"I'm kind of flying Japanese, I hope you can be flying American"

Today Mr. Takahashi decided that I should try one of the best noodle houses in the country for Soba or buckwheat noodles. (He takes all the gaijin there - I'm told they have as much protein as bacon or cheese) It was about a thirty minute drive from the school, in the foothills of the mountains (also near Azumino, Japan where Altus flutes are made). The food was of course delicious (Mr. T said it was impressive how slowly I ate and initially took it to mean that I didn't like the noodles), but even more wonderful was the opportunity to hear more of his story. You see, I know little bits and pieces from other people, but I have tried to find biographies of him online to no avail. As with everything (it seems) in the Suzuki method, there tends to be more legend than concrete story. So, here's what he told me:

Mr. Takahashi was born in Tokyo in the late 1930s. His family moved to Nagano prefect during the Second World War because his father worked for a company that built war-planes and kept getting bombed by the Allied forces. For this reason, he went to 6 different elementary schools (and found that he had a knack for picking up the new school songs almost immediately), but he graduated from middle school in Matsumoto.

A man of varied interests, Mr. T initially wanted to be a painter, then a novelist, and finally a Sumo wrestler! It was difficult to imagine this tall and slender man having the makings to be a Sumo, but he assured me that in those days he was much heavier and he didn't lose the weight until ulcers in his early twenties caused him to have two thirds of his stomach removed. At that point it didn't matter that he shed the weight because a year or two earlier he was out somewhere and heard Moyse being projected over the speaker system and the rest as they say is history. He was "enchanted" by Moyse's flute tone and proceeded to teach himself to play using Moyse's records as a guide. He remarked that he was very glad that he had been paying attention - how many people just keep walking when they hear music?

Then in 1965 he went to Los Angeles where he lived for 3 years. Since he only had a visitor's visa he had a hard time getting work. (he also told me he had his heart set on buying a Ford Mustang which was $3,000 at the time, but since he had only brought $1,000 total to America he had to settle for a used $300 car that was decidedly less hip) He advertised flute lessons in grocery stores and volunteered to play for parties and churches. His first stroke of good fortune happened when a generous older woman heard him play and asked where he was living. When he described the hotel he was staying at, she offered him the use of her house in return for keeping up the property while she looked after an (even) older woman. Within 6 months time he was able to bring his wife and baby daughter to the States.

Not long after, he met a manager who set up a series of concerts around the West and gradually worked his way to the East Coast. While there, he sought out William Kincaid (one of my great-grand teachers) to have a lesson on Kent Kennan's piece Night Soliloquy (which Kincaid premiered) among others. Kincaid happened to mention that he thought Marcel Moyse was involved with the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont, and that night Mr. T had the operator try to find Moyse's number. When he finally got through, Moyse's wife answered and told him that Moyse was in surgery for gall stones, but would be home in the morning. Mr. T barely made it to noon the next day before trying again, and this time Moyse said "sure, I'll teach you."

"Moyse was a flying Frenchman. When I was working with Marcel, I was walking on the earth, that was a kind of a problem."

While in Marlboro, Mr. T was basically Moyse's assistant (turns out he lived between Moyse and cellist Pablo Casals (!), so his tone studies are based on a combination of the two men's daily warmups) This proved to be the foundation for a long and lasting friendship - Moyse came to Japan twice in his 80s to do masterclasses arranged by Mr. T. Mr. T also plays on one of Moyse's old flutes - a heavy, silver-plated nickel flute that Moyse moved the tone-holes on to have a more "musical scale."

After living rent-free for three years the Takahashi's decided to move back to Japan after (presidential candidate at the time) Robert Kennedy was assasinated near where they were living. They moved back to Matsumoto, and there fate stepped in once more. Dr. Suzuki heard Mr. T play and was moved by what he heard. Although Mr. T was only 30 years old, Dr. Suzuki approached him about creating a flute method based in Suzuki's teachings. Mr. T tried to decline ("after all, I was 30, what did I know about writing a method book?") but was eventually talked into doing it. Dr. Suzuki's big inovation (besides the whole mother-tongue approach) was that rather than getting harder and harder until the pieces got so hard that students quit he built in plateaus and ensured success until the students were playing harder rep without realizing it. Mr. T worked closely with Dr. Suzuki for three years on how to choose repertoire and formulate the books. In that time, Mr. T tested a lot of material on his own students to help ensure that he was picking songs that kids liked to play (hence, a lot of J. S. Bach).

In America we would say that fate has looked kindly upon Mr. Takahashi. He always managed to be in the right place at the right time. Additionally, I would add that he is clearly loyal (having a 43 year car, no matter how cool it is proves that) and thoughtful, someone who talks about trying to put the fourth dimension, the "soul" to music. He also is obviously worried about Moyse's legacy dying and players not carrying on his tradition. He would never ask me, but if he did, I would tell him that tradition is important, but innovation isn't bad either - and more than preserving the teachings of Moyse, Mr. T has given us a method to work with students and each other to share ideas and promote what is beautiful in life. That, more than anything else is what has given him wings.