The new face of Suzuki is open to question

The new face of Suzuki is open to question


norman lebrecht

February 06, 2020

The press release (below), announcing Hilary Hahn as Suzuki brand leader, makes it sound like business as usual but two troubling questions spring to mind:

Why would a hand-reared artist like Hilary lend her imprimatur to a mass-teaching movement like Suzuki?


Why was it necessary to cover up the fact that Hilary has been pressed into Suzuki service to replace the long-serving recordings by former Cleveland concertmaster William Preucil, who has been erased from the record by #Metoo allegations?



The International Suzuki Association, in conjunction with Alfred Music, is pleased to announce the highly
anticipated recordings of the Suzuki Violin School, Volumes 1–3 by internationally renowned violinist,
Hilary Hahn in collaboration with pianist Natalie Zhu. The new recordings will be available spring 2020.
The ISA Violin Committee is grateful to Hilary for her exacting standards during the recording sessions.
She brought tremendous energy, artistry, and dedication to bear in all aspects of this recording. Hilary
expressed many times to the Committee her delight in revisiting these pieces from her childhood, and the
opportunity to make a lasting contribution to the world-wide Suzuki community. These are recordings that
students, parents, and teachers will enjoy listening to for years to come.

Ms. Hahn said, “I was delighted to be asked to record Suzuki violin Books, 1–3. During the sessions, I
thought about the current and future students, their parents and teachers who would hear these
recordings. I’m moved to be part of their experiences with the violin. These pieces were played with love
and care, and I hope Suzuki violinists will enjoy listening to this music every day.”


  • Former Suzuki Kid says:

    You ask, why would a hand-reared artist like Hilary lend her imprimatur to a mass-teaching movement like Suzuki? I believe it’s because she was hand-reared using the Suzuki method, like the majority of string players who make it to a professional level. It worked for her and thousands of others; therefore, she approves of the method.

    There are group lessons, but the main focus is on weekly private lessons with a teacher and a parent or guardian who helps with practice at home. Any method is reliant on the teacher’s ability. The Suzuki method is no different, and teachers make it their own with additional repertoire and creative problem solving.

    When Bill Preucil’s abuse of students came to light a few years ago, the Suzuki Association of the Americas immediately began searching for someone to replace him on the recordings. For many, Hilary’s contribution couldn’t come soon enough.

  • Jon says:

    Rather foolish ‘two troubling questions’ aren’t they?
    First – Hahn is a damn good violinist and maybe she just wants more kids to get into it?
    Second – who cares? He was a piece of crap and is being replaced by someone of greater talent and character.

  • Andy says:

    As the poster above mentioned, Hilary Hahn studied under Suzuki method for the first year or so that she was playing – she mentions this a lot in interviews so I’m not sure why this appointment would be a surprise.

  • EMore says:

    It’s always good to record new things and I think the Suzuki method has helped start many a career…however, I do have to wonder if Ms.Hahn also has some personal motives to add to her new project—She does have two small children and we all know how musicians like to promote their own children. Do not be surprised when she makes her kids part of this “project”.

    • Larry D says:

      We’ll be on the lookout, thanks. She won’t get away with this (purported) outrage!

    • Dennis says:

      “…and we all know how musicians like to promote their own children”

      Apparently non-musician parents are never guilty of “promoting their own children”!

    • Suhashini says:

      I can’t really see that happening as a “personal motive” on Hilary’s part, but I’d be delighted to see that. It would be hugely inspiring for Suzuki and non-Suzuki teachers and kids alive, but a ton of work on her part. We’d be lucky if that happens.

      -A former Suzuki kid

  • David K. Nelson says:

    Kyoko Takezawa is another first rate violinist, with many recordings for RCA Victor/BMG, who began with the Suzuki method and is proud to mention it in interviews. I have some reservations about the Suzuki method myself (or rather about the playing ability of some of the teachers of Suzuki that I have encountered) but I’m not going to argue with results.

    • Suzuki Dad of 4 Professional players says:

      Please remember that anyone can call themselves a Suzuki teacher. There is no certification process, only registration of training taken. There are many who have never taken any training, but still call themselves Suzuki because they use the books.

      • F F says:

        An audition is required to in order to qualify to register training taken. Otherwise individuals can audit the course and take the training, but not have it officially registered with the Suzuki Association. So if someone is looking for a qualified Suzuki teacher on the Suzuki Association website, only teachers who meet ALL of the requirements for the training levels they have attained will be listed. Those who “just use the books” are not.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      Thank you for mentioning Kyoko Takezawa, David.
      I heard her play the Tchaikovsky concerto with the SF Symphony. Her performance was stunning in every way.
      Hearing her play this immensely difficult work with such commanding beauty and virtuosity provided me with one of the finest concert experiences I have ever had.

  • Michael Landman-Karny says:

    When questioned by David Letterman about a notoriously bad movie that she appeared in, Sandra Berhhard replied, “have you seen the check, Dave?”

  • Anon says:

    Hand-reared artist
    Grass-fed beef
    Fair trade coffee

    I just need to learn a few more of these terms, and then I’ll be ready to go out into the world.

  • Bill says:

    David Nadien was a “hand-reared artist” as well when he did the recordings before Preucil. Not a drop of Suzuki influence in his background, either.

    • Violinhead says:

      I grew up listening to David Nadien’s records of the Suzuki pieces. That was awhile back…

      These are some other violinists who did start with the Suzuki Method: Ray Chen, Joshua Bell, Julia Fischer, Arabella Steinbacher, Sarah Chang, Leila Josefowicz, Regina Carter (jazz violinist) and Anne Akiko-Meyers.

      It’s wonderful that Hilary Hahn has done this for the next generation.

      • Bonquiqui says:

        Violinhead – your comment is mostly fiction. Arabella, Julia, and Anne Meyers might have played FROM the Suzuki books, but were NOT Suzuki method.

        Sarah Chang didn’t have Suzuki pedagogy – she started with her father, and a year later she was with Hyo Kang and Dorothy Delay. Again – not extensive Suzuki training.

        • Violinhead says:

          Bonquiqui–thank you for the corrections. I guess the blog where I got that information ( musicians who started with Suzuki Method) wasn’t a good source. The author of the blog, Laurie Niles, lists Anne Akiko-Meyers, Zach de Pue, and Brian Lewis off the top of her head.This is from one of the commenters, Frank-Michael Fischer:

          “Arabella Steinbacher:
          Lena Neudauer:
          Korbinian Altenberger:
          All three, together with Julia Fischer, were students of Helge Thelen, arguably the most successful Suzuki teacher (in terms of preparing professional violinists) I know.

          The Sarah Chang reference is from a commenter named Vanlal Hruaia. To be honest though, other than the times I was accompanying her as part of an orchestra, I’ve never followed her.

          The discussion was archived in 2012.

          In any case, my original comment was about violinists who started with the Suzuki Method. When I say Suzuki Method, I’m referring to the books, which are a series of repertoire pieces organized into 10 volumes, and also the philosophy of teaching, based on the way children learn language. I didn’t claim those players had extensive training in the Suzuki Method, which is subjective.

        • A Pianist says:

          Absolutely right. there is a lot of fiction going on in this comments section. this topic came up for discussion at Juilliard now and again. I never heard a pro violinist who was taught “orthodox Suzuki” who was not bitterly unhappy about it later. Also basically everything Suzuki asserted about developmental psychology was incorrect and laughed out of the room by the credible academics in the field. Having said all that, many good teachers teach “Adapted Suzuki” where group and individual classes, and the suzuki books, are combined with rhythm training and reading. This seems to be a successful mix.

          • Successful and Happy Former Suzuki Student says:

            Then you never met me. And I was working in the Phil, right across the street from Juilliard…

            Suzuki Method isn’t a religion. There’s no “orthodox Suzuki.” Rhythm training and reading are always part of learning music. Maybe “A Pianist” is threatened by the success of the method over most traditional methods. Even after all these years, some people don’t want to admit how effective it has been. I’m sure there’s a place for everyone and their preferred teaching method.

        • FF says:

          An essential element of Suzuki method is the parent as the “home teacher” who rather than ‘telling their child to go to their room and practice” – the parent who is the home teacher actually re-teaches the lesson at home to their child. In terms of violin – the parent often learns to play at least basic songs on the instrument before the child begins instruction. So Sarah Chang while perhaps not a Suzuki student by “brand” certainly seems so by “method”. As for the others, I acknowledge that I don’t have the experience or knowledge to know of their training.

  • Dennis says:

    I believe some of her earliest training was with the Suzuki method…so, seems like a logical partnership really.

    In any case, in my book Miss Hahn can do no wrong, and is altogether delightful!

    This Danish TV backstage video is hilarious, especially the part around 3:40 where she says “This is contemporary music,” complete with ringing toy phone:

  • Angeleno says:

    Like Former Suzuki Kid says, you’d have a very hard time finding string players (at least in America) who never used any of the Suzuki books in their studies. So of course it’s appropriate for Hilary Hahn to make the recordings! As it would be for almost any other fine player.

    Over the years there have been many misconceptions about Suzuki instruction. But it’s been extremely effective, and at least in America it’s pervasive. Yes, some teachers rigorously follow the method and others merely nod to it. The misconception behind Norman’s second question may derive from perhaps derives from knowing that Suzuki education is supported by organizations and that from time to time students get together, sometimes in large numbers, and play through their shared repertoire. But it’s not like McDonald’s: Suzuki instruction is individual, and the teachers don’t buy franchises from the Suzuki Association of the Americas.

    Interestingly, the case has been made that the pedagogical use of recordings may have been Suzuki’s most significant innovation.

  • Hilary says:

    What an amazing violinist she is. Her encore project embraced a wide range of styles (from Barrett to Schedrenin) and moreover
    her appeal is quite considerable to even a gay man.

  • Mary says:

    If William Preucil has been “erased from the record,” it is not by the thoroughly substantiated “metoo allegations” but by his own bad behavior.

    And Hilary Hahn got her start in Suzuki lessons. As did many other current professional violinists, including me, and I am definitely not complaining.

    • G.G. says:

      I’m sorry Mary. Maybe is my English skills couldn’t afford my understand. Are you trying to say that “Metoo allegations” aren’t due to his bad behavior? If not, what was the reason?

      • Mary says:

        Norman Lebrecht seemed to be insinuating that the “metoo allegations” against Preucil were baseless, which they very much were not. The “allegations” were thoroughly substantiated and very much based on his actual behavior, so the word “allegations” was a poor choice on Mr. Lebrecht’s part, though not a particularly surprising one. My point, which I could have made more clearly, was that Preucil’s downfall was not because of what others said about his behavior, but entirely due to his own actual bad behavior.

  • SuzukiTrainedConservatoryBred says:

    There certainly is a lot of negativity on here. Of course, the OP is based on negativity, so I guess misery loves company. All I can say is that I LOVE the new recordings, I am so glad that WP is gone. I can’t wait for Book 4-8 recordings. Also, Suzuki Violin is currently rebranding for the better. They do require auditions for certification, and I know of at least two people who were not accepted to take the training. They no longer just take anyone who will pay! And yes, after you have received certifications, you will be a different and much better teacher, I don’t care if you stick with the Approach, or the Books, or the Method. The Suzuki Training is AMAZING!

  • Rhys Jaggar says:

    Suzuki training will undoubtedly be ‘amazing’ for anyone who found it suited them growing up.

    To be truly honest, Suzuki should also discuss its failures as well as its many successes.

    You know, do they see that as ‘acceptable collateral damage’ to create professionals?

    I personally experienced what being ‘acceptable collateral damage’ growing up playing the violin felt like, not using Suzuki method, just being falsely pushed forward on an instrument I was not suited to. The only reason I am still here is that by chance on a gap year I had a marvellous teacher who showed me how joyful it could actually be. It was too late to become a professional, but it erased all the negative experiences leaving me feeling my journey was completed.

    I cannot emphasise enough that not everyone is suited to the violin, indeed no orchestras would exist if every child were force fed the violin as a school diet.

    I would strongly recommend that Hilary Hahn and her musical friends and colleagues also devise good methods to identify suitable instruments for young children to play, using the sort of rigour in that kind of evaluation that they doubtless use in teaching their own personal instruments of choice.

    Nothing will ever be perfect, but oral tests are utterly irrelevant in the selection of an instrument. They identify children with musical potential, nothing more. The kinaesthetic skill sets for playing a violin are utterly different to a piano, an oboe, a horn, timpani or the harp. Notably that violin is a right-handed instrument, given that all professional orchestra players play it right handed. Chaos ensues if you have 50% playing ‘left handed’, after all. Left handed children need totally different attitudes toward learning a violin: children under the age of 7 will be hopelessly unco-ordinated with their bowing arm at the start….and expecting them to play effectively the ‘wrong way around’ is like berating John McEnroe for not winning Wimbledon forced to play right handed…

    Music can unfortunately be a curse as well as a blessing.

    Those who were blessed by it are not always those alert to its potential for blighting young lives…..

    Contempt is unfortunately an emotion I experienced for 10 years learning a violin. No-one ever had the kindness to say: ‘Give up, you simply don’t have the talent for it!’ They wanted the money, the child was the acceptable collateral damage….

    It leaves emotional deficits growing up which usually do not heal….