September 11, 2016

Path or Network

“My footsteps are not planning,” said Tomoko one day. She was alluding to the fact that her life decisions are sometimes “of the moment.” Rather, Tomoko’s seemingly serendipitous career path reveals the networks that she has made throughout her life. The following story illustrates this process.

While touring in Japan, UCLA opera theater director Herbert Jan Popper was impressed with Tomoko’s piano performance, and facilitated her immigration to the States. Tomoko bought a one-way ticket when she left Japan for the United States. There was no going back, even though she wasn’t sure about her future.

Soon after she started studying at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Tomoko heard about a Long Beach Music Teachers Association competition. Tomoko took a bus to Long Beach, carrying her suitcase to the competition. There she placed third. Someone gave her an envelope containing $5, and one of the teachers took care of her night accommodations.

The next day, Tomoko took a bus from Long Beach to Santa Barbara Academy to hear singer Lotte Lenya. At the concert, Tomoko sat by Rica Savage, a local piano teacher, who invited Tomoko for dinner and drove her to the bus. Rica also gave Tomoko her jacket, which she kept for twenty years. Tomoko also kept in touch with this generous teacher until the woman’s death, and afterwards continued that communication with Rica’s daughter Lesley. In 1980, Tomoko returned the favor in that Lesley stayed in Tomoko’s house, and visited local museums.

These “chance” encounters have turned into lifelong connections throughout Tomoko’s career. Rather than a path, Tomoko’s life is a rich network.