To play the piano well requires strong self-identity and sensitivity to the composer’s identity. Tomoko exemplifies that concept and helps her students to gain those same habits.
Tomoko wanted to develop and share her playing skill beyond her opportunities in Japan. She came to the U.S. with little money but a strong self-identity and sense of dignity. That belief in herself led to her academic and performance success. She was even offered a job to teach at the Conservatory: the first Asian and second woman at that site. At her graduation ceremony, one European faculty member claimed that the Conservatory “rescued” Tomoko. In response, Tomoko protested – to protect her self-identity, even though she knew that her action might jeopardize her job offer. “I was so strong,” Tomoko recalls. She was vindicated, and not only secured her teaching position, but still teaches there as a highly respected member of the faculty. She comments, “I got my confidence from my knowledge and skill.”
When asked what motivated her to compete from early in the States, Tomoko replies, “It’s another challenge. I make an extra effort. It’s my personality. I cannot leave that part of my identity out.” Tomoko advises, “Life is very short. We need to take opportunities to grow.”
Tomoko instills that spirit of self-identity and dignity to her students. When she interviews a new potential student, she can tell the students’ qualifications and attitude: their musical identity. Sometimes she performs a short piece and asks the student, “Can you tell who is the composer?” In that way she can discern if the student has a musical ear, or has listened thoughtfully to the classics. “Talent is like a sense of taste.”
Tomoko believes in effort, and helps her students gain discipline and become strong. She challenges them to draw upon their inner strength, and reinforces their efforts: “You are doing a good job.” She knows that hard work can bring joy and pride, which builds character and dignity.
As noted above, Tomoko’s knowledge about composers is another aspect of self-identity. If the piano piece includes lyrics, Tomoko asks students to read and interpret the words first. “What is the lyricist trying to say,” she asks. Tomoko explains, “The composer writes to fit the lyrics, or vice versa.” Each person expresses his or her self-identity, drawing upon each other’s expression. Likewise, the pianist expresses his or her self-identity through the music. “You must be true to the composer. You are their interpreter,” Tomoko tells her students.
A quality piano performance showcases both the composer’s identity and the pianist’s identity. The performer is true to the music, and that respectful dignity shows. That is certainly the case for Tomoko.