Our hearts are in our throats as we watch the news of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Carl and I can’t help but think back to our trip there in March 2006 when he and violinist Yuko Honda gave the fourth and final “Reunion Concert.” In fact, it was just about 5 years ago this week that we were in Fujisawa (I went along as the page turner!) They previously had played duo recitals in California, Washington, and even in Hawaii, at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu, having not performed together for forty years. Local columnist, Wayne Harada, interviewed both of them for a story in the Honolulu Advertiser (“Performing together again, 40 years later”)
The story began over 60 years ago in Japan where Yuko Honda started violin lessons at the age of four with Soichi Yamamura, one of the Suzuki teachers in Japan. When she was fourteen, she started taking lessons with Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, the founder of the Suzuki method, commuting eight hours each way every two to three weeks. After graduating from high school in Japan, Yuko came to the United States to attend the University of Washington and to demonstrate Suzuki principles. She later developed the Suzuki program at Eastman School of Music, and taught at Drake University, the University of Southern California and the University of Memphis.
It was Yuko’s teacher, Mr. Vilem Sokol, and Carl’s piano teacher, Madame Berthe Poncy Jacobsen, who decided that the two should play together, specifically the Franck Violin Sonata in A major. They had only two weeks’ notice before their first recital. Carl says, “At first, she felt very inadequate communicating in English, but that certainly was not an obstacle in developing a musical partnership. We both felt the same way about the music we were playing even though we had come out of very different cultures.” In all they played over two dozen concerts together as college students, always ending the programs with the Franck Violin Sonata.
Fast forward to the year 2005 when Yuko came to Hawaii to teach a Suzuki Association workshop and contacted the Crosiers, after exchanging only a few Christmas cards over these many years. Over dinner Carl suggested that they resurrect the Franck Violin Sonata “for old times’ sake.” But we noticed that Yuko was coughing all evening and asked her to check it out with her doctor when she got home.
Six weeks later, we were all shocked to learn that Yuko had cancer of the lungs, and it had spread to her brain, liver and bones. Yet she had never smoked a day in her life. Without treatment she would be dead in two months — perhaps two years with treatment. But she told Carl, “I’m not dead yet — so you’d better start practicing!”
In November 2005 Carl flew to Seattle, Washington where he and Yuko had several days of intense rehearsal. Composer Michael McLean wrote a special piece for Yuko, saying it was a composition about her life, starting in Japan and migrating to America. It included Japanese folk songs as well as American blues. It ends triumphantly, with large fortissimo chords reminiscent of tower bells. It was symbolic of Yuko’s determination to survive in spite of her terminal cancer. You can watch a short slideshow of Yuko and Carl playing Michael McLean’s composition by clicking here.
Yuko Honda died in April 2007, leaving behind thousands of young violinists who benefited from learning the Suzuki method.