Dr. Shiniki Suzuki


Who was Shiniki Suzuki

Shiniki Suzuki was born in Nagoya in 1898 during the epoch of the Emperor Mutsuhito. Much more progressive than his predecessors, he opened Japan to exchanges with Europe. He even began to study English and to familiarise himself with Western music.

Shiniki's father descended from a family of Samurai that owned a factory producing Shamisen (a kind of long-necked Japanese lute). He opened a factory manufacturing violins, thus adding a European influence to the family tradition. The factory was soon producing over of 66,000 instruments a year.

The young Shiniki was sent to commercial school. It was intended that he would help his father run the factory, but he was drawn to the violin. He began to study it secretly.

Although it was a time of relative modernisation, the Japanese mentality still saw society as a series of separate classes each pursuing its own sphere of activity. Studying and performing music were considered occupations for the poor and not the educated, and therefore not suitable for the class to which Suzuki belonged. Because of his poor health he spent a long period in the country, at the home of an uncle, a famous Zen master. One of his uncle’s students was the Marquis Tokugawa, one of the last descendants of the Shogun. Tokugawa helped Suzuki to realise his dream: he took him to Europe, ostensibly as a companion, but in reality to allow him to complete his studies of the violin and deepen his knowledge of Western culture in Berlin.

It was while he was in Berlin that Einstein, a close friend introduced Suzuki to the most important figures of European culture of the time. The great scientist had played the violin from the age of six and considered music the driving force behind all of his discoveries. In this stimulating environment, surrounded by artists, writers and leading scientists, (who, he noticed to his astonishment, were unbelievably modest and unaffected people) Suzuki’s other dream began to take shape. After becoming a violinist and absorbing the precious musical heritage of the Occident, he wanted as many people as possible to benefit from his achievements. He began to think of a way of creating a method that would make music a universal language, available to all. However, putting his project into effect was not without problems (the Depression, the First World War and a serious illness all interrupted his plans) but his project went ahead and he had some exhilarating moments.

His teaching activities began in1929 in Japan: his first student was the famous violinist Toshyo Eto. In 1932 he organised the first children’s concert, with thirty children taking part. In 1945 he founded his first school, in Matsumoto: he had five students and only one violin. In 1950 he considerably extended the application of his method and, in order to avoid any subsequent decrease in quality, founded a centre to train teachers. In 1952 there were 152 students, some of whom were beginning to achieve fame. They conquered audiences on tours in Europe and America and drew the music world’s attention to the new method. Pablo Casals visited Matsumoto and was moved to comment on one of the children’s concerts with the famous phrase: "Perhaps the music of children will save the world."

Suzuki’s main aim was not to create famous professionals (although many of the "greats" emerged from his school), but to contribute through music to man’s internal development, developing hidden abilities that would enhance the quality of life.

At the United Nations Assembly in 1968, Suzuki launched an appeal for a world policy on the education, training and care of children, in which music would play a prominent role. For hundreds of years, he said, the Emperor’s favourite singer was a nightingale, a wild bird that learned to sing only if raised near another bird that was a skilled singer, his "singing teacher". He explained further: "You cannot force a plant to grow by tugging at it: you must provide it with the best conditions for growth."

Dr. Suzuki died on January 16th, 1998.

1. Elio Galvagno with Dr. Shiniki Suzuki:

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