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Just a priceless story

A wonderful and really inspiring story from John Berger, who studied with a great Suzuki in Japan. Suzuki was in his late 80' and was teaching many students a day.

"I guess it is something all musicians and teachers experience at some stage. I was most acutely aware of it on my arrival at the Suzuki Institute in Matsumoto. The level of playing among the other teachers, especially the Japanese students, was dazzling. One of my friends there described it as feeling like a tricycle in the midst of the Rolls-Royces. I felt like my tricycle had no wheels…

"You play this part too slowly," Suzuki had said at the lesson. I nodded in silent agreement. It was difficult for me to play that particular section of the Beethoven violin sonata quickly and accurately, so I'd slowed it down in an effort just to make it possible. I'd worked on those two bars for a couple of weeks with little effect. I wasn't one of the whiz kids who started at 3 years old that I'd watched in awe when I arrived in Matsumoto. Suzuki laughed. "You must practise 10,000 times before next lesson."

I trudged home that evening utterly exasperated and dejected. Occasionally Suzuki set us this special number of repetitions for a bowing exercise to improve tone production or a new technical skill. 10,000 is an iconic big number in the Japanese counting system. My first 10,000 repetitions had been a profound experience - on an exercise to perfect the clean entry of the bow into the string. It changed the way I began a bow stroke and producing a more satisfying tone. This time it was different. These two troublesome bars seemed completely beyond me. In the morning I felt a small glimmer of determination and set to work, attaching a digital counter on the end of a ruler to keep the tally. It took over four hours to do a thousand slow and correct repeats. I gingerly tested it at the right tempo, but it fell apart as usual. I'd been hoping for at least some improvement. Four days later I reached the 7,000 mark. It must have been mind-numbing for anyone in earshot, hearing those two bars played over and over for hours on end. (My lovely long suffering neighbours never complained.) Now the section was better, but I still couldn't play it with total certainty at speed! I was starting to believe it was impossible. That night I went to bed that night in gloom, doubting if I could succeed. What was I doing here?

The next morning was simply more hard work, but around midday a small miracle occurred. After reaching about 8,000, it finally came together and I found I could play accurately it at the right tempo. The last two thousand were pure happiness. If I had given up before 8,000, I would have believed it impossible.

Later at the lesson, Suzuki seemed oblivious to the results of my work and made no comment on the sonata. He worked on something entirely different. Most likely he had forgotten. I certainly never have."

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