October 31, 2015

The Musical Soul of Europe

Tomoko has always had an eye on European music, which is not surprising. The Germans were particularly prominent in the early 20th century, several of whom resided in Japan and lectured at the Tokyo School of Music. On their part, some Japanese composers were intrigued by Western art music, and incorporated those tonalities into their pieces.

Europe has always been part of Tomoko's musical soul. Even before staring school, classical European music was part of early family experience as her mother sang hymns, her father played violin, and they listened to classics on the radio.

As part of her schooling Tomoko remembered the importance of children’s songs. In the late 19th century, the Japanese Ministry of Education reformed  music education by developing a music textbook that included Europe and American hymns and folk songs set to Japanese lyrics. Tomoko and her peers regularly sang these songs, which taught moral behavior and national pride.

During the war, Japan was largely isolated from the Western musical world, but the reputation of European music endured. Tomoko remembered attending a concert of Bohemian pianist Rudolph Serkin the early 1950s; “It was the most gorgeous feeling in the world.” Tomoko yearned to enter that society.

It wasn’t until 1967, though, that she had that opportunity. Her first flight to Europe was made possible through support of friends associated with the Conservatory of San Francisco. Tomoko took a chartered plan from Oakland to Frankfurt, where she performed and networked with musical illuminaries. Later that year she participated in the Long-Thibaud International Piano Competition and Paris, and in the following year she performed at the Queen Elizabeth International Musical Competition in Brussels.

Even after Tomoko curtailed competing internationally, she touristed in Europe, taking advantage of the long legacy of music. She visited Beethoven’s Viennese home, played an antique harpsichord in a Medici house, and perform Chopin’s Raindrops Prelude in Majorca in the museum dedicated to him.

Tomoko’s personal life also incorporated Europe. In Salzburg Tomoko married her husband, Desy Handra, who was an Hungarian medical doctor. And it was in Europe twenty years later that Tomoko helped her daughter navigate the international competitive skating scene.

Europe has served as a cultural gateway to music for Tomoko, which she passes onto her students, some of whom are Europeans themselves.