Tomoko’s grew up in a Japanese middle class family. The arts were highly valued, especially in hard times, as materialism loses its importance. Tomoko points out, “Your music is your own; no one can steal your heart.” Before the war, they couldn’t afford to buy a piano because there was a tax on such instruments. But during the war, that tax went away, and one of Tomoko’s neighbors sold their organ to Tomoko’s family because they needed money to survive.
The family started paying lessons just for Tomoko’s older brother, and Tomoko began her playing by learning from him. When she ultimately got lessons herself, Tomoko practiced very seriously, knowing their value. This dedication was made particularly concrete in that all the piano students had to wait their turn on the weekend for their private time with the piano instructor. Tomoko remembers: “And if the lesson didn’t go well, the teacher would say, ‘Shut the book. Go home.’ This kept us on our toes.”
To this day, Tomoko contends that learning how to play the piano requires dedication of time and money. She says, “People who want a piano don’t have to be rich, but they are intelligent, and are willing to sacrifice to pay.” Tomoko continues, “Owning and playing the piano is not like spending money on a vacation; it requires responsibility.”
Tomoko feels that way about lessons. The Conservatory offers grants to students and families who cannot pay the full price, but they still pay something. “They need to value learning enough that they are willing to sacrifice some other activity or thing in order to learn.” Tomoko actually sees an advantage of having less income; ““If you have a lot of money, you don’t have to try. There’s no challenge.”
And the worth of music, the pride in playing the piano well? Priceless!