Dr. Suzuki

In 1978, I attended the Third International Suzuki Conference, held at San Francisco State University. My most extraordinary memory of that conference was meeting Dr. Suzuki personally in a most unusual way. I must digress here for a moment to make a comment on the SFSU cafeteria. Anyone attending the conference knows what I am talking about. Dog kibble would be a five star meal by comparison. The food forced me to be creative by supplementing meals with anything I could find at a nearby jiffy store. Apples, over ripe bananas, nuts and anything else I could purchase were welcome additions to the ghastly fare!

Anyway, one day, fresh from the nearby jiffy mart, I was in the cafeteria loaded down with violin, purse, a bag of whatever I had purchased, as well as my lunch tray upon which I had a bowl of soup. Balancing all this was precarious, but the bigger problem was that I could not find a place to sit down. I walked around looking for an empty seat, when I spied what seemed to be an empty table on the far side of the room. I headed for the table, squeezing between tables and chairs. I edged closer to the spot with bags, books and Bertha [my violin] swinging from her back strap. It was about this time that the violin strap fell from my shoulder and caught in the bend of my elbow, which was also holding the bag. At the same time, my left hand was trying to balance purse (still on the shoulder), bag and violin hanging from my elbow – and violin case dragging on the floor. The tray was precariously balanced in both unsteady hands.

In my panic, I noticed that a single man was sitting at the table I was struggling to reach. He was watching me. I looked down and saw to my horror and amazement that it was Dr. Suzuki! I was frozen to the spot. It was like a dream when you need to run and can’t. The only thing moving was my tray, which was slowly tipping right over his head. He calmly stood up, took my tray, and smiled; then he indicated that I was to sit next to him. I can only guess, but he must not have liked being alone at the table.

The time we spent having our lunch was precious for me, and challenging, too, as I struggled to understand his English. He would talk and laugh, then would talk and laugh; I never felt uncomfortable or intimidated. He was not there to impress or intimidate (even though I was both impressed and intimidated!). When we left the cafeteria, my impression was having spent a half hour or so with a truly great man with a truly great spirit.

Now you know my first one-on-one meeting with Dr. Suzuki, who not only saved my tray, but also saved my dignity!

I attended several workshops with Dr. Suzuki before this memorable incident, but in subsequent years - whether we met in large groups, small groups, or privately - my respect for him grew. He was helpful, insightful and insistent about everything he taught. Those things never changed, no matter the situation. I loved hearing, “This is my new idea; please try it!”….and we all eagerly tried everything he suggested.

Photographs of Susan Kempter's Bisiach courtesy of Robertson & Sons Violin Shop