October 7, 2018

Food for Thought

Tomoko knows the value of food, both in her professional and personal life.

In Japan, where Tomoko was born, food has ceremonial importance, starting almost from birth. About a hundred days after a child is born, families celebrate with the ceremony of okuizome. Parents buy black dishes, and serve they baby with the wish of abundance of food throughout her life. At baby’s first birthday, there is a usually a red-and-white birthday rice cake. P:arents also have the baby walk and carry four pounds of mochi (a sticky rice cake, which is a sacred food in Shintoism) in a little bag on her back to wish food, health and harmony – even when one is burdened in life.

Speaking of burden, food had a heavy meaning for Tomoko as she was growing up in Japan in war time. Food was rationed, and people had to be creative to find ways to cook with the food that was available, even grasshoppers. They would also grow their own food to deal with food shortages. After the war, when the U.S. shipped food to Japan, people still experienced shortages. People at that time were more anxious about food than politics.

So it is no surprise that Tomoko values food. She provides yummy food at home and knows how to choose a good restaurant based on its food. And she has great taste.

As part of preparing for her recitals, Tomoko likes to have food as part of the event. Her students’ families and Tomoko’s friends bring wonderful dishes and beverages. The smorgasbord of food reflects the many cultures of the families: it is a global potluck. 

And music is food for the soul. It fills humanity’s emotional and psychological needs. Tomoko provides for both kinds of food. And we all benefit from her expertise and care.

September 20, 2018

Queen Elisabeth and Tomoko

Early in her career, Tomoko performed in several music competitions, from local to international. Once of her most famous competitions was the Queen Elisabeth Competition.

First of all, this Queen did not rule in England. She was born in Bavaria, and was the wife of Belgium’s King Albert I. This Queen Elisabeth as a patron of the arts and a good friend of Belgium concert violinist Eugene Ysaye. He wanted to establish an international music competition for young musician to exhibit their talent, but Eugene died before accomplishing his dream. Knowing his popularity and reputation, Queen Elisabeth herself set up that competition in 1937, in Eugene’s memory. The following year, the competition focused on pianists. The competition just barely got off the ground when World War II intervened. In 1951 it was re-activated and renamed in honor of the queen.

In the 1960s, the competition had a four-year cycle, so the piano was featured only in 1960, 1964 and 1968 -- when Tomoko performed. Competitors had to learn a required piece written for the competition as well as play a piece by a Belgian composer. By that time, the competition was broadcast on television. Finalists won cash prizes and gained international acclaim, which helped their burgeoning careers.

As with other contestants, Tomoko had to pay her own expenses, but was housed by local arts enthusiasts. She also had to spend months ahead of time learning the required pieces and practicing her own technique. When asked why she did such competitions, Tomoko replied, “Humans need competition. Pressure transforms to energy.” She continued, “Enjoy life with its challenges – then succeed.”

September 8, 2018

Singing in School

Tomoko knows the power of singing, and how it relates to the piano. 

Tomoko recalls her own history of singing in school when she started in elementary school during World War II. The Japanese government knew the power of sung words, and required singing in school starting with the earliest grades. The government would take well-known melodies and have nationalistic lyrics put to them for the children to sing.

In Tomoko’s high school Ferris, everyone was expected to sing. They sang European classical music, including religious songs, since Ferris was founded by the Dutch Reformed Church. Tomoko also accompanied the school’s singers. 

Tomoko attended the Tokyo Cathedral near the University of Tokyo where she majored in piano.  There Father Henri taught Gregorian chant, and Tomoko and other students would go to the church to hear and learn this music genre. 

At the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Tomoko’s composition teacher encouraged students to explore their own styles. This support led Tomoko, who was a voice minor, to have several opportunities to perform her many haiku compositions. She continues, “There were so many talented teachers; they were very open-minded and welcoming.”

Tomoko sometimes has her students sing along with playing the piano as a way to help with phrasing and interpretation. In fact, when students learn a song, Tomoko has them start by understanding the words.

Today, as Tomoko teaches piano, she sometimes has her students sing along with playing the piano as a way to help with phrasing and interpretation. In fact, when students learn a song, Tomoko has them start by understanding the words. Tomoko knows that the power of words is made stronger by music.