Eri Hotta’s Book on Shinichi Suzuki and His Teaching Method
Published by Harvard University Press, this biography shares the life story of renowned music pedagogue and Suzuki Method founder, Shinichi Suzuki
The book “Suzuki: The Man and His Dream to Teach the Children of the World,” by Japanese author Eri Hotta, is a new biography of violinist and violin teacher Shinichi Suzuki.
Hotta’s work emphasizes the pedagogue’s dream of the Suzuki Method being about more than musical education, and rather about students developing the skills and confidence to learn and reach their potential, as explained by Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker.
In “Suzuki,” Hotta shares the unconventional musical development and the beginnings of Suzuki’s philosophy, following his early years working in his father’s violin factory in Nagoya, Japan, studies in interwar Berlin, his teaching career in 1930s Tokyo, and how his methods developed in Japan and abroad after World War II.
Not only does Hotta’s book share more about the method’s history, but also provides details on the evolution and unexplored avenues of Suzuki’s educational vision. Suzuki was a humanist and more interested in instilling skills and confidence to learn, than in musical genius.
By providing further insight into his often-misunderstood method of early childhood education, Hotta highlights Suzuki’s belief that his “method is not education of the violin [but] education by the violin.” Producing disciplined prodigies was never the aim — Suzuki asserted that rather than purely being innate, talent is cultivated through education.
Suzuki’s methods also broke barriers of musical nationalism in the West over doubts about Asian artists performing Western classical music at the time. By his death in 1998 at the age of 99, his method had traveled around the world — through an organization Suzuki founded in 1948, around 400,000 children were schooled in his method and exercise books for a range of instruments including violin, viola, cello, double bass, flute, guitar, piano, voice, and more.
Calling his work saino kyoiku, meaning “talent education,” Suzuki’s main goal was to change the understanding of the word talent, which was derived from the Greek word talanton — a certain weight of money to be compared against other objects on a balance scale. “We tend to think of talent as something quantifiable that a person has more or less of,” Hotta writes in the book. “We take for granted that it is unequally distributed.”
“In the wrong hands, the Suzuki Method — like any teaching method — can turn music-making into a kind of competitive after-school sport, in which passing from one level to the next becomes the main goal. Suzuki himself recognized this pattern early on,” Hotta continues.
“Rather than guide their children to become the best people they could be, possessing what Suzuki called ‘noble hearts,’ those parents became narrowly focused on raising ‘skilled violin players’...[and had] lost sight of why they wanted their children to learn to play musical instruments in the first place..His goal wasn’t to create professional musicians but to transform society, and he believed that many social ills stemmed from adults’ failure to help children fully realize their potential and become enlightened individuals.”
To purchase and read “Suzuki: The Man and His Dream to Teach the Children of the World,” click here.
Writing on different topics for both Japanese and English-language readers, Hotta has also taught at the University of Oxford, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Tokyo’s National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies. Her other books include “Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy” and “Pan-Asianism and Japan’s War 1931-1945.”