How much of their success is due to their teachers? Several studies state that the teacher is the most important factor. That certainly applied to Tomoko and her piano students. She asserts, “I see the potential in my students, and help them to build their expertise and self-confidence.” In either case, many of her students have blossomed in their lives. Here are a few examples of her more recent students.
Matthew Blair Vorsatz, who studied with Tomoko, graduated with honors from the Conservatory. He said, “From Tomoko I learned how to learn. I became thirsty for success. Learning piano from her was the single most contributing factor in defining my life.” Matthew went on to double-major in economics and Chinese at Georgetown University, with a 4.0 GPA and now teaches at Harvard in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations. He also learned from Tomoko “how important to be humble. Once you perform you have a different kind of connection with audience.”
Emma Rose Wirshing recently graduated from Cornell Univeristy in Computer Science. Besides studying, Emma served as a career peer advisor, led the Speech and Debate Society British Parliamentary team, and worked remotely for a fintech start-up in San Francisco. In her college essays, Emma wrote a lot about Tomoko as her piano teacher, quoting one of Tomoko’s favorite pieces of advice: “ Be the best you can be.” Emily’s mother Karen Melander appreciated being able to listen in on Emma’s lesson. Karen stated, “Tomoko has raised so many children; we’ve all grown because of that.”
Niraek Jain-Sharma, who studied piano with Tomoko as a youth, now attends UC Berkeley as a math major, ans is the administrative assistant for Berkeley’s math circle. Nireak remembers Tomoko’s advice: “Do life to the fullest; when you practice to it to the highest; solve problems when you have difficulties.” Her words certainly resonated with Niraek’s math focus.
Niraek’s brother Vishank Jain-Sharma also pursued the sciences after studying piano with Tomoko. He earned a BA in physics at UC Santa Barbara, and served as a graduate lab assistand there. Recently he earned his graduate Certificate in quantitative and computational biology from Princeton. He said that Tomoko “opened doors” for him. She told him to follow his dreams, which he is doing very successfully.
Shruthi Sukir is a recent student of Tomoko. Shruti performed on the piano with the Livermore-Amador Symphony Youth Orchestra as a ninth grader. That year she was also on the Lawrence Hall of Science robotics at UC Berkeley. Shruti is indeed talented: as California National Merit Semifinalist, as an intern for Harvey Mudd College Computing and Information Services Centerr, and as a top-notch athlete. Her father stated, “Tomoko taught Shruthi how to behave in a tight or tense situation. Tomoko would advice her: ‘Have the right focus, calm your mind, and know when to relax and when to practice.’”
Rowan Whitteny is one of Tomoko’s youngest students. He started at age 7 with her, mainly because his Kenyan mother loved music. However, Rowan hated the piano, and wanted to escape from it. Tomoko advised his mother: “Love your dream and it will come true. Don’t have him drop out now; it is not good to stop possibility. You need to read to your son; read about opera, for instance. Who knows what experience leads to.” Rowen learned the importance of reading and playing music. Hearing about Tosca turned Rowan around. He joined the San Francisco’s Boys Chorus, and continued piano lessons with Tomoko.