Did Suzuki fake his education?

Did Suzuki fake his education?


norman lebrecht

October 20, 2014

A challenging piece of research by the violinist Mark O’Connor blows canyon-sized holes in the autobiography of Shinichi Suzuki, founder of the ubiquitous teaching method.

Mark refutes Suzuki’s claims to have been mentored by Albert Einstein and approved by Pau Casals. Most damning yet, he produces a document which shows the Japanese was rejected as a student in Karl Klingler’s class in the Berlin Hochschule. Klingler was a member of the venerable Joachim Quartet. Suzuki always styled himself Klingler’s pupil.

The evidence now shows otherwise. Read it here.


So the questions are: who taught Suzuki to play? And who approved his method?


  • Brian Carter says:

    I really don’t understand why Mark O’Connor is so dead set on defiling the name and reputation of an important and influential violin pedagogue. Aside from the fact that he is trying to sell and market his own string method series, one would think that such a busy performer would not have so much time to spend on this hobby.

  • Mikey says:

    Mark O’Connor has had a long-running feud with anything Suzuki-related. And reading many of his posts I’d say he has a grossly exaggerated opinion of his worth as a musician and educator. He refers to bluegrass and jazz as “American classical music”, and denies the need to teach any of the standard repertoire like Bach.

  • Anonymus says:

    Reading through the paper and looking at the original document, I wonder what makes him so certain. In the protocol it clearly says: “aufzunehmen wenn Platz” which means “to be enrolled if a place is available”. In the column “Aufgenommen” (accepted) there is a question mark. The mark in the column “abgelehnt” (rejected) looks bit different than the other marks in there, so it could be fake/photoshopped.
    Anyway, that “evidence” is ambiguous at best, not clear at all. But if Suzuki was enrolled with Prof. Klingler there must be other protocols of his several exams during his studies…

    • Ms. Cynthia says:

      Does it not occur to anyone that Shinichi Suzuki would have been the only student in the entire institution that was not German? You would think he was from Mars. Can you imagine the discussion the professors where having among themselves when they discovered he was qualified to attend? Makes me want to know if this institution is still in existence today and ask what they have to say for themselves.
      But then Sensei wouldn’t have had the exclusive attentions of Klingler if they hadn’t rejected him.

    • Ms. Cynthia says:

      I looked at the transcription that MOC provided and I thought they accepted him and then after discussions behind the scenes they retracted there decision for some reason. Suzuki is the only individual in the list we can see who is from another ethnicity not to mention race. You can’t help but wonder what they were really thinking. Does this school still exist?

      Puts a whole new light on how I see Sensei’s experience in Germany. But then if the school hadn’t been so worried about what would happen if they accepted a non-white kid, he would have never received private instruction with Klingler.

  • Anon says:

    I can’t see why anyone would be interested, least of all Mark O’C. Who cares who taught Suzuki, or who Suzuki claimed taught him?
    What we know is that he came up with a method of teaching the violin which many, many children have been able to use as their introduction to the world of classical music. His background is rather irrelevant, and whatever we find out about it doesn’t in any way detract from the enourmous success of his method of teaching.

  • Joshua says:

    I’ve already read O’Connor’s attempts to discredit Suzuki.
    The fact of the matter is that O’Connor is trying to promote his own method as being superior to The Suzuki Method. O’Connor’s method is similar, but uses good ol’ American music to build fundamentals, instead of the classical music/transcriptions that are in the Suzuki Method.
    Frankly, I can’t stand that stuff O’Connor plays and wouldn’t be the least bit interested in having my kid play O’Connor’s white trash tunes, instead of the Lully Gavotte and the Bach Minuet.
    “And more to the point, very few students in his 70-year teaching career rose to the level of becoming a professional musician. ” Total BS. To name just two world class fiddlers that started off with Mr. Suzuki himself, Toshiya Eto and Koji Toyoda.
    A big deal is made of a single audition for Klingler, from which Suzuki was not accepted. Perhaps he spoke with Klingler after and took lessons from him privately, or perhaps he auditioned again another year, or perhaps he was even accepted from a wait list? There are so many possibilities, of which many would not leave a paper documentation to prove what actually happened. I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch yesterday, but I don’t have any documentation to prove it, and perhaps Mr. O’Connor would have his doubts about what I really had for lunch.
    Nathan Milstein claims that he was taught by Leopold Auer, but there is no record of this and nobody has ever corroborated it. Is Milstein a fraud for saying this?
    Another one: “Fifty years after Shinichi Suzuki entered the international stage, perhaps a million string students have quit the violin because of their Suzuki lessons, Suzuki materials and educational philosophy (including two kids in my own family)…” An absolutely idiotic statement. Millions of children casually participate in activities and don’t seriously pursue them for their entire youth. Millions of children start piano lessons, tennis lessons, soccer, boy/girl scouts, and don’t continue; so what? What a stupid thing to say.
    I heard Mr. O’Connor in concert once, and I have no interest in ever hearing him or that kind of music again.

  • Jewelyard says:

    Excellent points all. What a fool this O’Connor has shown himself to be. Very few Suzuki students have made international careers? How about Joshua Bell, Hilary Hahn, Sarah Chang, Leila Josefowicz, and William Preucil? What about Nick Kendall, of the popular group Time for Three, a group that plays music that is similar to O’Connor? Only difference is that Kendall is a Curtis grad who can also play the hell out of the Sibelius Concerto whereas O’Connor is limited to the drek he composes and plays, which all sounds the same. Nothing to talk about here.

  • Teo says:

    That last comment re the violinists that have had Suzuki training is spurious at best. I speak from knowing all of them, and their Suzuki training was non existent. They happened to be taking lessons from teachers who taught in places where Suzuki was taught in one way or another. Places like Peabody Prep, IU Prep, Manhattan prep, etc. The teachers there were forced to pay lip service to Suzuki’s method in order to stay employed by morons who could not play and just wanted to make money with limited talents.

    • Jewelyard says:

      I ll concede that I may have been wrong about Joshua Bell but certainly not wrong about Nick Kendall and William Preucil, both of whom come from extensive Suzuki backgrounds.

  • Fiddleman says:

    Mark O’Connor has made a fine career for himself. Hooray. I find it quite rich that O’Connor thinks Suzuki’s questionable CV discredits his pedagogy, all the while touting his own method. By all means–if one wishes to learn to play the violin with no tone production, poor intonation, and sloppy articulation, sign up with Mr O’Connor ASAP.

    Paula Deen is a very famous cook in the US who creates comforting dishes with mass appeal, and these dishes are easily recreated by anyone with a pan and a spoon. Despite her fame, I imagine she’s smart enough to know she needn’t have applied for any openings at El Bulli. If only Mark O’Connor were so clever.

    • Jewelyard says:

      That’s all fine and well, Mr. Pickett, and I’m not denying that O’Connor’s music has brought joy to people or that’s he’s forged a successful career. However, he as a violinist himself doesn’t reach the ankles of the thousands of successful professional musicians who are enjoying solo, chamber and orchestral careers that began with their Suzuki training. Furthermore, those “advanced country fiddling techniques” you speak of are a cinch for someone to learn that can play the Sibelius Concerto – but not vice versa. O’Connor shouldn’t have devoted so much time to his “investigation” and should simply enjoy playing his “Turkey in the Straw” or whatever it is he’s currently working on.

    • David Pickett says:

      Apologies that the above came out so dreadfully lurid. Such was not my intention, rather it was my intention to link to a YouTube video. See below:

      Having demolished Stern, there is now a campaign to attack O’Connor!

      Orange Blossom Special is not a work that anyone can sight read, and there are advanced techniques in country fiddle music that players of the Sibelius concerto would have to work at to master.

      More to the point, you may not like country fiddle music, but a lot of people do and to many US citizens it is more relevant than Mozart or Sibelius could ever be. There is room for many varieties of music than those above would allow and O’Connor has brught joy to many people through his playing.

      Finally, Joshua Bell’s first teacher was Donna Bricht, and she was certainly not a Suzuki teacher.

      • norman lebrecht says:

        Campaign? Don’t be ridiculous.

      • Fiddleman says:

        Mr O’Connor doesn’t need a campaign to discredit him, when his own videos do a perfectly good job of it:


        Probably the simplest of Bach’s solo violin movements from a technical standpoint, and yet, the intonation would get any high school student laughed off the stage. I won’t even bother with the interpretation; in the company of Slipped Disc readers, I’m sure I don’t have to.

        • Max Grimm says:

          Absolutely ghastly!

          • Andrys says:

            I’m with “Joshua” on this and don’t care for O’Connor’s own focus, his glibness, lack of respect for classical examples in teaching, or his current campaign, for the reasons Joshua gave.
            However, I’m interested in what you and others think of Lucy Dael’s interpretation (which is freer in the way period-performances are, based on teachings that can be found collected in Anthony Newman’s “Bach and the Baroque: European Source Materials from the Baroque and Early Classical Periods With Special Emphasis on the Music of J.S. Bach”
            I have her LP versions of this among the many versions I bought on LP. To hear her: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_1CDmGAY-g
            The tone, relative handling of pitch, and improvisatory feel used with discipline and based on knowledge of the older sources are prized by me.

        • Alison says:

          I think Mr. O’Connor’s playing is just fine; it’s not my favorite interpretation of Bach, but so what? I do enjoy fiddle music as well as classical; that, too, is personal preference. It’s unnecessary to demean other musical styles.

          I don’t enjoy ANYONE’S efforts to trash others, though, on both sides of this issue. Let’s leave all the personal preferences and personal attacks out of the discussion, shall we?

    • Mark Carpenter says:

      Just for the record:
      – I knew Donna Bricht personally;
      – I was best friends with her daughter;
      – I accompanied students in her studio (including Joshua Bell);
      – and Donna Bricht was, in fact, a Suzuki teacher.

  • Louise says:

    I was a student in one of the first American programs on the North Shore of Chicago. I have no idea what Suzuki’s true background was and frankly, I don’t care. The methodology gave me the gift of physical comfort with the instrument, an appreciation and desire for accurate intonation, and a seamless introduction to sight-reading (because I could connect the printed notes to something I already knew inside and out). The camaraderie made classical music fun. (The annual visits from Mr. Honda and Japanese students were a joy, too.)

    I studied with teachers in Chicago, D.C., in several summer festivals, and eventually with Dorothy DeLay — and sometimes those teachers disliked (or hated) the Suzuki method. Yet no one ever tried to “fix” me (by, for example, adjusting my bow hand), as happened to many of my peers. I was an excellent sight-reader and was particularly successful in chamber music as a flexible, interpretive player (not an automaton). I can connect all these positive things to aspects of the method. I eventually moved into music therapy, but it was not because I couldn’t succeed at violin and my love of the instrument has never changed.

    So perhaps I learned a method developed by a fraud, but if so, he was a fraud who had some great ideas about how children might learn a difficult instrument and make it a part of their life. I wish Mr. O’Connor success in his method because maybe he can reach children who don’t respond to other approaches. The more the merrier. The criticism is not, in my view, necessary.

    Addendum: (1) There were terrible “Suzuki” teachers in my day — and I”m sure there still are, as there are terrible teachers everywhere. (2) I spent time with William Preucil at the Stevens Point, WI Suzuki festival and can confirm that he was involved.

    • Alison says:

      Louise, I guess we were neighbors! I grew up in Glencoe–two blocks from Winnetka, which meant that I was not permitted to participate in the Suzuki program in the Winnetka public schools, so I began lessons with a “traditional” violin teacher.

      I played in the high school orchestra with the kids who did participate in that program; I remember being blown away by how beautiful their tone was, how well in tune they played, how easily they memorized their music, and how they were never nervous about playing in front of others. They really seemed to enjoy playing.

      I wanted to play the way they played.

      I didn’t realize until literally decades later that such skills came from how they were taught; I assumed that those were just amazingly talented kids.

  • Alison says:

    Norman, I think you might want to be a bit more careful before you speak of “the evidence.”

    What was presented as “evidence” was not evidence of anything, let alone being evidence of fraud–as other posts have already discussed.

  • John says:

    As a college music student, I was invited to participate in a one week workshop with Mr. Suzuki (one of his first in America). During the workshop, Suzuki (through his German wife translating his Japanese into English) said that he had gone to Germany with little training and was rejected after auditioning, but that the teacher took him on privately because he was Japanese and there were no known Japanese violinists. Suzuki was very self deprecating about his own abilities as a player. However he was an amazing teacher. He did get into trouble with one sophomore violinist when he wanted her to get more sound. He asked her “how much do you weigh?” Intending to tell her to put more weight into the bow. In Japan a young woman apparently would answer that question and not turn red in embarrassment. I have had some issues with some aspects of the Suzuki method especially with the point at which note reading is introduced, however it has been a great gift to the world by a very humble and gentle man.

  • Edna says:

    In these days when fourth grade children routinely struggle to complete three hours of homework sandwiched between too many after-school enrichment activities, when funding for the arts is hemorrhaging, and when music consumption vastly trumps music making, why is this an issue? Let’s celebrate when any child’s musicality is nurtured and allowed to grow in this hostile environment. We do not need infighting in the ranks!

  • Margaret Mehl says:

    It is hardly fair to accuse Suzuki of major fraud, just because “Nurtured by Love” is inaccurate on points like Suzuki’s relationship with Einstein. For one thing, all autobiographies have their problems as historical sources. For another, “Nurtured by Love” is not even an autobiography; more a collection of autobiographical episodes, of anecdotes, thoughts and observations about Suzuki’s educational philosophy. Moreover, Suzuki Shin’ichi cannot reasonably be made responsible for everything that was or is said and done in his name, sometimes by people with limited knowledge of his thought and work.
    I am not myself associated with the Suzuki Method, which was barely known in Germany when I began studying the violin in 1970. My interest in Suzuki and his method is that of a historian and my new book “Not by Love Alone: The Violin in Japan, 1850 – 2010” (details at http://www.notbylovealone.com) includes quite a bit of information about Suzuki and the historical context of his life and work.
    Margaret Mehl, University of Copenhagen, Denmark