Suzuki, The Beatles, and the Secret Beetle of Abbey Road

Shinichi Suzuki was one of the great thinkers of the 20th Century. His lifetime actually spanned the 20th century (he lived from 1898 to 1998), encompassing two world wars, Imperial Japan and the atomic bombing of his homeland. He emerged from World War II determined to spread his message of love and world peace through music. Sounds like John Lennon to me. In the preface to Lila’s “Suzuki Violin, Book 2”, he writes:

The bow is what causes the strings to produce sound. When we experiment with various ways to bring the bow to life and serve the bow when drawing sound from the strings, this is when the strings will resonate beautifully and without distortion, enabling us to learn to play with gentle ease, enjoyment and beauty. This is also a philosophy for life. It may be said that the essence of violin playing is to bring the bow to life and serve that bow…the ultimate goal of music education, as well as the secret of violin playing, is to guide others away from the world of self-centeredness to that of loving hearts in the service of others.

As I have written previously, I did not come to Suzuki willingly, but was dragged kicking and screaming by my three-year-old daughter who had a vision of herself playing the violin with a certain teacher, Emily Greene, who happens to be Suzuki. After nine months, I acquiesced, and the rest seems to be history. So now I am dealing with another three-year old, and–of course–now I want him to train with a Suzuki teacher. And–of course–he has other ideas. You would think I would know by now that the wisdom of the child is greater than that of the parent. But I am stubbornly fighting him, and this time it’s out of my own misapplied loyalty to the instrument of my heart: the acoustic guitar.

It’s just getting worse and worse. Today we got the Taylor Guitar catalog in the mail. I handed it to Johnny and said, “Here, this came for you.” He grabbed it and scowled.
“I don’t wike ‘coustic guitars!” he hissed. “I want an ewectwic guitar! Dat’s what I told you, Mama!”

“You can’t play electric guitar until you’ve first learned acoustic,” I said for the umpteenth time. “And also until you’re ten.”

“I am ten!” he shouted back. “And I can pway ‘coustic guitar!” And he grabbed his tiny classical ax and banged away with his pick. “But I don’t want to pway dis siwwy guitar. I want ewectwic! Wike John Wennon!” And he dropped his guitar on the sofa. “Don’t even talk to me!” he shouted and ran away.

I so want to control this situation. I so want Johnny to be like his sister and want to take lessons. I want him to want to. I don’t want to be that mother who forces her child to do something–be a doctor, go to law school, marry a doctor–and I always swore I wouldn’t. But when he disses acoustic guitar, man, I lose all my ideals.

I spoke with my friend Andrew Lawrence, a local guitar teacher, a non-Suzuki dude who would certainly teach my son to play electric–someday. He said, “Three? Honestly, if someone else had called me looking for a teacher for a 3-year-old, I would have sent him to you, Nerissa.”

“I don’t teach guitar to kids,” I said, shortly.

“Neither do I,” he said, even more shortly. “I can never get them to practice, and I always feel like the Big Bad Music Teacher Responsible For Killing The Child’s Love for Music Forever. No thanks.”

But Emily makes Lila practice, and even I on my worst Suzuki Mom days have not managed to kill her love for music and violin.

Johnny stomped back in the room. I was sitting on the couch with Lila. I picked up the catalog. “Hmm,” I said. “Lila, maybe you’d like to play guitar.”

She leaned into me, getting into the conspiracy. “Yes, I would.” she cooed. “Ooo, mama, look at that one.” And as I cuddled Lila, rewarding her for being the good, obedient child, I began to hate myself for my hypocrisy. Naturally, Johnny sat next to me fuming.

The other teacher I emailed, a bone fide Suzuki teacher sounded like he would take Johnny on, though “I’ve never taught anyone as young as three. Of course, he won’t be playing the actual guitar for a long time. First he’ll learn to sit on the stool, then use the footstool. When it’s time to get him a guitar, I’ll let you know what model I favor.”

“Oh, he already has a guitar,” I wrote. Big mistake. The teacher still hasn’t written back, and it’s been two weeks. I am sure it’s because he knows exactly what is happening in our house. That Johnny bangs on his acoustic with ferocious abandon. That Johnny will be unteachable because he already “knows” how to play guitar.

So I am backing off. I am hearing what both teachers said. And I am trying to honor the music of my own bow, get out of my self-centeredness. He is three. Three. No one I know started an instrument at three, and I know a lot of musicians. So today, I showed him the cover of Abbey Road.

“What do you see?” I asked.

He pointed right at the VW beetle with “28 IF” in its license plate. I’ll wait for a future date to explain that 28 IF might or might not have been Paul’s age if Paul had or hadn’t died in a secret car crash. (Which can’t be true because Abbey Road came out in 1969 when Paul was 27, but I digress).

“Dat’s Herbie da Wuv Bug,” he crowed. And he spent the rest of the day clutching the LP cover. Later, as I was making dinner, he came over and joined me at the sink, and we had a peace talk negotiation. “Well….” he began. “I could pway bass guitar wike Paul.”

I jumped right in, completely unable to stop myself. “In that case, you should start with violin,” I said eagerly. “Or maybe cello. Because, you see, bass is just like a bass viol, which is played more like a cello or violin than a guitar.”

He looked at me sidewise, perhaps with pity. “Ok, mama, first I pway acoustic guitar, den ewectwic guitar, and den bass guitar. Dat’s a good idea, wight Mama?”

“Oh, sweetie,” I said taking him up in my arms in a giant hug. “You’re going to play all those. I can’t wait to hear all the music you are going to make.”

He may not end up being a Suzuki student, but something tells me that he’s going to serve that bow, one way or another.

About nields

musician, writer, mom
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3 Responses to Suzuki, The Beatles, and the Secret Beetle of Abbey Road

  1. 1) I have no children and therefore any thoughts I have about dealing with children are highly suspect and possible risible. 2) If I did have children, my ability to deal with children and their personalities is such that we all would have ended up in the emergency room by now. 3) Having said, that, I have a couple of ideas for you, perhaps? I believe John and Paul both played acoustic guitars before electric — does that help? (I’m not sure about George.) On another line of thought, I had a little bit of success getting my stepgrandchild not to bang on the keyboard by comparing it to a kitty or a puppy. You have to be gentle with a kitty, puppy, or piano, and learn how it likes to be played with. Oh, P.S. Great blog post. Funny, warm, wise, humble, human in the best possible way.

  2. Ashley says:

    One thought I had today when you read that I’ll offer now: The bow is Desire. The strings are the Heart.

  3. Katryna Nields says:

    So, I told Johnny that in the concert Paul does at Citifield that you gave to us on DVD, Paul plays acoustic guitar, electric guitar, ukulele, bass and piano. He was impressed. I did not understand at the time, but his eyes lit up when I said that Paul played acoustic guitar. It’s amazing to me how children are influenced. Maybe if you had a story about how Herbie learned to play guitar by practicing the same chord for 3 weeks at a time, you could get Johnny to do that too! ha.

    On another note, I always think it is a humbling thing about parenting that we learn that our great ideas for one child do not work with the other child. And our lives change when we are carting around two kids. A one year old is happy to be carted around to his or her older sibling’s activity, but a 5 year old can get annoyed about being carted around to his or her younger sibling’s activities.
    Perhaps I’ll write a bit about my experience with William’s forays into piano playing…
    loved this post by the way.

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