(An edited version of this article appeared in the Plucky Violin Teacher email community in June.)
In much of Dr. Suzuki’s writings he talked about the importance of developing the character of the child as well as the musicianship. It’s an abstract concept that is sometimes difficult to translate into our day-to-day interactions with our children and students. Honestly, I often forget about this responsibility as a teacher, but I recently had an experience that renewed my conviction to make character development a more intentional part of my music teaching (and my music practice with my own children.)
I was watching veteran master teacher, Helen Higa, work with some 8-10 year old kids in a masterclass at the Intermountain Suzuki String Institute.
The kids were making a little too much noise, and wiggling a little too much. It was distracting from the learning environment.
Ms. Higa told them that children at institutes all over the world do the very same things, and she told them she sometimes wondered why.
Then she asked them how many people lived on the earth. They made their guesses, and she told them. Seven Billion.
She said, “When I think about me in all of those seven billion people, I think, I’m not rich. I’m not famous. I don’t have any kids. Maybe I’m not very important. And if I’m not important, the things I do aren’t important. The things I do, don’t matter.
When you think you aren’t important, you might think that it doesn’t matter what you do. It doesn’t make a difference. But it does.”
She continued, “Dr. Suzuki made this method because he knew that every child, every person, is important. You’re on this earth for important reasons. Who knows what great things you are going to do with your life? You don’t know yet, you can’t know yet. But what I know is this: You are important. Because you are important, how you act, what you do, and what you say matters.”
She then told each one, by name, “You are important. Because you are important, how you act, what you do, and what you say matters.”
It was a powerful, moving moment. I felt privileged to see it.
The children stood straighter, and it was clear they believed what she was saying.
Later on in the class, when behavior would begin to worsen, all she had to do was remind them, “Don’t forget, you’re important.”
Instantly, they’d smile, stand taller, and any poor behavior would disappear.
It was magic.
I’d like to invite you to join me in making an effort to teach our children and our students that they are important. And because they are important, how they act, what they do, and what they say matters. I also want to remind you, parents and teachers, that you are important. And because you are important, how you act, what you do, and what you say matters.