April 14, 2018

Living Music Religiously

Religious music has inspired Tomoko throughout her life. 

Tomoko’s mother was an active Protestant, and loved church music. Tomoko head her mother sing “Jesus loves me” while cleaning house. Tomoko recalls: “Instead of ‘Our Father,’ my religious memories are musical."

Tomoko attended a Dutch Reformed Protestant supported secondary school. There the students, all girls, performed religious music. Tomoko both sang and accompanied these performances. One of the highlights of that time for Tomoko was learning the Hallelujah chorus. 

Religious music also played a significant role in Tomoko’s college life. Behind the college was a cultural center. One of the buildings was the Tokyo Cathedral, which was Dominican. The church’s Fr. Henri taught Gregorian chant; Tomoko and her classmates would go to the church to hear and learn this music genre. Tomoko also played the organ for the church. Close to the time that she graduated, Tomoko became a Catholic, and was baptized at the time. Furthermore, one of the Dominican priests helped her leave Japan after graduation.

When Tomoko arrived in the U.S., religious music again influenced her life. Soon after she began her studies at the Conservatory, Tomoko heard a charming melody floating outside a church door one Sunday morning. Intrigued by the music, Tomoko entered, and was warmly greeted. Parishioners asked, “Would you like to come to lunch?” Later they socialized at a member’s home, where one of the guests mentioned, “My daughter wants so much to have music lessons.” That desire led to Tomoko’s teaching piano in the community. 

As Tomoko has traveled abroad, she has seen how religious music has brought people together, especially as much of religious music is universal.

“In France, concerts are often given in churches.” Tomoko remembers listening to a noon concert in London noon. Brown bag concerts were held at that venue, regardless of the weather. “I went to Old St. Mary Church, and heard a former assistant professor perform with Russians. I hadn’t seen him in 40 years when I introduced himself at the event.” Tomoko thought that the noon concert was a fantastic idea; “People were passing by, and listened in, just 10 minutes away from their problems.”

Religious experiences are often the most profound when shared. Religious music facilitates that communion, Tomoko believes. “That emotion is experienced jointly by the audience, so they have a feeling of belonging. By sharing music, people feel connected and less alone.”

At the end of the day, Tomoko reflects, “God is guiding me.” One could also say that religious music guides her as well.

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