The children marched and took their places. They were nervous and looked with anxiety at their parents, who tried with gestures and unspoken words
to reassure them. But the children had prepared long for this event; they had run through it many times. With quiet concentration beyond their years they looked
to the adult in front of them and waited for the signal to begin.
BANG! The starting gun went off, and the nine young runners dashed from the starting line and toward the first turn in the track.
* ACHIEVEMENT *
By Bob Julyan
As a long time runner and as a writer specializing in running, I've watched this scene often.
And as a six-year Suzuki parent I've more than once been struck by the remarkable similarities between this scene and a Suzuki violin performance.
Gradually I've come to understand something my own violin teacher said along time ago: "Only athletics requires as intense physical concentration as learning to play the violin."
At the time he said this, it seemed like an incongruous comparison-music and athletics. After all, music is of the soul,refined and beautiful, whereas athletics is of the body, vigorous and...well, sweaty.
Now, however, I realize my teacher was talking not about the product but about the process, and the more I know about both music and athletics-or at least the violin and running-the more I realize the similarities are indeed both real and significant.
Here are some similarities:
In both music and athletics the novice quickly learns that while talent can complement hard work, it cannot substitute for it. Human variability means that some people will have more native ability than others, but just as Jascha Heifetz was not born knowing complicated bowings and fingerings, so Jim Ryun was not born running four-minute miles. Each had to undergo a long, rigorous apprenticeship.
Both require repetition and consistent practice for progress to occur-playing the same selection over and over again, running around the track again and again. Day after day after day.
Because of this, both require long-term commitment. Itzhak Perlman says he begins working on a piece a year before he first performs it, and a world class runner such as Joan Benoit Sameulson will train similarly for an important race.
Both music and athletics also depend on positive reinforcement for progress. Good violin teachers know this; so do good coaches.
Progress in both is often interrupted by plateaus-periods when little is apparently happening-followed by sudden surges in improvement.
In both music and athletics the standards of excellence are clear and unchanging; in neither is it possible to "fake it." A painter whose work was rejected by one generation may be acclaimed by the next, or vice versa. But faulty intonation sounds bad in any era, and the judgement of the timing clock is equally implacable. Appearance, personality, wealth, and connections can help, but in both music and athletics true success ultimately depends
on the performance itself.
What's more, success in both depends little on technology or equipment, unlike fields such as medicine or science. A fine violin is an asset, as are good running shoes, but in the quest for excellence they provide only a minor margin of difference between one individual and another.
Perhaps that's because both athletics and music have a timeless quality. Though the violin repertoire and methods of instruction have changed over the years, the act of playing the violin has changed little since the instrument achieved its present form in the 16th century. And while coaching techniques and racing formats also have changed over the years, the act of running itself has not changed at all since humans attained their present
physique hundreds of thousands of years ago.
And finally, both music and athletics, at their best, have the same goal; developing the dedication and discipline required for each individual to realize his or her full potential.
Though running has been very important and beneficial in my life, I have not pushed either of my daughters to become runners or to enter races. In a way, that's too bad, because I believe the physical release and large motor activity of running would be a wonderful complement to the mental concentration and small motor activity of playing
the violin. They enjoy their Suzuki program, however, and one intense and demanding pursuit is enough.
But as their progress in their violin study through discipline and hard work, I want them to be able to recognize, and respect the same process in other children pursuing other activities.
The race was a mile-four laps, like the four movements of a sonata-and now the young runners were nearing the end. When they crossed the finish line they staggered to a stop, then dropped to catch their breath. Their parents and coaches came out and patted them on the back for a good performance, regardless of their finishing time. Each had done his or her best, and through the pain and exhaustion each felt a sense of achievement.
Dr. Suzuki would have approved
In 1987, when the article appeared, his oldest daughter was 11 and his youngest 6. Both were Suzuki students. Now his oldest daughter is principal second with the Charleston, S.C. Symphony, and his youngest is a graduate student at the Cleveland Institute of Music.
Permission to showcase this article on Sheila's Corner was given by Bob Julyan.