February 15, 2021

Valentine’s Day in Japan


Japan has many holidays, as Tomoko knows because she grew up there. Several holidays are centuries old and others are more modern, sometimes imported from other cultures. Valentine’s Day is one of the latter types of celebrations; it became popular starting in the 1950s due to commercial campaigns targeted to women.

February 14 is mainly enjoyed by students, but chocolate is given between couples and even coworkers.  In fact, in Japan, it is usually the woman who gives gifts to men such as candy; girl friends might make brownies (‘honmei-chocos” homemade chocolates), for instance, for their boy friends. Women may also give chocolates to their women friends too (“tomo choco”), and one can treat oneself to chocolate too (“jibun choco”)/

However, there is equal opportunity for giving in Japan, a custom that started in the 1980s by the Japanese Confectionery Industry Association. White Day, which occurs on March 14, is the day where people chocolates and other gifts to the people who gave them gifts on Valentine’s day – so men will give gifts then, sometimes returning the favor three-fold. The day is named based on the idea that the color what is a symbol of purity: an innocent kind of love.

Some things -- such as chocolate, gifts, and love – are international, and Tomoko shares them all.

February 6, 2021

Appreciating John Field


Tomoko performed a variety of classic composers, and her repertoire included not only the big names such as Mozart and Chopin but also lesser known composers such as John Field.

John Field was born in Dublin in 1782, and started performing publicly on the piano at age nine, and composed his first piano sonatas at age sixteen. In his twenties he toured through Europe, and even impressed Beethoven. Impressed with the artistic culture of Saint Petersburg, Field decided to settle there, and started creating piano compositions based on Russian folk songs. He continued to perform and compose until his death in 1837.

Field was known especially as writing the first Romantic nocturnes, which evoked the nighttime – and were typically played a late evening parties. His nocturnes popularized solo pianos in this genre, which were structured with songlike melodies supported by broken chord accompaniment. Several composers were clearly inspired by him: Chopin, Fauré, Satie, and Bartók.  

Tomoko’s CD album Baroque – 20th century includes Field’s “Nocturne in B flat major, No. 5”, alongside Scarlatti, Beethoven, and Chopin. He certainly belongs in such company.


January 22, 2021

Tomoko American

Tomoko decided to come to America by the time she was in college. “In Japan graduation is the end, in America it is just part of life,” Tomoko says. She wanted to continue to learn and grow professionally, and she has remained in the educational arena ever since.   

She also came to the United States because of its culture and attitude about music. She recounts her career journey. “I wanted to get out of Japan. Europe was the cultural center, but the US was very welcoming to musicians such as Paderewski. I got an exchange student status. I wanted a Fulbright but was too old for that particular program. I had to have a job to pay tuition. Fortunately, UCLA had a special opera workshop, and a Japanese composer was there, so I was an accompanist for the program.” She also played at Stanford. “In 1965 I had to get a green card, and in five years I became a US citizen.” 
Tomoko recalls her arrival in California. “When I came to California, I picked up a couple of California poppies, which they didn’t have in Japan, and put them in my book. I’ve never gone back to Japan.” 
I ask her what she liked about America. “I love the freedom. It is very comfortable, like a flowing painting. There is not tension and stress that I felt in Japan. It’s “high tech high touch.” People need a balance, and I feel that in the US you can maintain an equilibrium in life.”  
Tomoko goes on to compare Japan and the US in terms of music choices. “When I was in Japan, I wanted to play Chopin, but they said I was too young. ‘You have no experience. You are not ready until you are a Junior.’” Tomoko contrasts that attitude to her own teaching. “For a concert, I assigned a Beethoven piece that was heavy for a 14 year old. I think it is better to start students early with substantial music, and have the experience rather than not have that challenge. Students need to be curious and courageous. How much they understand, we don’t know, but it’s better than to protect the student. They can always return to the piece later on, and bring in more interpretation based on their own lives. The technique is always there.” 
Tomoko continues to compare music teaching methods, “Japanese music teachers focused on the rules of technique. There was a pattern to the teaching, which was a kind of military training because of the strong music competition; 80% was technique. The teachers also controlled more power, and pushed students down. Only after years of lessons would the teacher become more generous.” Tomoko compares her teaching in the US. “I love this country to teach – I can do anything.” Tomoko expands on her attitude. “In Japan, the results are more important than the process. However, the process is so complicated, and there are so many ways to reach your musical goal. And you cannot know the process of development for each child; you have to look long term. That is why  I think teaching should be custom-made to fit each student.” 
Tomoko also notes her professional opportunities in the US. “I was the first Asian teacher at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The first non-white was a black woman who did jazz.” Tomoko mentions the diversity of the conservatory. “There are lots of Eurasian students now. It is good for them to connect with different cultures.” Tomoko concludes: “Without music you don’t see as much of the world, and you don’t see the challenge.” 
Tomoko Hagiwara is a wonderful example of America: a land of immigrants who have contributed to this nation, making it richer in culture.

January 7, 2021

I/We Protest

Tomoko has experienced protests throughout her life: against wars, against bombs, against oppression, against racial injustice. She also knows the power of music to unite people. 

One of Tomoko’s favorite composers to perform is Bela Bartók. In Bartók’s case, his anti-Nazi sentiments endangered him. Nevertheless,Bartók always maintained a Hungarian spirit and sense of nationalism. As a composer, Bartók researched traditional Magyar folk melodies just as nationalism was blooming. Tomoko points out, “The folk inspiration fostered music that came from the heart, and yet how the composers built upon that folk music helped them express their own individuality.”

Another favorite composer of Tomoko is Chopin. As with Bartók, Tomoko appreciates how Chopin incorporated folk music motifs. "The communal spirit of dance responds to the spirit of the music," she explains. "Music and dance are natural parts of human community." Many other people feel the same way. For instance, Chopin's Polonaise was broadcast on national radio as a rallying cry for the Polish people as World War II began, and the Germans sought to conquer that nation. 

Tomoko also appreciates and performs composer Olivier Messiaen. During World War II he was captured by German soldiers and interred in a prison camp. His Quartet for the End of Time premiered outside in that camp in 1941 for the prisoners and soldiers. 

A fourth composer that Tomoko favors is Dmitri Shostakovish. His seventh, Leningrad symphony addresses the war and invasion, and he wrote part of that composition between bombings. While Hitler celebrated the fall of Leningrad, this symphony was broadcast through loudspeakers in protest.

More recently, the Hong Kong protesters sang "Do you hear the people sing?: from the musical Les Miserables. The musical Hamilton also features songs of protest against English oppression. 

Certainly music captures the spirit of humanity, and can give voice to people to protest against injustice.