March 21, 2015

The Religious Life in Music

This is the season of Lent, and soon Easter will be here. The Christian religion is known for its musical traditions: from Gregorian charts to gospel music. Tomoko has experienced the religious aspects of music all her life.

Tomoko first heard religious music from her mother, who would sing church songs as she cleaned the house. Tomoko went to a prestigious high school run by the Dutch Reformed Church, and she accompanied school choirs who sang religious and secular songs. “By then, Christianity was more accepted,” Tomoko notes. For centuries, Japan resisted outside religions, largely because it was feared that religious groups would disturb Japanese traditions. Catholics survived “underground” for 400 years. Nevertheless, Tomoko’s brother became Catholic, and he helped Tomoko get a job playing at Catholic masses while she was studying in college.

Indeed, Tomoko first learned piano playing from her brother, who took lessons; she would follow him, and asked her parents for lessons as well. The two of them would practice on the family’s one piano. “Sometimes we played four-hand music,” Tomoko remembers. “We would switch parts when doing duets, which helped me understand symphonies with their many parts.” Tomoko’s brother later became a professional composer.

Tomoko has performed piano pieces of  several composers who wrote religious music, Bach being the most famous. Liszt, who is not known for Christian music, was still a deeply religious man. “Did you know that he joined a monastery?” Tomoko asks.

Tomoko also appreciates the communal nature of religious music. “People can express their belief together when they sing religious music.” Tomoko relates the experience to nature. “Like nature’s sound, religious music can be uplifting and profound.” And Tomoko loves the sound of music in cathedrals with their vaulting ceilings and reverberating walls. “Even non-religious music feels like a religious experience when played in a lofty church,” contends Tomoko.