The Man and His Dream to Teach the Children of the World
by Eri Hotta
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Pub Date 15 Nov 2022 | Archive Date 15 Nov 2022
Harvard University Press, Belknap Press
The remarkable life of violinist and teacher Shinichi Suzuki, who pioneered an innovative but often-misunderstood philosophy of early childhood education—now known the world over as the Suzuki Method.
The name Shinichi Suzuki is synonymous with early childhood musical education. By the time of his death in 1998, countless children around the world had been taught using his methods, with many more to follow. Yet Suzuki’s life and the evolution of his educational vision remain largely unexplored. A committed humanist, he was less interested in musical genius than in imparting to young people the skills and confidence to learn.
Eri Hotta details Suzuki’s unconventional musical development and the emergence of his philosophy. She follows Suzuki from his youth working in his father’s Nagoya violin factory to his studies in interwar Berlin, the beginnings of his teaching career in 1930s Tokyo, and the steady flourishing of his practice at home and abroad after the Second World War. As Hotta shows, Suzuki’s aim was never to turn out disciplined prodigies but rather to create a world where all children have the chance to develop, musically and otherwise. Undergirding his pedagogy was an unflagging belief that talent, far from being an inborn quality, is cultivated through education. Moreover, Suzuki’s approach debunked myths of musical nationalism in the West, where many doubted that Asian performers could communicate the spirit of classical music rooted in Europe.
Suzuki touched the world through a pedagogy founded on the conviction that all children possess tremendous capacity to learn. His story offers not only a fresh perspective on early childhood education but also a gateway to the fraught history of musical border-drawing and to the makings of a globally influential life in Japan’s tumultuous twentieth century.
Eri Hotta is the author of Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy, a history of the attack on Pearl Harbor from the Japanese perspective. She has taught at the University of Oxford, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo. She writes on a variety of subjects for Japanese and English-language readerships.
“A terrific, groundbreaking, and engrossing study of Shinichi Suzuki, whose approach to teaching young people transformed music education in the second half of the twentieth century. His effective and popular method made serious instruction widely accessible, without limiting the aspirations of all in deference to the gifted few. Transcending the formidable barriers of politics and culture, his achievement helped pave the way for traditions of music developed in the West to be integrated, celebrated, and reinvented in Asia. Suzuki’s story is central to the flourishing of music as a vibrant international art.”—Leon Botstein, President of Bard College and Music Director and Principal Conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra
“Written with a warmth echoing that of its subject, this wonderful account is at once a biography and an intimate window into Japan’s momentous twentieth century.”—Christopher Harding, author of The Japanese: A History in Twenty Lives
“A captivating historical perspective on a global phenomenon. Eri Hotta’s account of Suzuki’s fascinating life story unmasks the man and reveals the overall achievement of a musical hero.”—Fred Sherry, cellist and former Artistic Director of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center
“With eloquence and perception, Eri Hotta reveals how Suzuki began a musical revolution that has influenced countless young people across the world. Coming from the Method myself, I benefited greatly from many of Suzuki’s deep convictions, including his core belief that great ‘talent’ emerges from nurtured training. As Suzuki recognized, and as this wonderful book reminds us, music joins composer, performer, and audience in a powerful existential bond.”—Leila Josefowicz, MacArthur Award–winning classical violinist