Young children can learn to play the violin the way they learn a language. That, at least, is a precept of the Suzuki method, the popular pedagogical technique that teaches young children music by immersing them in it: listening to recordings and emulating the musician they hear, over and over.
But the current Suzuki violin recordings, played over and over by tens of thousands of children across the country, were made by William Preucil Jr., who was just fired as the Cleveland Orchestra’s concertmaster. An internal investigation, launched in the wake of a July story in The Washington Post alleging that he had sexually assaulted a student, found 11 women who said he had harassed and abused them.
On Tuesday, Alfred Music, the publishing firm that holds the copyright on the recordings together with the nonprofit Suzuki International, announced, after three months of silence on the subject of Preucil, that it would be rerecording the excerpts.
“We take the allegations of sexual misconduct that have been made against violinist William Preucil, Jr. extremely seriously, and we are dismayed at the findings of the investigation conducted on behalf of the Cleveland Orchestra,” the firm said in a statement. “To that end, we will work closely with the International Suzuki Association and will replace our current Suzuki Violin School recordings with new recordings as soon as possible.”
Many teachers have been grappling with the Preucil issue since The Post story was published in July. Because there had been rumors about Preucil’s behavior for many years, some had been against the recordings for even longer.
“I have from Day One been very against these recordings and very open about it,” said Marissa Murphy, a violinist and founder of Washington Suzuki Strings in Chevy Chase. “I have tried to go every avenue I could to avoid the Bill Preucil recordings.”
Murphy studied at the Cleveland Institute of Music, where Preucil taught, and she had heard rumors, she says, for 25 years. In the welcome packet she sends to new families, she includes information on the sheet music but tells parents to go to iTunes and download the recordings of the earlier version of the books, by her former teacher, David Cerone, even though they don’t always reflect the revised fingerings and bowings in the newer, Preucil version.
“That guy,” she said of Preucil, “is not getting my money or my students’ money.”
Shinichi Suzuki, who developed his approach in the 1940s and ’50s and shepherded its spread around the world, believed that it developed not only music but also character.
“It’s a very idealistic community. It’s not just to teach, to create little prodigies. Our idea is to, through music, have people be good citizens, have good hearts,” said Laurie Niles of Pasadena, Calif., a violinist and teacher who writes the blog Violinist.com. She said many students grow up idolizing the musician whose playing they emulate. “It is important who it is on that recording,” she said.
The Suzuki method came to the United States in the 1960s under the aegis of John Kendall, whose grandchildren include Daniel Foster, principal viola of the National Symphony Orchestra; Nick Kendall, violinist and member of the ensemble Time for Three; and Yumi Kendall, assistant principal cello of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
The Suzuki Association of the Americas has almost 8,000 members. Most are teachers, according to the organization’s website. The most popular instrument is violin.
First-generation Suzuki leaders included Preucil’s parents, William Preucil Sr. and Doris Preucil, who founded the Preucil School of Music in Iowa and remain beloved figures in the field. “I think people have been very afraid to hurt them,” says Murphy, giving a possible reason that concerns about their son’s status as a de facto Suzuki ambassador weren’t raised earlier.
“You cannot take away the fact that he contributed to the community, he lent his talents to a lot of this,” Niles said of Preucil’s multiyear commitment to the recording project. “But there is no question about the really serious problems that happened in Cleveland. That is something that we can’t ignore.”
Suzuki members are already debating who should replace Preucil, and there is hope from some quarters that it might be a woman or a person of color, or both.
Allen Lieb, the chief executive of Suzuki International, had no answers, but he suggested it will take time. Preucil recorded his excerpts over several years.
“This will be a deliberate process in consultation with all five of the Regional Suzuki Association violin committees as is the procedure for all of the instrument areas,” Lieb said in an email.
For many parents, the replacement will come as a relief. Nathaniel Miller, a mathematics professor and cellist who lives in Boulder, Colo., wrote to the Suzuki Association of the Americas about his concerns in the wake of The Post article.
“I was horrified that this is what my 8-year-old daughter is listening to as she goes to sleep,” he wrote. “It was upsetting.”