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Start 'Em Young. Today, while many Oriental string players get their major training in the U.S. with such top teachers as Gregor Piatigorsky and Juilliard's Ivan Galamian, home-grown instruction has turned into a near industry. The most famous Oriental string teacher is Japan's Shinichi Suzuki, 70, whose revolutionary start-'em-young technique produced tiny Miss Kasuyaone of a group of Suzuki prodigies now touring the U.S.and her note-perfect Mozart. Suzuki's Talent Education Institute, founded in 1946, takes in pupils at the age of three, subjects them first to an intensive course in ear training, technique and performance by rote from recordings, and later to such refinements as note reading. While the course is designed only for a musician's formative years, at least 100 of Japan's professional violinists have come out of the Suzuki school. So successful is his method that the New England Conservatory, the Eastman School and the Oberlin College Conservatory have started Suzuki-type programs.
Ironically, as the number of Oriental string players rises, the decline in America is becoming more acute. Nearly every major U.S. orchestra is starved for accomplished stringmen, and the famine is even more apparent in lesser orchestras. So bereft is the great Cleveland Orchestra that it was obliged recently to advertise in the New York Times for violinists, violists and cellists, offering a 52-week season, minimum salaries of $12,480, four-week vacations, pensions, sick leave, medical insurance and other fringe benefits.
Perhaps the Suzuki method will in time overcome the U.S. shortage. Until it does, chances are that more and more orchestras will look to the Far East. The Orientals are not only more available but competent and eager as well. As Isaac Stern explains: "A top-class Tokyo violinist starts at less than $100 a month, while in America today an orchestral musician is a member of an elite, well-paid profession." Adds Master Teacher Galamian, only partly in jest: "There was a time when all the finest violinists were Jewish and came from Odessa. Maybe now they will all come from the Far East."