Early in her piano performance career – and continuing later -- Tomoko served as a keyboard accompanist. She first accompanied her secondary school’s singers, and played the organ for Catholic masses when in college. As a student at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, she also played for special community concerts. A few years after she started teaching at the Conservatory, the Peninsula Symphony told her about a violinist, Ernestine Riedel at the time, who needed an accompanist, and Tomoko performed with her at the DeYoung Museum. They continued to perform together for 30 years, and considered themselves as a duo rather than a performer-accompanist relationship. Their repertoire included sonatas and duos by Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Debussy, Ravel, Prokoviev, Copland, etc. Even in recent recitals, Tomoko has accompanied her musical friends on the piano.
As part of their training, Tomoko’s students learned how to accompany as well. This kind of performance requires additional skills. First, the accompanist has to learn both her own accompanying score and the other musician’s score thoroughly. The accompanying piece has to become so natural that it is memorized and internalized as memory muscle. This deep knowledge is needed because the accompanist must listen to the other performer very carefully and adjust the piano playing tempo and tone to the spotlighted performer.
Accomplished accompanists may be called upon to perform with little notice ahead of time. If the piece is familiar, then the event is not so stressful, although it is harder if the accompanist does not know the lead performers and style. Sometimes accompanists can listen to recordings of the anticipated piece to jumpstart the interpretation. In any event, accompanists need to keep their sight-reading skills sharp, know how to play harmonic and chord patterns, and be able to modulate from one key to another for singers in particular.
Accompanying can be challenging but also joyful. Tomoko explains how music brings people together. “It gives me friendship.” As an accompanist, Tomoko has made good musical friends, and continues to keep in touch with them.