December 15, 2018

Background Music

Tomoko grew up in a family that appreciated music. Her father played the violin before he married, and her mother actively participated in Christian churches so listened to much religious music.

koto from WikipediaAs for music in Japan overall, it reflected both the political and religious flows and tensionsTraditional Japanese tonality differed from its Western counterparts. Pentatonic five-tone and heptonic seven-tone scales formed the basis of most traditional pieces. The intervals follow the pattern of A, B, C, E, F, A, which is basically a natural minor scale in Western music theory. The Japanese stringed instrument koto is tuned with this scale. 

 Late 19th century Meiji dynasty curiosity about Western culture included absorption of foreign classical and religious music. The first piano wasn’t heard until the opening of Japan, but by 1875 the Japanese were manufacturing their own pianos and other Western musical instruments. On the bureaucratic side, the Meiji government created the Music Study Committee, which encouraged Western music. They wanted Japanese composers to write in the Western style, and the committee the German model of music instruction for all students. The committee also led to the founding of the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, which Tomoko attended. 

Surprisingly, combining Western and Japanese music could be challenging though. For instance, Christian religious tended to be Western based, which was sometimes hard for Japanese to intonate. And when missionaries tried to translate their hymns into Japanese, they found it hard to match the rhythm to Japanese text. For example, Russian musician Iakov Tichai tried to integrate Russian Orthodox singing with Japanese tonality, with mixed results. 

Tomoko was able to bridge that tension between Western and Japanese music. She tends to play Western classical music professionally, and she sings traditional nursery songs to her grandchild.