The "Good" Gifts

by Mrs. Ruth H. Barrus

Christmas bells are ringing and voices young and old are singing throughout Christendom this season to declare the "glad tidings of great joy," the "Birthday of a King," the "giver of all good gifts" - gifts of love and sacrifice which have opened up the heavens and the earth to a vision of eternal life and joy. His love for us makes our hearts full and we extend our arms also in giving of these "good" gifts to those around us.

In Japan there emerged from the First World War a young man named Shinichi Suzuki who had been taught to work skillfully in his father's violin factory, and who had been taught to have faith in men and to love little children. He said that "the image of young growing children who are the very essence of life's joy took hold of my imagination." He saw in these young children a reservoir of trust, honesty, justice, love, joy, living in a world of security without fear. He sensed, tragically, that as these children grew to adulthood these great qualities would too soon be replaced by suspicion, treachery, dishonesty, injustice, hatred, misery, gloom. To effect such a transition while in the process of costly state education and home training - surely, he thought- there is something wrong with education! As he examined the educational system of his country he came to some conclusions which today are affecting plans of educators world over.

First he states with great conviction that talent does not exist at birth; it is not inborn but has to be created. Every child acquires ability through experience and repetition. "Let us educate our children from the cradle," he says, "to have a noble mind, a high sense of values, and splendid ability - character first, ability next."

Mr. Suzuki proved this point in a remarkable manner. After eight years of study of the violin in Germany, and before and after a demoralizing second World War, through 20 years of loving labor, his system of violin instruction has trained over 200,000 Japanese children from ages 3 to 10 to play the violin - this in a country that contained scarcely a violin at the beginning of the 20th century. Each of these children were trained with the belief that each shall become superior, that the essence of great art is not something that is far removed from us but is something that is "right inside our ordinary self" and needs only to be unlocked. "Art", Suzuki says, "is the expression of a man's whole personality, sensibility and ability."

Second, training must start from infancy, and not at regular school age. Suzuki's studies repeatedly proved that there is a positive difference in the state of instinctive response between a person trained from infancy and another not so trained. An infant can learn a skill after 500 times of repetition, whereas an older child will have to repeat the process 5000 times to get the same result.

Third, repetition is the key to talent, to ability, to achievement. He challenged all to stop lamenting lack of talent and to develop talent instead. By repetition we develop new functions, new skills. We have to be brought up with the idea that by energy, patience and repetition achievement in our abilities is possible. Ability is one thing we have to produce ourselves - that means to repeat and repeat until a matter becomes a part of ourselves. "Live with hope! Do not rest in your efforts! Commit yourself to untiring patience and strong endurance!"

Fourth, children are educated in the home. Suzuki stresses to the parents that they must be prepared for long strenuous endeavors and the devotion necessary to carry through resolutions to the last. So much depends upon the parents that the mother is required to study a month with the teacher and be able to play one piece before the child can commence his study. It is necessary for the parent to have first-hand experience. The child comes to the classroom with his mother and watches other children and his mother play. A "pint-sized" violin is made available for him to handle and play with at home. The idea is to catch the interest of the child so that he will say, "I want to play too." The mother replies, "So you would like to play the violin too - we will ask the teacher if you can join next time" - a three-year-old commences his music study. Create the desire, then teach the skill. The mother accompanies the child to each lesson and observes carefully the recommended procedures. Recordings of exercises and pieces to be played are taken home and played over and over again that the child might hear and sense the perfect rhythm and the perfect intonation. Movements are taught before the sounds are made. The movements must become instinctive. Five times perfect is the goal - one miss means starting over again.

Finally, we must educate not instruct. True education brings out, develops the human potential based on the growing life of the child. The only concern for parents should be to bring up their children as noble human beings. "He will become a noble person through his violin playing. Isn't that enough?"

Has Mr. Suzuki given the "good gift"? Pablo Cassals, the great cellist thought so after listening to 500 Japanese children between the ages of 5 to12 play in unison a Vivaldi concerto and the Bach Concerto for Two Violins. He wept as he embraced Mr. Suzuki and said that he exemplifies the "heart of the heart - teaching children to start life with noble feeling, noble deeds. Perhaps it is music that will save the world!"

Are we prepared to give these "good" gifts? Can we give of love, time, patience, faith, that our children might start life with noble feelings and noble deeds - perhaps it is music that will save our child!