Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Marimba Werewolves

This story comes full circle in quite a number of ways. After Shino's harp concert last week, I met her friend and percussionist, Tamao Inano, who was also classmates with my friend, Ayano Kataoka from Yale. I told Inano that Ayano would be coming to town this week and that we should all meet up. She emailed me the next day and invited both of us to an end of the year party thrown at a percussion studio in Yokohama.

When I got to the studio, I was feeling quite shy considering that I only knew two people. Tamao greeted me, gave me a big smile, and told me in Japanese, "Please come in. Everybody's very cute." No kidding. The majority of classical percussionists in Japan are female, and half the attendees at the party were students my age. I must have turned bright red at her remark.

Many of the teachers in the room were longtime friends of Ayano's. They all studied percussion together at Japan's best music school, Tokyo Geijutsu Daigaku (Arts University). They were all super surprised and happy to see Ayano and were grateful to me for bringing her along. Everyone in the room was begging her to play a piece for us. It only took a little badgering before she picked up a set of mallets and stepped behind the keyboard.

Ayano is a monster percussion player. When I first met her five years ago, my percussion teacher said that she was on her way to being one of the premier classical percussionists in the world. She's done concerts all over the USA, Japan, and elsewhere, and has made a huge name for herself in the music world. I've seen her in concert with such greats as Emmanuel Ax. These past two years, she's been an artist in residence at Lincoln Center in New York.

On a personal level, Ayano has been a really good friend to me for many years. When I first traveled to Japan 3 years ago, I crashed with her folks in Chiba. I still write letters to her mother a few times a year too. This picture really captures her warm smile, amiable personality, and explosive laughter.

After Ayano wowed us with a quick and technical piece, the students in the room performed selections that they had prepared for a small informal concert. It made me quite nostaligic to see so many young percussionists in the room playing such difficult repetoire. Back at Yale and in high school, I singlehandedly concentrated on percussion and classical music. There was a time when I too was practicing marimba everyday for hours, aspiring to the same level as these young women. Since graduation however, opportunities to play classical percussion have all but disappeared, which caused me to switch all of my efforts to pop music. After seeing all of these wonderful players, I once again felt that inner urge that inspired me to take up classical percussion so many years ago.

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