April 13, 2014

Depending on the kindness of strangers

Tomoko left Japan to study piano at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM). She had few connections or money, so there were many challenges. Fortunately, along the way, Tomoko was able to get support from kind people. She recalls…

“The Conservatory was closed on Sundays so I went to Lone Mountain College and got permission from the music department to practice there on Sundays.  Some friends from Lone Mountain told me about a church on Octavia Street where the Japanese community gathered. One of the girls I met at the church was a fashion designer, and before she left San Francisco to return to Japan, she told me about Mrs. Bine’s house where she was staying and housesitting. She said, ‘Why don’t you meet her?’ That’s I how I ended up staying with Mrs. Bine.”

Mrs. Alma Bine was a Jewish widow of a doctor. They had three children who graduated from Stanford. Mrs Bine’s cousin was Mischa Elman, a famous violist. The family lived in the wealthy part of San Francisco called Sea Cliff. The Japanese consulate lived three blocks away; Tomoko notes: “ I taught his two children brought by the nanny.”

Tomoko continues, “Mrs. Bine let me stay with her in the house; I just had to give her breakfast every day. She had a piano, and loved to listen to me play.  I enjoyed the space; the house was huge with beautiful views of Pacific Ocean. Several neighbors and Mrs. Bine’s granddaughter and their friends took lessons from me there. One neighbor in particular was very kind: Mrs. Wildberg; before I left for an international competition in Paris, she gave me French money.”

Tomoko lived in Mrs. Bine’s home for three years, and had several good memories during this time, which she lists:
- I won a San Francisco Symphony competition.
-I decided to stay in the US and applied for my green card.
-I received a teaching position at SFCM after graduating.
- My 27th birthday party:  I invited my close friends to Mrs. Bine’s house and garden, and the neighbors and relatives came. I had no idea what a birthday party in America was like; I never had a birthday party before this one.

Tomoko has that same giving nature, and has helped many people attain their musical dreams too.

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