Felicity Lipman

Felicity Lipman and student

Photo of Felicity with a student

Felicity Lipman studied at the Royal Academy of Music with Hugh Maguire (violin), Sidney Griller (chamber music) and Neville Marriner (chamber orchestra). She later studied with Yossi Zivoni. Felicity first went to Japan on a Churchill Fellowship in 1975 to study with Shinichi Suzuki. In total, Felicity went sixteen times to Matsumoto to study and work with Dr Suzuki. She became the first European graduate from his Institute in 1977. At his request she co-founded the European Suzuki Association and the British Suzuki Institute and developed and directed the first Suzuki teacher training courses under the auspices of ESA from 1978. Felicity was professor of violin at Guildhall School of Music for thirty years and also headed their dynamic chamber music department, and was professor of violin at the Purcell School for Young Musicians. She is in demand as a teacher trainer and masterclass teacher all over the world and was a diploma examiner for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. Felicity has played in the Academy of St Martin’s in the Fields, has led the Linley String Quartet, the Rasoumovsky Quartet, and the Haydn Piano Trio of London. She performs as soloist worldwide.

Instrument studied in Japan: Violin

Dates in Japan: 1975-1977, graduating in 1977; sixteen times total to work with Dr. Suzuki

Years and locations of workshops with Dr. Suzuki that were outside of Japan: In Europe regularly over the years when Dr. Suzuki came to work with the developing European Suzuki programs.


The Birth of Suzuki Method in Europe

As a student at the Royal Academy of Music, I was approached in my home by a Japanese mother who had listened to me practising for two months and wanted me to teach her daughter by Suzuki Method. Although I assured her I knew nothing of the Method, she was insistent and I went to hear Hiromi the next week. She was six years old and played Humoresque straight from her heart. I was enchanted. The next year the Japanese Tour Group came to London - sensational playing. Gradually I was teaching six Japanese children, all of whom had started Suzuki Method in Tokyo and were in London for a couple of years. When one of them asked me to start the younger brother, I realised I knew nothing of how to achieve such results from the beginning. At this time, I was playing in the BBC and had my own professional string quartet. I was awarded a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Scholarship to study with Dr Suzuki in Matsumoto for three months. This was in spring of 1975, I was 24 years old.

My first day in Tokyo coincided with the Annual Graduation Concert in Budokan Hall, Tokyo. 3,500 children played together. The joyous waves of sound rose to me, sitting up ‘in the Gods’. It was overwhelming, inspiring, deeply moving. The next day I travelled by train to Matsumoto - kind Japanese steered me to the correct platform of this huge station as all the signs were in kanji! Matsumoto was charming in those days, little traditional ‘soba’ buckwheat noodle shops facing the station exit. (Sadly now there is McDonald’s and all the alpine buses for trips creating much noise and bustle). Matsumoto is a huge basin, a rice growing community, in the middle of Japan’s northern alps, with beautiful, aspiring views in every direction. Dr Suzuki chose to pioneer his Method there as they would not even have heard of a violin. One of my enduring memories is of falling asleep each night to the sound of the frogs’ chorus on the rice paddies - beautiful. Dr. and Mrs. Suzuki and his lovely private secretary, Mitsuko Miyasaka, were most warmly welcoming, as were all the office staff. They were delighted a European would be studying for a significant period for the first time. It had been arranged that I stayed with the Ohno family, a short bicycle ride from the ‘kaikan’(Institute). They were kind and somehow coped with my total ignorance of Japanese home life and language. Perhaps a steep learning curve on both sides! I met many wonderful Japanese people in Matsumoto during that first three months and had my first experiences of Japanese public baths - even family/friends’ parties in the ‘onsen’ (hot spring baths). It could be true that East and West do not always meet in the middle! The food was simply delicious!

Dr Suzuki’s lessons were all masterclass style, so we learnt much from observation also. He was serious in his aim to develop our understanding of his Law of Ability. He created opportunities to develop awareness, sensitivity, empathy for others in order to nurture us into living by his philosophy of education. His behaviour to us all demonstrated this Philosophy, so we also learnt by “osmosis”. Above all, once we worked to the best of our ability, he was great fun and the possessor of a quick humour. He was generous by nature and would frequently take all or some of us to eat delicious soba at lunch - rating our chopstick technique and the quality of appreciative slurp! Once he and I had a competition to see which was quicker cutting thin slices of beef with chopsticks - he maintained knife and fork were much inferior for developing dexterity in the bow hold! I soon realised that three months was not enough to assimilate a great man’s lifetime’s work. On my return I played out my notice to the BBC, performed all quartet concerts in the diary, and spoke to the Churchill Trust, who so generously gave me another scholarship. I returned to Japan on an open-ended visit, stayed for a year and became the first European to graduate from TERI, in July 1977. Dr. Suzuki asked me to form the European Suzuki Association and train teachers in his Method. I felt such a debt of gratitude, also having no idea how to do this but a belief in my own energy at 26 years old, I merely agreed! If I had been 40 years old, I may have realised the mountain I would be agreeing to climb…. It was indeed the right journey. I did feel very inexperienced and resolved to return to Japan frequently to keep pure the Japanese philosophy underlying Suzuki’s Method whilst developing this in a western environment. I went to Japan sixteen times to immerse myself in this - how Suzuki Method worked as it was intended in an Eastern setting - to study with him and work in Japan at the World Conferences. I feel truly blest to have known Dr. Suzuki well and worked with him for twenty years.

On my return to London, I taught at Morley College 'Family Activities’ classes. Anne Turner came to accompany the group lessons. We developed a great rapport and had much fun travelling all over the country to demonstrate Suzuki Method with a few very young students. Morley College was happy for me to start the first teacher training there also. Twelve trainees came from the London area and we worked two hours a week together. Later this moved to the Royal College of Music. However, I realised that residential courses would give the trainees space to absorb the work differently and forge relationships with each other. When we moved to the Rural Music Schools’ Little Benslow Hills in Hitchin, just north of London, trainees came from all over Britain. It built a close network and ‘family’ of teachers. Suzuki Method in GB mushroomed from this point.

Also in these years, Tim Constable, a British lawyer and parent of Anne Turner’s piano pupil, came with me to advise when I met with other European teachers whom Dr. Suzuki had met either in USA or Japan - Tove Detrekoy, Jeanne Janssen, Susan Johnson, Jean Middlemiss and Sven Sjogren. Evelyn Hermann from Dallas also came with her valuable experience of setting up ISA. At this meeting Tim advised us that we would need to form National Institutes before a European one. We all agreed to return and do this and meet later to form the European Suzuki Association. As I was the instigator, it fell to me to form the blueprint of the teacher training courses within Europe. We then discussed how this would work in each of the different education systems in the European countries. A consensus was reached.

Dr. and Mrs. Suzuki came regularly to Europe during these years to support and encourage our work with National and then European courses. All were inspired by him. He was invaluable in the formative years.

There is so much more I could write about the development in Europe over these many years. However, at the time of writing, all our major music schools, professional orchestras, chamber groups and some soloists are full of Suzuki trained students. Although this was not Dr. Suzuki’s main aim, the strength of his philosophy and method of Education, ensures this also. There are many fine teachers of the next generations whom I feel confident will carry this work forward with a purity of purpose. My thanks to you all and of course from us all to Dr. Suzuki!

I am blest Dr. Suzuki invited me to teach at every Suzuki Method World Conference in Japan and was lucky enough to work with teachers and children all over the world. I am so grateful to have been inspired by Dr. Suzuki to spend my life for the enrichment of all children.

Photo of Felicity Lipman and Dr. Suzuki, early 1980s