June 19, 2011

Tomoko's Early Musical Life

Today I’d like to share some scenes from Tomoko’s early life, which helped shape her current outlook and productivity.

Tomoko starts, “My house was too confined to practice, so I took a train street car and walked to my high school, which was established by the Dutch Reformed Church. I arrived at 6:30am to practice the piano; school started two hours later. My brain was fresh, and ready to learn, so it was a good schedule. There were other children who also practiced early, so we were like a team.”

Tomoko notes that she had no weekends. “We had classes on Saturday morning. That’s when I had music theory class. Then at noon, both Saturdays and Sundays, the piano teacher opened his door. All the students went in at that time, and then had to wait their turn; there was no set schedule, and the individual lessons went on until 8pm. If you left the premises, you would have to wait even longer when you returned.” Tomoko made the best of the situation, “It was good to wait and listen; the students were all in the same boat and sympathetic. There was a sense of anticipation, wondering when we would get our private time. And if the lesson didn’t go well, the teacher would say, ‘Shut the book. Go home.’ This kept us on our toes.”

Tomoko remarks about the Japanese economy when she was growing up. “In pre-war Japan, you had to pay a tax for having a piano. The arts were considered special.” She goes on to say, “When the economy is down, people hunger for the arts.” Music can fill the soul in hard times. People can appreciate the arts as materialism loses its importance. Tomoko points out, “Your music is your own; no one can steal your heart.”

Tomoko links those economic times to today. “If you have a lot of money, you don’t have to try. There’s no challenge. If you’re in a zoo, you just get fed. If you’re in the jungle you have to hunt. And that is good. You can be poor, but you can listen and sing.. In dark times, music can join people together.”

Harking back to Tomoko’s early studies evokes piano etudes, which help students understand musical structure and hand motions. Chopin reigns in this area as his compositions transcended exercise to demonstrate full musical possibilities. For a sampling of his etudes, you can listen to Tomoko’s interpretations on her first Chopin album, found at https://www.cdbaby.com/cd/tomokohagiwara. There’s a lot to learn from Chopin and from Tomoko.

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