A tribute to Anne Turner from Jenny Macmillan

Anne with Dr Suzuki

It was Anne Turner who brought Suzuki piano to the UK from Japan. She travelled to Japan with her husband, Henry, when he had business there, saw the way Suzuki children learned and performed, and decided she wanted her own children to benefit from Suzuki philosophy. On her return to London she found there was no Suzuki in the UK and so, on a Churchill Fellowship, went to Japan to study with Dr Suzuki in Matsumoto. Together with violinist Felicity Lipman, she set up the BSI in 1978.

In the early 1980s I was working as secretary to the UK Council for Music Education and Training and was asked to organise a half-day workshop with Anne Turner on the Suzuki approach. Seeing the imaginative and sensitive way in which Anne taught her pupils at this workshop, I knew that my (as yet unborn) children would have to learn through the Suzuki approach. When our eldest child was nine months old, I contacted the BSI and enquired where I would find our nearest Suzuki piano teacher. We lived in St Albans and I learned that Anne lived a few miles away in Radlett. Anne had no vacancies, but invited us to observe lessons, which we duly did a couple of times each term. When our son, Chris, reached the age of three, Anne said she thought she might have a vacancy for him, so we started observing fortnightly, and then weekly, until he started lessons with her a couple of months before his fourth birthday. Lessons were a revelation – the way this kind, calm, intelligent woman could work gently and constructively with a boisterous three-year-old. Anne made us feel special. Our second son was two years younger, and our daughter was born a few months after Chris started lessons. We were a real Suzuki family.

Chris had only 18 months of lessons with Anne before Henry retired and they moved to Scotland. We were devastated at the thought of losing Anne. However, she found a replacement teacher for her pupils. Kevin Smith had trained under Anne. He drove from Hastings every Saturday to teach Anne’s pupils near Radlett. Chris had completed book 1 with Anne. He continued to make excellent progress with Kevin, and Anne invited him to perform Bach Minuet 2 at one of the major evening concerts at the International Suzuki Conference in St Andrews which she organised in 1990. As a family we attended many music courses, at Temple Dinsley and Bryanston, and also the International Conference in Dublin (where all three children performed, including Chris playing K331 at the age of 11 and Pippa playing the Bach Gigue at the age of seven). None of this would have been possible without Anne’s wonderful guidance in the early years.

Anne teaching Chris age 4

Our two sons, Chris and Nick, became fine pianists, Chris achieving a distinction for grade 8 at the age of 14 and Nick, with dyslexia, the even greater achievement of a merit at the age of 16. Though not pursuing music as a career, they both have fond memories of their music lessons. Nick has an electric piano in his flat in London and loves to play old pieces and learn new ones. He says he was too young to have many memories of Anne, but remembers her as always being extremely friendly.

Anne was very fond of Pippa, who used to come in her cradle to Chris’s early piano lessons. Pippa started Suzuki piano at the age of three, Suzuki cello at the age of six, and double bass at the age of ten, and gained distinctions on all three instruments by the age of 13. She played with the NYO, EUYO and EUBO. She gained a first class honours degree from the RAM and is now studying for a Masters in Historical Performance at the Juilliard. She performs extensively with the OAE, and plays with John Eliot Gardiner and his ORR, the EBS, the English Concert, and the King’s Consort. She started teaching piano, under my supervision, at the age of 11. She’s now a level 4 Suzuki cello teacher and level 2 double bass, and teaches in London and Cambridge when in the UK. Her first cello pupil, who started with her when she was 16 and he was seven, gained a high distinction for grade 8 when he was 13 and now studies at the RCM junior department.

Again, without Anne’s inspiration and the Suzuki approach, I am sure these successes would not have happened. The legacy of Anne’s calm, focused enthusiasm and her love of teaching filtered through everything. Pippa reports that, when she last met Anne, just over a year ago, Anne was friendly, interested in what she was doing and positive about her teaching, to the extent of enthusing over the idea of Pippa teaching a young relative of hers in Cambridge. Indeed, nurturing young teachers seems to be a rarity in the Suzuki fraternity, so all the more welcome when it is evident.

I was originally a very poor piano teacher. I had a music degree and a piano teaching diploma, but had received no training in how to teach. However, when Pippa started school at the age of 5, I immediately began Suzuki teacher training, the first memorable course being at Anne’s house in St Andrews one Easter. Further courses were held at Benslow and then at Oak Lodge. I gradually developed my skills and my confidence in both playing and teaching, attained the ESA diploma, and eventually became an ESA teacher trainer. I have taught on BSI courses, in Ireland and in Spain. I have a thriving teaching practice in Cambridge, teaching about 18 children from age three to 18 (though, over the last three years, six pupils have moved on to the RCM JD and one to the GSMD JD, so I currently have few teenagers). I love working with children, I love working with parents, and I love working with teachers. I receive requests weekly from parents who would like Suzuki lessons for their children, and I have to turn down almost all of them. I am delighted that the ESA has recently changed its policy and is permitting ESA teacher trainers to train teachers independently. Anne would have approved of this. I am now directing a Suzuki piano teacher training course in my studio in Cambridge.

I know I have learned a huge amount from Anne. It was through her example that I started giving Suzuki demonstrations and writing articles about the Suzuki approach. I model my teaching on her approach – her gentleness and kindness with children, her genuine interest in each child and in each parent (she made each of us feel special), her attention to detail, her musicality, her positive approach, her enthusiasm. Of course, it was Anne who was the special person.

I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Anne. So do my children. So do my pupils and their families.

And I am sure we are just a few of many families whose lives have been affected advantageously by Anne’s positive influence. What a lifetime achievement!

Anne was interviewed about the Suzuki approach by Sharon Mark for the special Suzuki issue of Piano Professional in January 2007 which I edited – see the articles page of this website.

May 2013