Tuesday, May 25, 2010

As Iron Sharpens Iron

Talk about a rich environment. Shinichi Suzuki got the opportunity to live in Berlin as a young man in the 1920s. He was there to study violin, and because of high inflation in Germany at the time (at first the exchange rate was 600 marks for 10 yen, but towards the end of his time there the rate had soared to 100,000,000 marks for 10 yen) he was also able to take in an enormous amount of culture. He studied composition and orchestration. He spent time in the homes of prominent Berliners.He went to concerts almost every night; he saw Richard Strauss, Glazunov and Furtwangler conduct, and heard performances by Fritz Kreisler and Artur Schnabel, among others.

He also had some remarkable friends. One man, a doctor and friend of the Suzuki family, left Berlin early on in Shinichi’s stay to become Dean at Johns Hopkins University. So he asked another friend to take Suzuki under his wing in his place. Do you know who that friend of a friend turned out to be? Albert Einstein. Evelyn Hermann wrote in Shinichi Suzuki: The Man and His Philosophy:

Shinichi Suzuki: The Man and His Philosophy
        Einstein’s circle of friends included many people of prominence in their particular fields of endeavor, but they all shared a love of art, and all were extremely modest and kind. Here Suzuki learned that in order to achieve harmony, one must be able to compromise gracefully. He also learned that it is nobler to be the one who yields than the one who forces the other to compromise. Harmony cannot be achieved in any other way. This, then, was the great attribute of character that Suzuki learned from Einstein and his friends. It would later become the basis of Talent Education. Suzuki’s aim is to develop young Japanese children, who will grow to be fine adults, who can enjoy their music together, and who will develop as high an intellect and sensitivity as possible. The purpose of Talent Education is not to train professional musicians, but to train fine musicians, and then through music, the student will show a high ability in whatever field he might choose.
        Einstein was only 16 when the idea of relativity first occurred to him. Einstein said that he discovered it by intuition, and that music was a driving force behind intuition. Einstein’s parents began his study of the violin when he was six years old, and Einstein himself has said, “My new discovery is the result of musical perception.” It was an exhilarating experience for Suzuki to associate with people of such high intellect, sensitivity, and good will.”
That distinction of Suzuki’s goal, “not to train professional musicians, but to train fine musicians” who would then show “a high ability in whatever field” they chose, is huge. The Suzuki Method has produced many fine professional musicians. But the whole point of it is so much more than job training. The thing that impressed Suzuki most about Einstein was neither his scientific prowess nor his skill as a violinist. It was his character. I think sometimes we think of character as a separate quality from skills and accomplishments, or as an accomplishment in itself. But if we rearrange our thinking to envision skills and accomplishments as a stepping stone to who we are as people—doesn’t that change things radically?

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