then stellar jamming and sessions all evening and night in any style that people can jam in. We also have a chamber music reading jam room! String orchestra too at my camp! It will be a huge camp, over 240 student are registered from all over the world and the registration is still going.

      I understand that there are going to be exceptions to a generalized thought. And obviously, in my opinion, Nick's story is one of the great exceptions we know of in Suzuki. The vast majority of Suzuki trained string players either teach or play in orchestra or... like I point out, quits the violin. Those stats bear out, and of course there are exceptions. One thing that we do notice is that there are nearly no, if not any major classical soloists who are Suzuki trained. My observation is, if we can't create great classical music soloists out of Suzuki, then how in the heck are we going to develop creative musicians out of Suzuki, when it is obvious to everyone that the materials point only to a classical performance tract? That is why I have gone to great lengths to author an American String Method. So follows some new concepts that I have been working on for decades - inclusive of cultures (not just dead white men's music from the 1700s and 1800s). But African American music, Hispanic American music, Native American music, European American music... a musical environment that sounds and looks like who we are. And what we represent around the world. Since I just toured China this year, and India the year before, American music has in fact become the language of the world. The "mother tongue" is now American music. That is key.

      In addition, I am not an advocate for fiddling alone, or jazz alone... I LOVE the orchestra. I have dedicated my career to composing and performing with orchestra as you know. A matter of fact I am soloing with the Meridian Symphony Orchestra in MS this weekend - The Fiddle Concerto again (for about the 250th time!) I believe, from what I see, and I have seen the country, and the environment of classical music like practically no other pedagogue. I believe that it is a reinvigorated American Method, that could actually help save classical music. We know that great fiddlers (even according to Nick) excel in musicianship and can get into Curtis Institute for example. But to a much bigger point, for a classical music to survive in this country, it cannot remain a fossil, it has to move... And for me, I believe that culling our best American creative talents will do it. Gershwin as well as Copland did the work of ten thousand typical violin students to make classical music inclusive of our culture. What we need is some of our string students to be in the middle of this process. And if Suzuki students are not even taking top slots as classical soloists (which is their professional tract at least) we can't hope that some of those same Suzuki students will be great composers, or improvisers, or arrangers, or band leaders. Or simply thinking outside the box.

      I suppose you caught the irony of Nick's story with regards to crediting his American music angle to Suzuki, when he studied my music in order to find that direction with his group... I did. And that was central to creating the blog article.

      But, the good thing is, that he is successful - and that is good for everyone. And this has put some light on much needed development in string pedagogy, which is still the only instrument group that largely ignores American music academically. Thanks Wallace, and let me know on Boston, or Charleston! Or any other teacher training session we are doing. Denver in about 2 or 3 weeks for a 3-day seminar!

      Delete
    2. Hi Mark, There are a few very successful classical soloists actively performing today who claim in their own biographies that they first began their studies with the Suzuki method.
      Hilary Hahn: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hilary_Hahn
      Leila Josefowicz: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leila_Josefowicz
      William Preucil, the Concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra, also began as a Suzuki student:
      www.clevelandorchestra.com/about/preucil-william.aspx
      Mr. Preucil's mother was one of the early American pioneers of the Suzuki method. The "L.A. Times" also did an article on famous soloist violinists of today and claimed that Joshua Bell also studied from the Suzuki method. The article also claims that past/present Concertmasters of the Pasadena Symphony, Aimee Kreston, and L.A. Philharmonic Concertmaster Martin Chalifour, were Suzuki "alumni".
      www.articles.latimes.com/2003/sep/07/entertainment/ca-meyer7
      So, in my own opinion at least, the Suzuki method is also proven to be very successful in the development of modern-day violin soloists. (If you look at the violin sections of any major and/or regional orchestra across the USA, most of the "under 40" violinists have studied the Suzuki method.) However, having said this, it is also important to point out that a couple of these powerhouse violin soloists say they studied from the Suzuki method for only the first one or two years of their lessons. This coincides with my belief that a student should move on from the Suzuki method after the first two years at most, and/or after Book 3. After Suzuki book 3, I gradually wean my students off of Suzuki into a mix of more traditional methods as well as into jazz, fiddle and pop genres. I might add, that I also teach my beginning students "beginner" fiddle tunes during the first couple of years while they are studying the Suzuki method. When I was taught how to teach the Suzuki method (1995) at the University of Texas String Project under the direction of Phyllis Young, I was astounded at how quickly and efficiently the method turned children into good little players; ready and ripe for the wealth of repertoire in all genres that the music world had to offer them. Their fundamental technique should be set and ready to go soon after their first year, and the Suzuki, in my experience, certainly establishes this precedent. Of course, there is the issue of individual talent which helps determine the amount of time a student takes to develop musically and/or technically after leaving the Suzuki method, but I have found that the Suzuki method is pretty much all encompassing. It can at least make a good player, even if only on a technical basis, out of all levels of talent. Again Mark, I think what you are doing with your method books is wonderful and groundbreaking and I look forward to introducing them to my own students someday! Wallace

      Delete
    3. Well, that is the catch Wallace, the only well-known soloists like Hilary Hahn and Leila Josefowicz were both prodigies and out of Suzuki as fast as they began, both gone by age 6 as I know it. Same with Rachel Barton Pine, also a child prodigy who was playing virtuoso rep at eight, and was moved out of Suzuki. Those are the only well known soloists you list. And they were moved out young, and they were prodigies so they were bound to play the phone book if necessary! What I am concentrating most on is in fact book I and II, so the technique can be equally set with the creativity models... Many children as you know will quit the violin in two years, or basically after Suzuki Book II. Those first two years, I really want to make an impact. A matter of fact, I would not be at all surprised that children starting with my first two books could come over and pick up some more advanced Suzuki - sort of reversed if you will. I do think there is some good rep in later Suzuki books when it gets into Mozart and Bach more... but the early stuff, I believe is what is hurting us... Let me know more on your thoughts. And this summer too!

      Delete
    4. Hi Mark,

      It is an honor to be in dialogue with you. Your music has transfixed me for many years. Thank you for that!

      When I made the above list of successful Suzuki-trained musicians, I was responding to this quote that you make in a previous paragraph:

      Mark O'Connor: "The vast majority of Suzuki trained string players either teach or play in orchestra or... like I point out, quits the violin. Those stats bear out, and of course there are exceptions. One thing that we do notice is that there are nearly no, if not any major classical soloists who are Suzuki trained. My observation is, if we can't create great classical music soloists out of Suzuki, then how in the heck are we going to develop creative musicians out of Suzuki, when it is obvious to everyone that the materials point only to a classical performance tract?"

      All of the musicians that Wallace De Pue and I have (separately) listed above are exceptional and inspiring performers, and leaders in their fields. Not every single one of them may be universally considered "internationally renowned soloists" nor may they be composers and arrangers, but I don't think that at all detracts from their success as musicians, as performers, as creative artists, nor does it detract from their ability to inspire others; and, these people credit their early training to the Suzuki method with whole hearts. There are many, many more of them out there. I also think that chamber musicians are very important to include as success stories in classical music and beyond. My two children, who are Suzuki students (who have also attended fiddle camps in CA and loved them, and this is how I came to know about you), they want to grow up to be classical chamber musicians, and they were inspired by people on this list.

      Also, Rachel Barton Pine's main teachers through her childhood and young adulthood were Almita and Roland Vamos; the Vamoses would be the first to tell you that much of their teaching (and most of their students) are an advanced extension of the Suzuki Method. Many of their violin students have been hugely successful; the Vamoses taught for years at the American Suzuki Institute and at the Music Center of the North Shore which was primarily a Suzuki School.

      In any case, I don't think "how many soloists" is the measure of the success of a method; we all know that solo careers are extremely rare, and many performers who call themselves "soloists" really fashion a career out of wearing many, many hats (teaching, recording with others, chamber music/band playing, etc); the players you have listed as your method's success stories are also prime examples of this, don't you think?

      Looking forward to discussing more! Thanks for having a flourishing forum for all this to come to light. What a gift!

      -Federica

      Delete
    5. Federica, You have mentioned Rachel Barton Pine a few times, and maybe you don't know this, but Rachel is one of my closest friends. She has been teaching at my camps for years. I was the only soloist at her wedding. So her story is very close to me, she does not credit Suzuki with much of her training, as I said she flew through it as a prodigy and was quickly moved to other things. She was really into Rock music (Heavy Metal) in her childhood, and she still plays Rock today. Federica, that is a huge American System influence. When you have a different music system of influence and training, it should be acknowledged, like Nick could have done. The blog simply points at the irony that Suzuki gets this credit from Nick, when it is the American System and the very method concepts contained in my materials that are lifting up the string playing environment in new ways for the first time, and is helping to create new kinds of soloists and careers, like Nick's. As I said before... If it were not for the American System of music concepts, Time For Three probably would have not existed in the classical music environment - and of course that seemed to be the opposite of what Nick was saying when he cited the Suzuki training as "is the sole reason why Time for Three plays, it's the sole reason why we're able to communicate with such abroad audience." Nick began touring with me when he was still a teen. I have known him for a long time and I know much more of the back story that formed Time For Three. I think it is much more about my Appalachia Waltz Trio opening up doors in a new American string music, and that is a big part of the reason certainly... And the training behind my group and music was about the American System and nothing to do with Suzuki.

      I am not saying that any of your list are not inspiring performers. We have to turn out stars, and leaders, and visionaries, in order for strings to stay relevant, or it becomes more difficult (which is what we are dealing with now). And I believe that the American system is finally positioned to aid in the modern day string player...Suzuki represents the old European system, just by the fact that the literature, and performance styles does not extend past the 18th century practically.

      The many hats aspect of young players these days is to eek out a living mostly. Play in these three groups, sub in 5 orchestras, teach at 3 schools... this is not by design. This is trying to make a living at music, in a time where it has been increasingly difficult for strings players. My vision is to have more opportunities for strings player to excel in their career directions. And not have to be freelancing all over the place just to pay rent. I wear many hats at this stage of my career too, but it is different in that I chose to develop these. And I love it. Do any of these things resonate with you?

      Delete
  27. Hi Mark, interesting post. After reading this entire post, I find it interesting you don't cite any examples of your success! Since you state there are "nearly no, if not any major classical soloists who are Suzuki trained," I am just curious, are there any up and coming classical stars who are born out of the O'Connor Method that we can expect in the next few years?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Since Suzuki Method has been here for 50 years, and the predominant professional tract for a student out of that system is going to be a traditional classical musician, you are right to point out, the record is not that good as far as leaders, soloists, composers, improvisers, visionaries in the classical genre from the Suzuki Method. The American system as I call it, by contrast, has produced giants in arts music. George Gershwin and Scott Joplin are products of the American system that I have built my methodology upon. So we know that the American Method works as far as creating great talents who can thrive in the classical music environment. My Method has only been around for three years, however my teaching concepts and philosophies have been here for 20 years at my summer string camps and programs.

      Since my Method is really the "American System" as I have described it and modeled it. I would say that Nick himself is at least a very good percentage from the American system. Not 100% out of the Suzuki system that he claims in that article. But yes, the American system...if you will allow me to nominate myself. I am perhaps the first recipient of my own method materials and I have composed nine concertos and two symphonies, and have soloed with orchestra nearly 600 times. I lead by example if you will. I would say that Edgar Meyer was really a bi product of the American music system. His father was a jazz bass player and taught him that literature. We met when we were young, and I began teaching him about bluegrass, fiddling and improvising in those disciplines... Along with his classical bass degree at IU, his solo career is 75% based on the American system, much like Nick's career. I would venture to say, if Edgar only had to rely on his European classical training for a career, he would have 1/4 of the career he enjoys today.

      Since my camps began 20 years ago, outlining the very concepts that make up my Method, yes there have been great soloists and leaders in music to come out of my summer string programs. Great players who solo with orchestra, lead ensembles, improvise, write and arrange music. A great young talent who is about 25 and who fits that descriptions is Jeremy Kittel, who graced the cover of the last issue of Strings Magazine. He is a great leader and young visionary... and began at my camps as a kid. Another young talent is cellist Nat Smith who was in my American String Celebration for a while as a child. He began coming to my camps at age 9, and he is literally a rising star on the cello at age 18. He teaches at my Boston camp, he has appeared everywhere as of late it seems, saw him featured on Austin City Limits recently. Featured on Natalie MacMaster's tours. He is a composer, arranger, band leader, improviser who is already soloing on the big stages. He is actually a certified teacher in my Method. There are so many really. Natalie MacMaster herself is a product of my camp and concept of music learning. When she first came as a teenage student she was a Cape Breton trad player. Because of my inclusive concepts of music training, she has gone on to be completely outside the box artist, leads her own band, plays major concert halls, arranges her materials for her orchestral concerts, composes music, improvises which is not really the Canadian fiddle tradition per say. One of the great string artists. I should know, we share the same classical management in NYC (Columbia Artists Management) I know what kind of impact she has had.

      Delete
    2. Hi Mark!

      To help round out the discussion, I just wanted to share with you a short list of grown up Suzuki kids who have wonderfully successful musical performing careers; they are proud of their early Suzuki upbringing.

      Mark Steinberg, first violinist of the Brentano Quartet
      Colin Jacobsen - violin soloist, chamber musician, concertmaster of The Knights
      Brian Lewis - violin soloist, concertmaster, chamber musician, professor of violin at UT Austin and Yale
      Nick Kendall, violin soloist, violinist of Time for Three
      David Perry, Pro Arte Quartet first violinist, violin soloist
      Elisa Barston, associate concertmaster of the St. Louis Symphony, violinist of Corigliano Quartet
      Rachel Barton-Pine, violin soloist
      Emily Bruskin - violinist of Claremont Trio
      Orion Weiss, piano soloist
      Rebecca McFaul, violist of the Fry Street Quartet
      Kirsten Johnson, associate principal violist of the Philadelphia Orchestra
      Carrie Dennis, principal violist of LA Philharmonic, also previously Berlin Philharmonic
      Kathy Basrak, associate principal violist of Boston Symphony
      Eric Jacobsen - cello soloist, chamber musician, conductor
      Wendy Warner - cello soloist, chamber musician
      Ani Aznavoorian - cello soloist, chamber musician
      Julie Albers - cello soloist, chamber musician
      Julia Bruskin - cellist of Claremont Trio
      Joshua Roman - cello soloist, principal cellist of the Seattle Symphony
      Anne Francis, cellist of the Fry Street Quartet
      Nicole Johnson, cellist of the Cassatt Quartet
      Amy Barston, cellist of the Corigliano Quartet, Trio Vela, artistic director of LakeMusic Festival of NY
      Yumi Kendall, associate principal cellist of Philadelphia Orchestra and cello soloist and chamber musician


      There are so many others...

      And, here is an article from the NY Times:

      "Today, home-grown Suzuki-trained players are legion in major American orchestras. Many renowned American soloists are also products of the method, including the violinist Rachel Barton Pine, the cellist Wendy Warner and the pianist Orion Weiss."

      http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E00EEDA1331F936A15752C0A9679D8B63&pagewanted=all

      I look forward to continuing the discussion about musically educating our children. It is such a noble endeavor!

      Yours,
      Federica Uped

      Delete
    3. Federica, thanks for this list... I knew most of this already. The only well-known soloists you list like Rachel Barton Pine, she was a child prodigy who was playing virtuoso rep at eight, and was moved out of Suzuki quickly. Are there really any other well known, internationally known soloists on this list other than Lewis and the Jacobsens? We both agree that the orchestras are populated with Suzuki trained string players... that is a given, and that has been the professional tract for sure. But that was not my point I was making. There are concertmasters of course... and is great orchestra playing, but not what I was talking of. The other chamber players include some friends, and most of them are still developing careers. This list has some good folks on it... but so few to prove the record for a 50-year effort in music education. With you listing this, it makes me think about how hard it has been for players to come out of 7 or 8 years of Suzuki and become the creative visionary musicians that we so desperately need with any strong numbers. Yes there are a few here, and some friends of mine...but very few in a 50-year span. Is this really fifty years worth of string players changing the world of music as leaders? I feel the few creative folks here on this list, are exceptions though, not the rule due to the fact that there are so very few composers, improvisers, arrangers and bandleaders on this list, as well as so few well-known classical soloists or stars with an international career on this list. Listen I am frustrated when I see numbers like this compared to hundreds of thousands and millions of little violin students... it is what caused me to look deeply into authoring a method to reverse this course. What do you think?

      Delete
  28. This is really just the tip of the iceberg... My summer string camp teachers are great role models for the American system. Tracy Silverman, one of our long time teachers, was the guest soloist on Terry Riley's concerto with orchestra at Carnegie Hall last week. He is a great jazz player, improviser, bandleader, composer - has composed two concertos himself. Another one of our teachers Kenji Bunch, plays and composes for orchestra full time while also keeping a bluegrass band, improvises, has composed concertos, plays the heck out of the viola... Another one of our teachers grew up playing Texas Style fiddle and is now in charge of education for the New York Philharmonic, and gives their pre concert talks. His name is David Wallace. He gave a speech on my Manifesto at ASTA last year. He is a violist, composer, an improviser, and obviously a great leader. The list is quite long and building by the day it seems. One of the Sphinx classical competition winners last year, Randall Goosby, came to my summer camp for a few years, obviously wishing to think outside the box even as a little prodigy. Another Sphinx winner, cellist Patrice Jackson, also was on the cover of Strings Magazine, has soloed with orchestra many times, and is currently in my string quartet, and is a certified teacher in my Method. I am teaching at the Univ of Miami as Artist in Residence and the amount of strings players coming in there, frustrated with their previous training, are considering leaving it behind, several want to be American music artists. Most all want to improvise, compose something, put ensembles together, some share their fears with me - is it too late for them they ask me...

    It gives me more confidence that we are heading in the necessary direction that I believe will do its part to save string playing as a thriving art form and not have it relegated as a museum piece while concert band and every kind of other ensemble takes off ahead of us. It is an exciting time of transition for string playing. It is my view that the 21st century violinists will have their feet firmly planted in the areas that I am describing. Models are shifting, and they need to, in order for classical music to stay relevant. While we will always have traditionalists who choose any specific pathway for their professional training, we must prepare the young child in a creative way so that they can make the best choice for their own professional pathway when it comes time for them to do so. The American system and my Method provide the technical training to be great players, and it provides the creative building blocks for the students to inherit their own musical nature, and ability, and for that, there is no better training ground than American music. It is exciting times, and we are moving forward!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Mark!

      OK, I am beginning to understand your points better now. I still have a few questions.

      1. Influencing or inspiring someone is wonderful and important. Physically, mentally, and thoroughly teaching them the fundamentals of how to play an instrument is a different role, don't you think?

      The people you list below as products and stars of your method - it's my understanding (perhaps incorrectly?) that you yourself didn't actually teach these kids how to play their instruments (how to hold the bow, how to learn to shift, how to prepare for a string crossing, etc.) They learned that elsewhere - community music schools, private teachers, perhaps some Suzuki training or something similar to it, and then eventually they went on to study at CIM, Curtis, Juilliard, etc. And somewhere along the line, they either taught or participated at your camps and were influenced by you (greatly I'm sure)! Am I incorrect here? Did you teach these people the basics of how to play their instruments? Please understand, I am not at all trying to be judgmental, critical, or controversial; I'm just trying to ask the questions that will answer what I think people are confused about. I hate to talk about who gets "credit," but I think that is one of the questions you raise in this blog. Where do students learn HOW TO PLAY, versus what/who inspires them TO PLAY. I really want to hear your points!

      2. The point I'm trying to make: I feel like we are talking about two different things. There are teachers who teach the instrument, and then their are artists who provide additional inspiration and influence. Both very important, but both very different. Some teachers and methods do BOTH extremely well! And I personally found that with my children's many Suzuki teachers. And then some methods are intended to do one over the other; I think any great/thoughtful teacher, regardless of method, would help a student locate BOTH with the best fit for that student. Again, my children's current Suzuki teacher has given them fantastic training himself, and then lead them also to many other role models (including you!) to find their own path.

      3. The "American Method" that you are talking about - being influenced by all the music around you - seems to me to not be exclusively American - it seems to be natural to all humans, and not something a person or country can take credit for. Hearing folk music, participating in and enjoying popular culture, loving and making music from different countries and walks of life and being influenced by it and incorporating it into one's own music, desiring and aspiring to "think outside the box," - this has always existed, and continued to exist for Bach (astounding improvisor, multi-instrument player, prolific musical activist), Beethoven (wrote cutting edge music, fierce improvisor, incorporated popular tunes into works, the Clarinet Trio for example), Bartok (committed to folk music), Gershwin, Copland, David Lang, Aaron Jay Kernis, Giles Apap, etc. But again, I can't imagine that any of these artists would credit their actual musical or compositional training and success to ONLY the music or performers who later influenced or inspired them, and not credit those from where they learned their actual craft; they would surely also credit those individual teachers, schools, and individuals that taught them the fundamentals of playing an instrument or spending hours upon hours writing fugues (as their teachers made them) to master the art.

      What are your thoughts on each of these points?

      With great respect and admiration, and a real desire to fully comprehend your method and goals,

      Federica

      Delete
    2. Federica, you are inquiring about what is American music in general - it is simply music that was created here with our diverse population using influences from the musical languages of the world, including European Classical. The reason why American music is best for education in the early years at this juncture, is because it is music that is powerful and that resonates with people not just in our communities, but with people all over the world. As a teacher, we can tap into this power and reach, using this literature and these styles to teach students the technique in order to play well.

      Given the fact that my Method has only been out for 3 years, we don't have the superstars quite yet! (although I cite many examples from the American System which my Method was based on). I would count myself as the first star (if you will) of my Method specifically, as I began with the first tune in my method book - Boil 'em Cabbage Down and variations to learn fingering, intonation, rhythm, string crossing, posture, bow hold... In my research in securing Boil 'em Cabbage Down as the best tune to begin for a violin student and acquiring those foundational techniques, I discovered in fact that Boil 'em Cabbage Down surpasses Twinkle Twinkle by a very good margin in many respects, including my concern that it is just too hard of a tune for a first tune. The form is too long for children to fully understand variation aspects, and therefore clouds the creativity responses to the material. So in other words, yes. The concepts and literature have been tested and Boil 'em Cabbage Down has been a great starting tune for many great players through the ages.

      There are several pieces that are pedagogical gifts to us, that simply have existed in the repertoire, but until now, away from the classroom. And that would be the 400-year old song called Boil 'em Cabbage Down in A major. This tune sets the hand in playing position, each note represents a different chord, it is an infectious melody only using half of the scale, withstanding many repeats, and is inherently rhythmic, so the early rhythmic variations are completely natural and idiomatic to the artistry of the piece of music.

      All of this music is basically professional music. I just played Boil 'em Cabbage Down with Wynton Marsalis at a major jazz festival in France, and the crowd stood in appreciation for it. A huge ovation. There is no necessity for children's tunes in violin pedagogy when you have materials such as the American tunes, these are real tunes that can be arranged for stage performances. They came from both professional and great amateur traditions and children can feel that.

      Delete
    3. The Method Book I, as the title of the book suggests is for the beginning. Book I in the O’Connor Method is designed to learn how to play... These materials are hugely influential as well, but the Method is designed for learning to play the violin and related strings instruments. For in depth study of the materials, obtaining the books would be the best thing to do at this juncture for any teachers inquiring about the materials.

      There is something that should be obvious to all of adults. Kids, in their tender years love music by in large…they respond to music. But their responses on certain aspects of music are much more heightened in some areas more than others. While you and I appreciate a good melodic phrase or an interesting harmony, perhaps more than anything, children mostly respond to other distinguishing aspects of music - principally tempo changes, dynamic changes, rhythm, and stylistic or mood changes. In fact melodic variations or harmony appreciation comes later for most kids. I take advantage of these naturally instinctive traits that children give us, and immediately give it to them on that 2nd tune transitioning from the 1st tune, its 3 variations and pre cabbage open string rhythms. Beautiful Skies represents a tempo change, mood change, dynamic change, and rhythm change. In the first two tunes the young child begins to understand and unlock the mysteries of music making. Otherwise continuing in the exact same tempo, in the exact same genre, in the exact same time period of music over weeks, months and years of time does not aid us in instilling the intuitive nature and exercising the subconscious that is needed for the modern musician. So in the fist two tunes, it goes from 400 years ago in Cabbage, to 3 years ago when I wrote Beautiful Skies for this method. What a monumental sweep of time and space in Americana.

      Delete
    4. I understand what Frederica is saying because I credit the Suzuki method for teaching my daughter how to play violin. All the technique is learned there and, though there have been many, many pieces she loves or was so excited to learn to play in that repertoire and beyond in classical music, it is the fiddle music that inspires her to play. That is her love and is what she choses to listen to and play for fun. I know other kids who are strictly inspired by classical music within the Suzuki method itself. I think what inspires a child to play, and keep playing music is as individual as children themselves and can be very different from the method is which through which they learn to play.

      Inspiring kids to learn an instrument and play music is wonderful no matter what method is used. I do have a difficult time understanding why the creation of soloists or superstars would be a good way to judge a method if that is the goal. Wouldn't knowing how many people started with the method and later as adult still enjoy playing their instrument even if only for their own personal enjoyment be a better way to judge if the goal was reached?

      I think it would be difficult to compare your method to the Suzuki method in terms of how many children quit because, as you said, your method is rather new so who knows how many will begin and eventually decide they'd rather put their time into soccer or chess or switch to another instrument or whatever.

      There are so few positions at the top of any field. Only the very best or most creative, in terms of finding their nitch, will achieve those top positions. If kids learning by the O'Connor method or the Suzuki method or some other method do not put in the work to develop their technique and abilities they still will not reach those high levels.

      No one develops their musical abilities in a vacuum. I am sure you and your teachers will encourage students to attend camps and concerts and find other opportunities for musical growth. All the people mentioned as examples of success, I am sure, learned their music from different teachers and instructors, attended camps and concerts, etc...

      Delete
    5. It is always good to have leaders in any environment, people who can inspire others with their own success and success stories. It is important to know that when a child puts in 10 years of training on a specific discipline, that there may be a tract for that student to excel and be leaders. Every successful music genre has leaders, stars, success stories, international reputations. This builds incentive, but it also tells us what is working well and what is not working as well too.

      Delete
  29. Adding to Fredericas list, Regina Carter began with the Suzuki Method. However, does the number of soloists reflect the success of a program? I believe what fueled the Suzuki Method was the idea that anyone can learn how to be a musician, not just prodigies or children with a certain talent for the instrument.I think the true success of the program is that it can create beautiful people, whether they are professional musicians or people who don't continue to play but can truly appreciate music.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Oh my you all... Regina is a good friend of mine. She disliked Suzuki classical violin lessons so much she quit the violin for a few years. Just by a stroke of luck she was introduced to jazz violin much later, nearly a fluke. She was a casualty of Suzuki Method and that form of classical lessons unfortunately, she disliked it so much she quit. She told me this story personally... Her story, like many others compelled me to really take the time to author an American method for strings.

    ReplyDelete
  31. However, does the number of soloists reflect the success of a program? I believe what fueled the Suzuki Method was the idea that anyone can learn how to be a musician, not just prodigies or children with a certain talent for the instrument.I think the true success of the program is that it can create beautiful people, whether they are professional musicians or people who don't continue to play but can truly appreciate music.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are other ways to nurture beautiful people other than to train on the violin for 10 years. I believe a lot of families would agree. We are going to need a stronger hook than that for parents, and for kids - quite honestly. For a healthy musical environment we need some proportionality as well - not just orchestra players and teachers as the professional tract. We also need leaders, bandleaders, player/composers, improvisers, arrangers - visionaries of string music. My Method hopes for a whole community of people who love music from every angle - amateurs and professional. A system that excludes one of those subsets by huge percentages, is not a system that is working as well as it can. Yes, we need those people who play on the weekends only, and we need audiences, we need successful CEO's who remember their music lessons affectionately so they will give back, and support the arts. But we also need break through artists, we need great success stories - we need some good PR.

      Delete
  32. Although I'm a cellist, I'm certainly with you on this, Mr. O'Connor. I find especially for those that started a string instrument as an adult, like me, their knowledge of practical theory, creativity, and desire to experiment and PLAY is typically zilch.

    Instead, it's as if there's a belief that anything that strays from the sacred printed dots. So how can they supposed to make harmony parts and accompaniments for things except to depend on publishers for every note?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You bring up a huge point - adult students. This era is the era where we are seeing more adult students than ever before in strings. A method like mine that reaches all generations at once in a holistic - American approach. "Book I" is not just for the 3 year-old, it is also for the 53 year-old. One of the leading community schools in NYC, has so many requests for adult students, they have physically run out of room! My Method, and should go without saying, adults will love to learn, practice and play my method tunes like Bonaparte's Retreat, Buffalo Gals, Amazing Grace and Soldier's Joy, much more than Twinkle and Lightly Row... This is a great opportunity to bring the generations together, to create new musical families, to share the love of music with each other! And what better way to do it, than a group class/jam session that is multi-generational once in a while! Make up some new notes, have a creative experience filled with joy.

      Delete
  33. With the amount of response to my blog on the Suzuki Method and my O'Connor Method from around the globe (with over 70 comments posted and a very large readership), I am definitely going to post more blogs on these topics. There is much more to write about, and this is a topic of interest. I have several more ideas for blogs regarding the methods, so let's take a break on commenting further on this specific thread (it is nearly a novel now at 70 substantial posts) and post your comments and questions on my next blog I do here. Since there is a large readership here - a lot of folks are reading these blogs here at my site from all over. Become a follower of the blog if you like. Remember to check out my educational playlist on my YouTube channel:

    http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL30538F811506AE84&feature=mh_lolz

    A lot of information in my essay '20 Points of Creativity'

    http://markoconnor.com/index.php?page=about&family=method&category=08--20_Points_of_Creativity

    Thank you for elevating this dialogue to the place where we need it to be! MOC

    ReplyDelete
  34. I have written a new blog here (just above) called "The American Violin." A portion of this article has to do with music education as well, so if you are compelled to do so, leave a comment there as this thread has concluded because of the length. Just as "The American Violin" represents, I will be covering much more in the way of music education in upcoming blogs (some interesting topics ahead). Please be a member of the blog, and I look forward to hearing from you!

    ReplyDelete
  35. Well, Mark, I'm in trouble with my husband, but finally sat up and read ALL of the blog. I hope I have the energy to DO the things I now feel inspired to do. All music teachers have their slant. You speak SO often of prodigies. They live in a WHOLE different layer of musicians and find solace in one another, like orchestra people find in each other. I had enough orchestra (although I STILL use it to hone in on my SECOND instrument reading skills on viola...)after 20 years of not missing ONE rehearsal for any reason, and started several here in the West, served on Arts Councils, but have to admit I grew old quickly playing harmony parts, and my reading is such that I could pretty much sight read and play the music without touching it outside rehearsals. So reading was my FORTE, but I was SO BORED. I sought fiddle and found it in you and your method! The gel, the changeover for me has been HARD, but I trusted you and have done Mark O'Connor CONCEPTS to transition my students from the rugged beginning of Suzuki, and it's working in every kind of music they play. We move AWAY from Suzuki and always HAVE done, featuring other things besides this in my studio. I am known as the CREATIVE teacher, although not nearly as much as I'd like! It's amazing how they pick up the creativity and expound their own harmonies and jam in our groups now. The jam EVERYTHING, and I'm delighted to find I didn't have to SHOW them for them to pick it up. This was the most damning part of trying to figure out whether to (or HOW to...) use your method. Could I teach it if I was a total CLUTZ at doing improvisation MYSELF? I can tell you - YES...most of my students OUTPLAY me now. It's an exciting thing to watch.

    Please remember the Suzuki Method in Japan, at least, was meant ONLY to start players. YOUNGER...and FINISH to go on to better heights afterwards. All people must embrace music - in their own ways. Students throughout my 50+ years of teaching will DO that naturally. My own children still play the Suzuki songs they loved in their young ages, but they have embraced playing ukeleles, guitars, and I gave them that choice early on, and they TOOK it. People have musical hearts that run to their own drummer. Just so long as we all keep sharing and love one another, I will be happy with your method.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When teachers and parents of Suzuki students write opposing view points on this in response to our articles on Suzuki's cult, invented biography, invented endorsements and training, to tell us how much success their students and kids are having, invariably (every single time) they have added other teaching approaches, music and learning philosophies to their training beyond Suzuki. The further they get away from Suzuki, the more successful they are reported to be. So if the goal is to see how far you can get away from Suzuki in order to be trained well as a musician, what is that exactly?

      An analogy would be this: Say a kid stuck his nose into a vacuum cleaner hose and somehow he was able to pull his nose out of the vacuum cleaner without it being torn off his face. I guess you could call the endeavor successful? But why stick your nose in it in the first place?

      Delete
  36. Hi Mark,

    I started Suzuki at age four in the heart of Wisconsin, close to Stevens Point. My parents were not musicians, but wanted to give us the gift of music. They were liberal and asked me what I wanted to play, and I picked the violin. I stuck it out until I was 12, but the method, from my earliest memory, was a nightmare (I've gone so far as to say it actively tried to break my spirit):

    Firstly, it turned my mother into a harsh teacher and confused parental roles. Practices became nightmares set to egg-timers. Secondly, any attempts at creativity were shot down. I have several memories of being told to stick to the lesson! Thirdly, the idea of perfection was damaging. I simply could not progress to the more interesting stuff until I had "mastered" a certain technique. Fourthly, I became a timid player, conditioned to look outside of myself for approval. And lastly, after all those years of study, I could not read music! -A damning combination for a life-long player!

    Thankfully, I did love the violin, and when I came out into the "real world", I played on the streets of Europe and began, timidly, making up my own little tunes and experiment. Then I taught myself the basics of note-reading, picked up a fiddler's fakebook and started going to jams in my little town in Arizona (This was pre-internet - no easy listening!). I was timid in the group and always a bit chastised for sounding "too polished." Finally a few years ago while living in Glasgow, I joined the Glasgow Fiddle Workshop. They taught tunes by ear, in a group setting, encouraged strong technique and improvisation. Finally! I've been playing Celtic ever since.

    However, my son is now 5 and is getting excited to see Mommy play on Sundays. He wants to learn, so I went hunting for 1/4 sizes and new Methods - and there you were. I have to say, you have really nailed it and I will be learning right along with my son at the age of 38. I can't wait to play this music and learn what creativity I have inside me! Thanks for bringing me back to American music and my own inner creativity! It's about time!

    Love,
    Maggie

    ReplyDelete