May 23, 2011

Imagination and Music

Tomoko asserts that music tells a story, which is formed by the composer’s imagination. The music imitates sounds in nature as well as urban life. Think of Ives’ Appalachian Spring or Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

When Tomoko plays, she often creates a scene in her mind. She notes, "During a performance you don't have time to think. Most of the time you need to have more imagination, and respond to sound." She equates the experience to animals. "If you're nice to the cat, it responds. The pet is honest, pure. They have super sense. You need that kind of super sense when you play; you need imagination." For Tomoko, that imagination is manifested in mental scenes, often of nature. "The scene is the response to the music. Sometimes it takes a while for the scene to appear." She continues, "Most of life is routine, so the scene helps to raise the musical experience to a higher plane. It makes it special."

Tomoko explains the inner link between imagination and music. “Daily life’s depression or excitement is a feeling. When you write a book, when you read a book, it can be an interesting engaging experience if it involves imagination. You imagine the feelings that are written about; the abstract becomes real. The same thing happens in music. Imagination has to be full of life, full of sparks. Without imagination as you play, you are wasting time practicing.”

When she teaches, Tomoko shares her concepts of imagination with her students. “There’s always something new coming up. Keep searching for that imaginative spark. Connect with the next step; planning ahead can be exciting – something new is happening. Dream.” Tomoko tells her students, “Why don’t you bring something next week?” Tomoko uses an analogy: “Imagination is a torch that you show but don’t hand out. It lightens the path ahead, but the student has to take the imaginative steps.”

Want to test your imagination? Liszt is a good bet. Like the city? Try his 1859 Venezia e Napoli. More of a country person? There’s his 1855 Années de Pèlerinage. Tomoko plays both of them on her Liszt album, available at