August 25, 2013

Taking Opportunities

Tomoko retells a traditional Japanese story. “Once there was a young man who had no job and no money. On the side of the road he saw a piece of straw. He picked it up, and made a dragonfly out of it. A child came by the road with his grandma, crying bitterly. The young man gave the straw dragonfly to the grandmother and child, and the crying stopped. The grandmother gave the young man an orange as payment. Later a performer passed the young man, and said, “I’m so thirsty.” The young man give the thirsty performer the orange, and the grateful performer paid the young man money for the kind gesture.” Tomoko concluded, “Every culture has a similar story. The moral of the story is to take advantage of opportunities.”

Tomoko knows the power of opportunity, personally and professionally.

A UCLA professor, Herbert Jan Popper (who directed the UCLA Opera Theater),  heard Tomoko perform in Tokyo, and talked with her saying that she was very good. He told her about the US and musical possibilities. He was able to get her to be listed along with a group of Japanese singers for a Japanese opera that was going to be performed for UCLA. He advised her to apply to the Conservatory of San Francisco because the paperwork was relatively easy. Tomoko took his kind advice, and was able to spread her wings in America.

Tomoko’s husband also saw an opportunity to escape Communist Hungary, and come to America. He had been a professor at the University of Budapest, but when he arrived in the United States, he knew no one, spoke little English, and had no green card. He had so little money that he had to sleep in the park. Someone gave him $5 just to make it through, and he had a tough time for five years.  Even with his past experiences, he had to apply for five years residency at a hospital. Nevertheless, he became once more a successful doctor.

Tomoko recalls how Pablo Casals was performing at the age of 96. At that time, in 1972, one of Tomoko’s college friends was inspired by Casals, and flew to Arizona State University where he was playing a benefit concert to raise money for an International Cello Library. Tomoko went along with her friend, and met Casals at the airport. They spent a meal with him and his young wife, who was the same age at Tomoko.

Chances might come even late in life, as local concert opportunities are growing for mature and senior citizens who play piano. Not surprisingly, therefore, Tomoko tells her students to focus on building their musical discipline in their youth. She reminds them that they need to be prepared as opportunities open up later. 

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