John Kendall

Return to Significant Teachers

Many years ago, a friend and colleague of mine, Gracia Bruce, urged me to attend a meeting of “The Suzuki Method” in Denver, Colorado. I certainly was not enthralled with the prospect, and remember being reluctant to attend. After arriving on campus, we were taken to an auditorium at Denver University, and someone [presumably, Jim Maurer] came onto the stage, and after appropriate greetings, said something like, “If you have never taught before, raise your hand.” Even though I had taught, the results had been so dismal that I thought it not worth mentioning, so I raised my hand. He [the person on the stage] then said, “All of you with your hands up will meet with John Kendall every day.” I did not know it then, but raising my hand on that day in Denver changed my life forever. There were forty or fifty of us in that class, and as I recall, we covered the first three or four books of the Suzuki Violin School. At the end of the workshop, I knew John Kendall knew what I wanted to know.

Even though I had spent my life studying the violin, in college I discovered that the two musical fields open to me – Performance or Music Education – were not what I wanted, so I continued to take course work in and out of music for many years. Mine was a non-traditional education, for sure.

The following years were not easy for me, or for Mr. Kendall. I began calling him and begging to come to SIUE to study with him and he refused, telling me that I did not have a degree in music and was not a qualified candidate. Over the months, I gradually wore him down. In order to get rid of me, he told me to call Carol Smith, who was his new Coordinator. I called Carol and was absolutely delighted when she made arrangements for me to stay with a local family. Thus began a ritual of visits, in which I studied and observed him and his graduate students. In order to further my education, I followed him everywhere he went and had him do many workshops in New Mexico and Arizona. For me, it was humiliating and daunting work. I had never been exposed to ideas like his, and never felt so completely out of my comfort zone. For some reason unknown to either of us, I persisted to subject myself to his rigors for many years. Over those years, our relationship began to change and mature. He became mentor, colleague, counselor and friend – all while opening my eyes to the exactitude and excitement of teaching.

For the last ten years or so, he would call and talk to me about books he had read that he thought I would like. He invited me to come take more private lessons. We talked, collaborated, and argued about the placement of the feet in “playing position” and various movements of the left elbow, and shared our mutual interests in farming, ice cream and chickens. I was honored to have him do clinics at UNM on more than one occasion, and, more recently, was able to take a few of my university students to Ann Arbor to meet him and receive instruction from him. His recent death was like losing a father. I treasure the lessons he taught me and the time we spent together. Each day, I hear his voice in my own teaching.

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