Guest Artist Interview with Dr. David Clark
Jeannine: Who is David Clark, and how did you find a career in music?
Dr. Clark: As a child, I was drawn to classical music and especially the organ. From as far back as I can remember, I went to see and hear pipe organs at every opportunity. I desperately wanted to play them (as I had already started piano at about age eight), but of course was never allowed to touch a pipe organ in those days, so I just looked, longed and listened. So organs and organ music have been a passion for as long as I can remember!
I graduated from Melbourne University, Victoria, Australia, in piano and organ in 1968. Then I did further organ study overseas with Dr Martin Neary at Winchester Cathedral and post graduate study in musicology and organ with Dr Warren Becker at Andrews University, Michigan, including a Summer School in Suzuki Piano at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. That was my first introduction to Suzuki piano teaching.
I was a Senior Lecturer and Chair of the Music Department (now Avondale Conservatorium) at Avondale College, NSW, for over thirty years. I taught musicology, organ, piano and French over that time. Apart from my day job I am a half-marathon runner, amateur horticulturist (we live on three acres) and love hiking with family and friends.
J: You are well-known in the music world of Australia as a proponent of the Suzuki organ teaching method: What is unique about the Suzuki philosophy?
Dr. Clark: Dr Shinichi Suzuki (1898-1998) outlines his philosophy in his book “Nurtured by Love.” (Alfred Music; Revised edition, 2013) He realised that all children learn - some well, some badly - depending on their environment. They learn to speak their nativeaa language (or more languages if they are surrounded by them) perfectly well, without any accent: something an adult can only do with great difficulty! Thinking about this natural Mother Tongue environment, he realised that babies and very young children absorb music in the same way, immersed in the language of music by repeated listening - even before birth. Then when they later show an interest in learning to play – sometimes as young as two or three – as our son did with the cello – they learn in small steps suited to their individual development. From this flows the philosophy of learning with love, the most natural and important way a young child will absorb music as a language from their environment. This is what is unique about the Suzuki philosophy –all young children can learn to play music well, as a natural part of their lives. Of course this can only be achieved by informed, involved parents and highly skilled teachers. Teacher training and professional development are at the heart of the Suzuki Triangle – parent – child – teacher. This is why many teachers from all over the world flocked to Matsumoto, Japan, where Dr Suzuki taught three year olds to play the violin. Teachers observed, listened and played, absorbing the skills needed to teach young children. Many of them graduated and went back to their countries to spread the Suzuki philosophy, which is now global.
For those who want to find out more, there is an excellent account of the Suzuki philosophy here: http://www.suzukimusic.org.au/suzuki.htm#phil
J: How and why did you decide to become trained in this approach to early childhood music?
Dr. Clark: When our first son was born, I thought what a wonderful thing for a baby to listen to beautiful classical music! I had observed young Suzuki children playing the violin and piano beautifully, and although I had some misgivings at first (because I couldn’t understand how they could do it!) I began Suzuki piano teacher training. From there I established a Suzuki piano school at Avondale College - and never looked back. It was such a joy to see young children playing so well and develop into such beautiful adults over the years. “Character first, ability second” was Dr Suzuki’s lifelong principle. Some students went on to take up music professionally, others just enjoy playing for fun and going to concerts.
J: In my experience, one hears of Suzuki teachers in violin and piano, however, you have not only developed a Suzuki organ program in Australia but are a Teacher Trainer for the Pan Pacific region. Please tell us about this program and why it is an effective way to teach organ.
Dr. Clark: The Suzuki repertoire and pedagogy was researched and developed over fifteen years ago by Swedish Suzuki Teacher Trainer, Gunilla Ronnberg. Ronnberg was fascinated by the challenge of preparing simple, progressive pieces and teaching techniques for children as young as three years old – something that had never been done before. See her website here: https://suzukiassociation.org/
I was fascinated by these wonderful developments of making organ playing accessible to very young children (something I had longed for as a child). I had read and studied the program as much as possible and some of my piano students were keen to learn the organ. So I began teaching, with Gunilla’s help, quickly building up to a studio of about twenty students followed by six teachers keen to study the pedagogy.
I was already a piano Teacher Trainer, so was awarded organ Teacher Trainer status for the Pan Pacific region. I was fortunate to have the resources and support of a one thousand member congregation at the Avondale Memorial SDA Church, Cooranbong, NSW, on the campus of Avondale College. We now hold summer schools, workshops, recitals, student concerts and teacher training on the campus and interstate. Our annual Christmas concert attracts an audience of nearly one thousand people.
There are six books in the Suzuki organ repertoire along with the listening resources (two more books are in preparation). Small children begin on the pedal board, the ideal ‘supersized” keyboard, perfect for gross motor movement and spatial development. Articulation (based on Baroque performance practice), legato and improvisation are taught right from the beginning pieces, along with theory, note reading and sight reading at every lesson when the child is ready.
J: Where can one study and receive training to become a certified Suzuki organ teacher?
Dr. Clark: In Australia, there are teacher training programs in most states, leading to advanced accreditation in early childhood music, psychology, pedagogy, repertoire analysis and performance. The Suzuki Association of the Americas, https://suzukiassociation.org/ has excellent training programs across the country, right through to masters and doctoral studies. Dr Jeremy Chesman, an outstanding Suzuki organ teacher at Missouri State University, can be contacted at: email@example.com
J: Please share some Suzuki success stories with our readers.
Dr. Clark: Many of my students are already at an advanced level, performing at concert halls and churches throughout the state and interstate.
They play regularly at the Sydney Town Hall and the Sydney Opera House. More details and student performances can be found on my website: http://www.learnsuzukiorgan.com/
>My greatest satisfaction and success comes from teaching students who have learning challenges – some on the Aspergers spectrum, ADHD, or Global Development Delay. It is amazing what these students achieve, sometimes quickly, sometimes very slowly, on an instrument that appeals to them visually, aurally and spatially. They particularly love the wide spectrum of sounds and colors which appeal to their senses.
In Dr Suzuki’s words,
J: Thank you, Dr. Clark, for sharing this exciting information with our readers.