John D. Kendall, a violin teacher who introduced the Suzuki method of music training to the United States in the early 1960s, prompting a near-revolution in how children learn to play musical instruments, died Jan. 6 at a hospice in Ann Arbor, Mich. He was 93 and had a stroke.
In 1958, while attending a music conference in Ohio, Mr. Kendall saw a short film in which hundreds of Japanese children were playing the Bach Double Violin Concerto with surprising skill. Wanting to learn more, he made an extended visit to Japan in 1959 and met Shinichi Suzuki, the teacher who devised a new approach that had children learning the violin at an early age.
Suzuki, who died in 1998 at 99, had the idea that students could learn music in the same way - and at the same age - that they learned to speak. By imitating sounds and repeating the proper techniques of playing the violin, children as young as 3 could make music.
When Mr. Kendall entered a room filled with Suzuki's young students, they immediately began playing the Vivaldi G-minor Concerto.
"It was really amazing," Mr. Kendall told a Time magazine correspondent in 1959. "I was so touched I could feel tears welling up in my eyes."
Mr. Kendall brought the Suzuki method back to the United States and became one of its first and most influential teachers. He adapted Suzuki's instruction books for American students, began a pilot program in Ohio and helped build a network of teachers throughout the country and, later, across the globe.
"He was a real visionary," William Starr, a longtime Suzuki instructor and violin professor at the University of Colorado, said Saturday. "When he saw that videotape, he was curious enough to get up and do something about it."
In 1964, Mr. Kendall helped arrange for a U.S. tour of Suzuki's Japanese students, who thrilled audiences across the country with their astonishing abilities. But the Suzuki method, which often includes group learning and heavy parental involvement, was hardly popular at first.
Renowned violinist Isaac Stern once condemned the practice as "an automated procedure" and "the weakest and most criminal method in music education today."
By the early 1970s, however, Suzuki training had spread across the United States and was credited with reviving the country's moribund state of string education. The principles for teaching violin were extended to the guitar, other string instruments, woodwinds and the piano. Many of the young musicians begin playing on instruments scaled to fit their hands.
Today, according to the Suzuki Association of the Americas - which Mr. Kendall helped found - an estimated 350,000 children are learning musical instruments by the Suzuki method. Many leading classical soloists and symphonic musicians received their first musical training in Suzuki classes. One of Stern's grandsons became a Suzuki student.
John Dryden Kendall was born Aug. 30, 1917, in Kearney, Neb., and grew up on a farm. In addition to working in cornfields and his father's chicken hatchery, he began playing the violin in the fourth grade.
Every Sunday, he wrote in a private memoir completed last year, his family listened to radio broadcasts of the New York Philharmonic. In high school, he organized a string quartet and won first place in a statewide music contest.
He graduated from the music conservatory at Oberlin College in Ohio in 1939 and taught at Drury University in Springfield, Mo., before World War II. During the war, he registered as a conscientious objector because of his pacifist Quaker beliefs and was assigned to work in mental hospitals and medical laboratories. He also received a master's degree in education from Columbia University.
In 1946, Mr. Kendall joined the faculty of Muskingum College (now university) in New Concord, Ohio, where he taught humanities courses and conducted the orchestra.
He moved to the newly formed Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville in 1963 to set up a program of string studies, with the agreement that he could spend a substantial portion of his time on Suzuki education. He made repeated trips to Japan to introduce U.S. teachers to the Suzuki method.
In addition to teaching, he played in a string quartet and was concertmaster of the St. Louis Philharmonic Orchestra. He and his wife established a nature preserve in Illinois.
Catherine Wolff "Kay" Kendall, to whom he was married for 55 years, died in 1998.
Mr. Kendall lived in Takoma Park from 1998 to 2005, near his son, Christopher Kendall, the former director of the University of Maryland School of Music and the founder of the Folger Consort and the 21st Century Consort in Washington. Christopher Kendall is now the dean of the school of music at the University of Michigan.
Other survivors include two children, Nancy Foster of Washington and Stephen Kendall of Muncie, Ind.; seven grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
Three of Mr. Kendall's grandchildren are professional musicians, including Daniel Foster, principal violist of the National Symphony Orchestra. Foster and two of his cousins, Nicolas and Yumi Kendall, are three of the members of the Washington-based Dryden String Quartet.