April 14, 2018

Living Music Religiously

Religious music has inspired Tomoko throughout her life. 

Tomoko’s mother was an active Protestant, and loved church music. Tomoko head her mother sing “Jesus loves me” while cleaning house. Tomoko recalls: “Instead of ‘Our Father,’ my religious memories are musical."

Tomoko attended a Dutch Reformed Protestant supported secondary school. There the students, all girls, performed religious music. Tomoko both sang and accompanied these performances. One of the highlights of that time for Tomoko was learning the Hallelujah chorus. 

Religious music also played a significant role in Tomoko’s college life. Behind the college was a cultural center. One of the buildings was the Tokyo Cathedral, which was Dominican. The church’s Fr. Henri taught Gregorian chant; Tomoko and her classmates would go to the church to hear and learn this music genre. Tomoko also played the organ for the church. Close to the time that she graduated, Tomoko became a Catholic, and was baptized at the time. Furthermore, one of the Dominican priests helped her leave Japan after graduation.

When Tomoko arrived in the U.S., religious music again influenced her life. Soon after she began her studies at the Conservatory, Tomoko heard a charming melody floating outside a church door one Sunday morning. Intrigued by the music, Tomoko entered, and was warmly greeted. Parishioners asked, “Would you like to come to lunch?” Later they socialized at a member’s home, where one of the guests mentioned, “My daughter wants so much to have music lessons.” That desire led to Tomoko’s teaching piano in the community. 

As Tomoko has traveled abroad, she has seen how religious music has brought people together, especially as much of religious music is universal.

“In France, concerts are often given in churches.” Tomoko remembers listening to a noon concert in London noon. Brown bag concerts were held at that venue, regardless of the weather. “I went to Old St. Mary Church, and heard a former assistant professor perform with Russians. I hadn’t seen him in 40 years when I introduced himself at the event.” Tomoko thought that the noon concert was a fantastic idea; “People were passing by, and listened in, just 10 minutes away from their problems.”

Religious experiences are often the most profound when shared. Religious music facilitates that communion, Tomoko believes. “That emotion is experienced jointly by the audience, so they have a feeling of belonging. By sharing music, people feel connected and less alone.”

At the end of the day, Tomoko reflects, “God is guiding me.” One could also say that religious music guides her as well.

April 3, 2018

Harmony in Life

“Harmony is important,” asserts Tomoko. It is certainly a core sensibility in her life.

Tomoko remembers taking music theory when in secondary school, which included harmony. She and her classmates would sing in harmony in front of the classroom. The girls would perform in duets and quartets, personifying the core of musical harmony.

In turn, Tomoko weaves in music theory in her piano lessons. She says, “At the beginning, the child needs to learn the basics, like arithmetic tables.” She points out the importance of understanding a composition’s structure and patterns, just like mathematics. “And we strive for harmony.”

Tomoko also notes the link between harmony and mathematics. Both require precision and order. Both deal with proportion and use pattern creatively. Music is very measured, and mathematics has a certain rhythm. Einstein, who played the violin for his own pleasure, loved Mozart because of the composer’s expression of universal harmony,

Tomoko says of harmony: “There is something creative about harmony: it is stimulating.” Tomoko continues, “Art is supposed to have a sense of a group; it is communication.”

When people are in harmony with music, they are at peace and yet energized.  Tomoko talks about culture’s impact on music. “I have a student from India. Each country has a traditional music. The people in each country meet for a unique reason. During their gatherings a special harmony is produced, and even the way to perform that ritual music is unique.”

The saying “to make beautiful music together” is a sure sign of harmony, a sign that should be heard around the world.

March 7, 2018

Lullabies for a Good Night

Tomoko’s daughter Beata is a new mother. Her son Kai was born May 11, 2017. Not surprisingly, Tomoko loves her grandson, and sings lullabies to him. “He likes Brahms,” Tomoko says.

Kia has good taste: Brahm’s lullaby is probably the most well known one, usually called “Cradle Song” – “Lullaby and goodnight, with roses bedight” (you can hear it at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Lullaby_wound_up_clock_guten_abend_gute_nacht.ogg) . Published in 1868, the lullaby was dedicated to Brahms’ friend Bertha Faber to honor the birth of her second son.  Variations of that melody were woven into Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 in D major Opus 73 first movement.

Other famous composers have written lullabies – or songs resembling lullabies, such as 6/8 time berceuses, which Chopin pioneered. Ravel wrote Berceuses sur le nom de Gabriel Fauré, Benjamin Godard wrote a berceuse from his opera Jocelyn, Stravinsky’s berceuse is part of his Firebird ballet, and Gershwin wrote Lullaby for String Quartet.

Lullabies play an important role in young children’s development. The simple, repetitive melody helps little ones go to sleep. Lullabies are also an early form of communication; they are usually sung with emotion that conveys warmth and tenderness, and can hold a child’s undivided attention. The rhythm of lullabies also helps a child learn the rhythm of language. 

Additionally, lullabies serve as a way to pass down societal traditions, and have been sung for centuries around the world. Tomoko and Beata sometimes sing Japanese lullabies together, bringing back memories when Beata herself was a baby. It's a lovely way to start a musical life.