March 10, 2013

In Appreciation of Tomoko Hagiwara

Officially, I spent a total of 20 years as a student of Tomoko Hagiwara: ten years in the Preparatory Division at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and ten more years in the Adult Extension Division. I still consider myself a student of hers, but more about that later. As one might expect with someone who spent so many years with a teacher, I was profoundly influenced by her. But to describe in words just what that influence was, and the depht of its profundity, is difficult.

Tomoko is not a mere teacher; she is mentor, mother, and guide. With her deep understanding of music and insightful gift of wisdom, she has an uncanny ability to tailor repertoire to each student to bring out the best in everyone while providing the breadth and depth of a complete musical education. Her passion for teaching and nurturing talent drives her to dedicate more to her students than any other teacher I've known. Continually giving and demanding of herself, she also demands the highest standards from her students. If one might be chastised for falling short, meeting a challenge is rewarded with soaring enthusiasm. And Tomoko always challenges, seeming to know better than ourselves what we were capable of, and expecting -- and getting -- the "impossible." I eventually learned there is no such word here!

Tomoko is a force of nature, her seemingly endless energy and indomitable spirit moving all of us to follow and embrace her example. Just as I have never known another teacher so dedicated to her students, I have never known another group of students so dedicated to a teacher. She builds a community among her students, and we are her extended family. Performing for and with this group is like a homecoming. Among this family you will find new school-age students to wizened adults (but not so wise that we don't still have much to learn from Tomoko) returning from all over the world with their families.

And she remembers everything! She remembers what each student played when, and for which occasion. And, of course, it goes without saying that she remembers how every piece of music starts, its opus number, and even several bits in the middle (I can't even remember what I played a month ago). She remembers people's families and history, even long after they've graduated from the Preparatory Division, and she shares our lives.

Indeed, Tomoko is to this day an integral part of my life. I hear her voice giving me advice when I'm in a difficult situation. I hear her cheering me on when I need encouragement. I hear her challenging me to have courage when I feel like giving up on something. More than just the gift of music, Tomoko has taught me about what it is to have the highest standards as a person: integrity, respect, honesty, and accountability, not just for others, but also for myself.

I feel extremely fortunate to be a lifelong student and  friend of Tomoko Hagiwara. I know I will never stop learning from her, and I will never stop admiring her.

Linda Poligono

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