Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, who lived to be 100 by the way, advocated role modeling. American born, my mother was a piano teacher and both, my sister Catherine and I followed in her path having accomplished piano studios of our own. Trained at the St. Louis Institute of Music, she had a following of students most of her adult life.
When it came to training me, the youngest of four, my mother took me to her piano teacher from when she was a teenager. The lessons were downtown Milwaukee on the beautiful lakefront of Lake Michigan. I started lessons when I was 4, and knew how to read music before I could write my name. My first piano recital at age 6 was at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music where I played the Bach Minuet in G. I remember the long car rides, listening to Michael Jackson on AM radio. Only six years old, but my lessons were at 7:30p on Monday nights because that’s when the esteemed lady could fit me in after my mother was done teaching all of her own students for the day! It didn’t matter to me then though, because I loved it so much. And if I had an extra good lesson, then my mother would take my sister and I to the bakery around the corner for some late night chocolate eclairs! So, you see, my students and their parents know where my gold star charts and color-coded stars in their folders began! Until we as humans know the ‘true’ reward of playing our instrument, we need intermediate bribes. I totally agree with this concept in all aspects of parenting and homework.
When it came time to pitch in for housecleaning, my mother would insist that my sister and I wash the piano keys, all 88 with soap. She’d say, “The piano keys are the ‘germ-iest’ place in the house!” I’ll never forget the time Kataoka, Suzuki’s right hand for the piano department in Japan sent a student to wash hand sduring one of her master classes. There has to be a sense of respect for the instrument before they can begin to understand the music. This also leads to the attitude of playing on a real acoustic instrument as opposed to an electric keyboard which is sometimes likened to a toy.
My parents taught me to live and breathe my talent while growing up. Patronizing the theatre and music was instilled. We had a three bedroom custom contemporary in Milwaukee which back then was not the norm. The front of our vaulted living room adorned oversized picture windows into which I would practice singing and acting while watching my reflection to Julie Andrews, The Sound of Music, complete with drawing and closing the full length drapes, and using the long cord for my mic.
Role modeling speaks louder than words and continues to be a premise of the Suzuki approach. I believe in making myself available, catching students when they’re at their best moments to discuss what goes through their minds, and how they feel alternatively. Never a dull moment, and every student gives me another reason to enjoy what I do. It doesn’t get easier, it gets better.