Shinichi Suzuki is to Teaching Violin as Jebediah Springfield is to Springfield as Jesus is to Christianity

When I woke up this morning one of the first news stories I read was about how “music entrepreneur, composer and violinist, Mark O’Connor” claims that Shinichi Suzuki lived a lie. Mr. Suzuki, the inventor of the world famous “Suzuki Method” of musical education for people of all ages (although when I think of this method, I think of young children learning to play violin) had a great back story, but it would seem his story was a lie. It included him befriending Albert Einstein and having the title of “Dr.”, but that was incorrect as he didn’t actually have a PhD. Rather than reading the countless news stories that are floating around the internet, I suggest you go straight to the source and read Mr O’Connor’s blog post.

As I was reading one of the news stories the first thing that came to my mind was that episode of The Simpsons called Lisa the Iconoclast in which she (Lisa Simpson) discovers that Springfield’s founding father and general town legend, Jebediah Springfield was actually a murderous pirated named Hans Sprungfeld. For those not familiar with this episode, let me explain the basic premise because it is important to my story and you’ll see how this episode of The Simpsons relates to this current news story.

In the episode, the town of Springfield is about to celebrate their bicentenary and Lisa’s class are given essays to write about the history of the town. Lisa decides to do some research on Jebediah Springfield and while she is looking at some of his belongings at the Springfield Historical Society Museum, she discovers that town founder and hero of the people Jebediah Springfield was actually a villainous pirate who had written a secret confession and hidden it within his fife. She writes her essay about this and gets an ‘F’ from the teacher who claims that this is all made up and is one big lie.

Picture courtesy of
Picture courtesy of

The only person to believe her is her own dad, Homer, and the two of them set out to prove what Lisa had discovered. In doing so they get kicked out of the Historical Society Museum and banned for three months by the local town historian Hollis Hurlbut. Later in the episode however, Mr Hurlbut confesses to Lisa that he did know about Jebediah’s shady past and that he hid the one bit of evidence – the prosthetic silver tongue (long story, I’m not going into that bit) that Mr Springfield wore – and it was hidden somewhere in the museum.

He explained to Lisa that he hid the story to protect his job and to keep the myth alive. But after being confronted by Lisa with her wish for the truth to be told, he decided that he could no longer hold onto the lie and that the people need to know about Jebediah’s past and they decide to tell the townspeople during the celebratory parade.

Lisa makes her way to a platform and steps up to the microphone and is just about to uncover the truth to everyone, but before she can get the words out she looks at the smiling faces of the townspeople basking in the glory of Jebediah’s good name and she decides not to tell the truth knowing that in this case, the lie about Jebediah being a hero and worthy legend – one that the Springfieldians look up to – is better left intact as it promotes good will, hope and it’s a great morale boost for the people of Springfield.

So how does that relate to Shinichi Suzuki’s story? Oh, it’s as clear as day. You don’t need to be Einstein, or even a pretend friend of Einstein to work that out.

Maybe this lie of his and his “shady” past should have been kept a secret. It’s not a case of “letting sleeping dogs lie”; that idiom is best fitting to unravelling the truth only to have the “evil past” come back to haunt all and sundry in a negative way. I don’t think this is going to be the case. I don’t think that millions of parents who have benefited themselves over the years in using the Suzuki Method will turn their backs on this way of teaching children to play instruments. But what good has revealing this lie brought?

It will bring notoriety (maybe the wrong word) to Mark O’Connor who will forever be connected to the story of “Dr.” Suzuki thanks to the referencing links on his Wikipedia page. It will bring people in to read his blog which in turn links to his website, and it’s a great lead for him to promote his business. Is that a bad thing? I’m in two minds about this.

As an Atheist it sounds like I’m contradicting myself if I think the lie should have been kept a secret. I mean, shouldn’t me and all my Atheist cronies just let the legend of Jesus be without questioning the holes in the story and prove that “the Jesus Myth” is, well, just that, a myth? Maybe. Here’s a revelation for you; although I AM an Atheist I like to think that I live my life by the way that “Jesus” taught us all to live. You know, love one another and be mindful of one another (like “the gays” for instance; I’m sure Jesus would have encouraged and welcomed their commitment to each other). I cannot call myself a Christian in the most recognised meanings of the word, but when you look further into the word’s meaning, the term “Christian” is also used adjectivally in a proverbial sense “all that is noble, and good, and Christ-like.” When you look at my current profile picture on many of the social media platforms, my long hair, beard, and love of red wine; how can one not say that I’m Christ-like?

But should we let the lie lie? Possibly not. Truth, even when it might hurt someone should be held up as our number one moral choice and it would have been more dishonest for Mr O’Connor to have not told the world of his discoveries.

One thing that this has taught me, and it’s something that I have suspected for a while; sometimes you DO have to cheat in order to get somewhere, as long as people don’t get hurt. This false history that it seems Shinichi Suzuki made up was all in aid for him to be taken seriously about wanting to be part of the music scene, and more so, to spread his love of music and playing an instrument to everyone. Is that a bad thing? Has every student who has been taught to play using his method the product of a lie? Are they forever tarnished with that stigma? No. Oh sure, if any of his students went on to become murderous villains, a serial killer who lives a double-life, one might suggest that they were “inspired” to do so because they thought “if Suzuki can do it, so can I.” If that WAS the case, then Houston, we have a problem.

Whilst “Dr.” Suzuki showed a leaning towards philosophy outside music, he hoped that music would inspire you to be great, not commit crimes.

“Teaching music is not my main purpose. I want to make good citizens, noble human beings. If a child hears fine music from the day of his birth, and learns to play it himself, he develops sensitivity, discipline and endurance. He gets beautiful heart.”

I guess that’s what most people who follow the teachings of Jesus want you to focus on as well. Forget about the torture, the slavery, the rapes and the murders. Forget about the floods, the plagues, the destruction and the sacrificial offerings. Forget about the oppression of the women, forget about the promise of their being only one “race” that are the chosen ones, forget about the lies and crimes committed by the Jews and Romans, forget about the Spanish Inquisition, and forget about the contradictions within the Bible, just remember that Jesus loves you and always will. That’s the message we need to promote. That’s the Jesus Method of religion.

It can also be said of the “religion of peace” that is Islam. Forget about the murders, forget about the child brides and multiple wives, forget about the fact that the day before Mohammed invented Islam the Arab people followed indigenous polytheistic beliefs, Nestorian Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism. Forget about the fact that the day before they became Muslims, many of the people followed Christ which is why “He” had to make an appearance in the Qu’ran and forget that is is written in Chapter 8 that the infidels must be killed. Forget all that. Once you do, it becomes a religion of peace.

But should we simply forget those holes in the story just to let the myth go on? Should we except fiction as fact because the end justifies the means? Maybe it all comes down to the individual situation.

In this case, our antagonist in this story, Mark O’Connor has gone on the attack calling out our protagonist (albeit a dead one) Dr. Shinichi Suzuki as a fraud. Why would this be these case? Why is the truth so important to him? Those who seek the truth generally have a reason for it, don’t they? Why couldn’t he simply leave it be? It’s all because Mark O’Connor is the founder of the O’Connor Method which is diametrically opposed to the Suzuki Method. Well, diametrically opposed might be hyperbole, but what we are looking at here is one “corporation” (Mark O’Connor Musik International) going after another “corporation” (International Suzuki Association) in an effort to make more money.

On Mark O’Connor’s blog it seems his favourite thing to write about is discrediting Mr Suzuki. Sure there are lots of opponents to the Suzuki Method and the method has faced much criticism over the years, but it’s not as if Shinichi Suzuki is touting something along the lines that (former Dr.) Andrew Wakefield did when he put forward his now discredited claim that there is a link between vaccinations and autism. I can understand why people went after him and his work, but with more than just anecdotal evidence that students of the Suzuki Method can and do play the violin well enough to be considered a violinist, why go after the man and his shaky past? It’s all about the almighty dollar.

It’s the Cola Wars. It’s Ford versus Holden. It’s McLaren versus Ferrari. It’s Apple versus Microsoft. It’s iOS versus Android. It’s Jabot Cosmetics versus Newman Enterprises (I’m ashamed I know that one).  It’s X versus Y. Whatever it is, this discovery whilst accurate and well researched is the product of corporate rivalry. You don’t need to be Einstein to work that out. Actually, you don’t even need to be friends with Einstein to work that out.

So what do you think? Should Mark O’Connor have set the record straight? Do you think the truth in this situation was needed to be made public? Are you a student of the Suzuki Method or do you know someone who is or was?

One thought on “Shinichi Suzuki is to Teaching Violin as Jebediah Springfield is to Springfield as Jesus is to Christianity

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