In 1987, I had the good fortune to attend the International Suzuki Music Conference in Edmonton, Alberta. Thousands of musicians from all over the globe gathered to study together and to celebrate the life and work of Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, founder of the Suzuki Method of Musical Education. It was a week filled with classes, concerts, lectures and making new friends, but the highlight for me, was to be able to observe Dr.Suzuki teach and to hear him speak about his philosophies. To me, this was the opportunity of a lifetime, as Dr. Suzuki didn't travel to North America very often.
I'm not proud of it, but I was a dedicated smoker back then. I don't know if Dr. Suzuki was proud of it, but he was a smoker also. This is how we met. I believe it was on the second day of the conference. I had just finished watching Dr. Suzuki working his magic on a group of youngsters and went outside for a quick "puff". I was standing with my back to the main doors, when I felt a tiny tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see Dr. Suzuki standing there, with an unlit cigarette in his mouth.
"Do you have some fire?", he asked in very bad English. I held my lighter, as he lit his cigarette and then, we stood there together, chatting as best as we could. He asked me things like my name, where I was from, what instrument I taught, again barely discernible. I clumsily attempted to reply. I recall he had a very tough time trying to say the "z" in Zane. It came out kind of like "Schssst "ane".
Over the course of the next few days, Dr.Suzuki and I sat together, sharing our vice on a number of occasions. There weren't many other smokers at the conference, and male teachers were also in short supply. Circumstances made us the perfect pair.
A year later, a family I taught travelled to Japan for an extended holiday. Unannounced to me, their itinerary included a trip to Dr. Suzuki's "castle", (that's what we North American teachers called his home/teaching facility) in Matsomuto, Japan. They were able to observe Dr. Suzuki teaching and at the end of the class, noticing the strangers in his studio, greeted and began to chat with them. When he learned they were from Saskatoon, he asked about me. When they informed them I was their teacher, he asked if they could possibly return the next day, for another short visit. They consented.
That night he created a painting for me of the view from his bedroom window. A devout student of Japanese caligraphy, as well a s penmanship in English, Dr. Suzuki he also inscribed "Man is a son of his environment" in both languages on the work. It has hung in my studio since.
Needles to say, I was deeply touched to receive such a wonderful gift from this iconic man. I was amazed that he even remembered me. Dr. Suzuki's art and words have inspired me each and every day as I work with my students in my studio.