Louise Mathilde Behrend
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By Emily Langer, Published: August 16


Louise Behrend, a concert violinist
who trained a generation of American
teachers in the Suzuki method and whose
standing as a musician helped the Japanese
movement establish itself in the United
States, died Aug. 3 at Montgomery
Hospice’s Casey House in Rockville.


She was 94 and had complications
from dementia, her family said.

Ms. Behrend, a native Washingtonian,
grew up in a musical family that included
an uncle whose inventions led to the development of the phonograph.

She was a toddler when she tried to enroll herself in violin lessons.
Her musical ability earned her a scholarship to the prestigious Juilliard School
in New York City, where she performed so impressively as a student that the
school kept her on as a faculty member after her graduation in 1943. By 1950,
New York Times music critic Harold C. Schonberg put Ms. Behrend “among
the ranks of the better young American violinists. Ms. Behrend was teaching
at Juilliard in the 1960s when Shinichi Suzuki, the founder of the Suzuki
method, brought a group of students to the school. His philosophy was based
on the notion that children should learn to play music just as they learn to
speak: at a very young age through imitation and repetition. Detractors
criticized the method for relying too much on rote and for being impractical
for American parents who might be less involved in their children’s education
than many Japanese parents were.

Ms. Behrend said she was amazed by Suzuki’s success. “Judging by the
numbers of Suzuki-trained children in both Japan and the United States who
are playing, and playing well,” she wrote in her 1998 book “The Suzuki
Approach,” “Suzuki would seem to have proved the validity of his idea.”
Soon after their first encounter, Ms. Behrend traveled to Japan to learn from
Suzuki. She became convinced that his method was an inspired one and
dedicated the rest of her life to teaching it in the United States. In the early
1970s, she founded the School for Strings in New York City. It remains one
of the premier Suzuki-based schools in the country. “She not only was
successful as a teacher, but also as a teacher of teachers,” said William Starr,
the first president of the Suzuki Association of the Americas. Ms. Behrend’s
philosophy — inherent to the Suzuki method — was that “children can learn
much more than we think they can,” Starr said. That didn’t apply just to
preschool prodigies whose tiny fingers made Vivaldi ring out from violins, but
to all children. Ms. Behrend believed that they just needed to be properly
nurtured. “This is, basically, what we want,” she said in an interview with
CBS’s “Sunday Morning,” which profiled the School for Strings in 1996. “To
bring music into a child’s life very powerfully — not just to listen, but to
involve.” But she never advocated forcing music on a child. “You have to be
sure that it’s done in a way that the kid enjoys,” she told the New York Times
in 1986, “and that you don’t deprive him of other important things in life.”

Louise Mathilde Behrend was born Oct. 3, 1916, and was the younger of two
daughters in a German-Jewish family. Her father, a doctor, was born in
Washington; her mother, a math teacher, emigrated from Germany as a young
child.

After one teacher turned her away from music lessons when she was 3, saying
she was too young, Ms. Behrend taught herself to read music by watching her
sister’s piano lessons. “I started at age 10, which is late by today’s standards,”
she told a Juilliard publication — and very late by Suzuki’s standards.

Ms. Behrend traveled with her family through Europe as young woman and
studied in Salzburg in the 1930s. She once recalled seeing Nazi troops while
traveling with her mother and avoiding a crowd gathered to hear a speech by
Adolf Hitler in the early years of his rise to power.

Ms. Behrend graduated from the old
Central High School at 16. In 1939,
she won a scholarship to attend Juilliard, where one of her mentors was
violinist Louis Persinger. His students over the years also included Yehudi
Menuhin and Isaac Stern.

Ms. Behrend never married. Survivors include her sister, Elsie B. Paull of
Washington.

Central to the Suzuki method is that even the youngest children should be
encouraged to play music. Ms. Behrend also believed that one could never be
too old.


“The fiddle still comes out of the case every day,” she told Juilliard when she
was in her 90s. “If it doesn’t, it looks at me like . . . ‘why?’ An instrument has
to be kept alive by playing.”
Louise Behrend, concert violinist
and Suzuki method teacher, dies
at 94