June 14, 2018

Remembering Peter Magadini

When Tomoko attended the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in the mid 1960s, there were fewer than a hundred students. But they were serious musicians, and several of them went on to noteworthy success. One of those students who was a classmate of Tomoko was Peter Magadini.

Peter and Tomoko started their studies the same year. Peter was the only percussionist in the Conservatory. Peter was planning to enroll at San Francisco State University in order to study with New York Philharmonic timpanist Roland Kohloff. However, Roland was not available, so Peter continued to drive up 19th Avenue when he saw the sign for the Conservatory, and applied there. Not only did the Conservatory want a percussion student, but soon he was able to have Roland Kohloff as his personal teacher.

Peter and Tomoko became musical friends. Peter remembers, “I hardly ever saw Tomoko – she was always coming in or out of a practice room, that’s when I saw her.” As for Tomoko, she remembers Peter saying that Bartok was too hard; Tomoko, on the other hand, considers Bartok as one of her favorite composers to perform. In any case, years later Peter invited Tomoko to do a concert with him, featuring Ravel’s “Chansons mad├ęcasses.” 

Similarly to Tomoko, who became a piano teacher after her graduation from the Conservatory, Peter too taught at his alma mater.

However, he has moved several times since then: to Los Angeles – where he joined Diana Ross’s tour band, to Toronto where he earned a master’s degree in music and later taught at McGill and Concordia in Montreal, and back to California. Not only has Peter performed with major entertainers such as the George Duke Trio (which he helped form), Bobbie Gentry, Al Jarreau, Buddy Tate, Chet Baker, Don Ellis, and Smokey Robinson. He was also introduced to polymeter through studying with Ali Akbar Kahn, and wrote two distinguished books on polyrhythms. 

The Conservatory has served as a solid foundation for many musicians such as Tomoko's classmate Peter Magadini. Tomoko has experienced the Conservatory both as a student and for fifty years now as an influential teacher.

May 23, 2018

Remembering Hermann LeRoux

As a long-time piano teacher at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Tomoko has connected with many talented musicians. One of them that she remembers fondly is baritone Hermann LeRoux.

Among other memories, Tomoko recalls his connections with Japanese students and the Japanese consulate. “He was easy to get along with because he was born outside the U.S.” 

Hermann LeRoux was Dutch, born in Pretoria, South Africa in 1945. He studied at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, taught voice, and served as the chair of the music department between 1991 and 1997. He performed professionally, such as the baritone in Robert Moran’s work Holderlin, premiered at the Conservatory in 1972. LeRoux also wrote compositions, including “Reflections from Childhood in South Africa”, which he sang – and for which he helped produce as a CD in 1997 titled The Musician’s Gallery Concert

LeRoux also directed the X-perimental Chorus, a 15-member music theater group in the Bay Area. Along with performing choral pieces written by composers from around the world, the group presented theater pieces and electronic music. They used improvisation, special effects and costuming to bring wit and humor.

LeRoux has a strong legacy in the form of his students’ success. Two of his students, Christine Abraham and Eun-Mee Ko, later joined the Conservaatory’s voice faculty. Another one of his students, Diego Garcia, composes music and oversees all musical expression at the Napa Valley Center for Spiritual Living. George Hernandez, who studied under LeRoux in the late 1980s, has sung with the San Francisco Opera since 1990, now teaches voice, conducts choruses, and composes. 

In 2003 The Conservatory honored him at his retirement celebration in August 2007. He now lives in Grants Pass, Oregon.

May 12, 2018

Keys to Quality

What makes up quality?

“Quality is a constant,” Tomoko asserts. Furthermore, she thinks: “We are born with a sense of quality. Therefore, we need to start with the best taste in music.”

In terms of composition, Tomoko states, “The ingredients of music need to be the best.” For those individuals may have heard similar motifs in different musical pieces, Tomoko muses, “Steal ideas from the best.”

To express that quality requires high-quality performance. As a performer, the pianist needs to interpret the composition as musically authentically as possible.  The performer needs to know the piece well enough that it becomes part of that person’s muscle memory, freeing one to consciously focus on expression. Performers also know that the quality of the piano itself impacts the quality of the performance – and the ability to showcase the composition.

Furthermore, quality refers to piano instruction. Parents should find out about teachers’ reputation. Tomoko recommends, “Try different teachers” to insure the optimum match between the teacher and their children. Students also need a solid performance foundation: with technique and music theory knowledge. Furthermore, students also need to incorporate expression, drawing upon their own experience and empathetic imagination. Tomoko reiterates the importance of quality: “Part of that instruction involves exposing students to the classics to instill formal musical taste.”

When all of these factors are optimized, then quality is optimized. Music is a most human endeavor – and not only elevates sound but humanity itself.

April 25, 2018

Spending Money Wisely

Tomoko’s grew up in a Japanese middle class family. The arts were highly valued, especially in hard times, as materialism loses its importance. Tomoko points out, “Your music is your own; no one can steal your heart.” Before the war, they couldn’t afford to buy a piano because there was a tax on such instruments. But during the war, that tax went away, and one of Tomoko’s neighbors sold their organ to Tomoko’s family because they needed money to survive.

The family started paying lessons just for Tomoko’s older brother, and Tomoko began her playing by learning from him. When she ultimately got lessons herself, Tomoko practiced very seriously, knowing their value. This dedication was made particularly concrete in that all the piano students had to wait their turn on the weekend for their private time with the piano instructor. Tomoko remembers: “And if the lesson didn’t go well, the teacher would say, ‘Shut the book. Go home.’ This kept us on our toes.”

To this day, Tomoko contends that learning how to play the piano requires dedication of time and money. She says, “People who want a piano don’t have to be rich, but they are intelligent, and are willing to sacrifice to pay.” Tomoko continues, “Owning and playing the piano is not like spending money on a vacation; it requires responsibility.” 

Tomoko feels that way about lessons. The Conservatory offers grants to students and families who cannot pay the full price, but they still pay something. “They need to value learning enough that they are willing to sacrifice some other activity or thing in order to learn.” Tomoko actually sees an advantage of having less income; ““If you have a lot of money, you don’t have to try. There’s no challenge.” 

And the worth of music, the pride in playing the piano well? Priceless!