From Japan, With Love: Japanese pianist shares her musical journey

Published: January 31, 2016
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As a performer who has lived, studied and worked in various countries, she acknowledges the impact of distinct musical cultures. PHOTO: HUMA CHOUDHARY/EXPRESS

As a performer who has lived, studied and worked in various countries, she acknowledges the impact of distinct musical cultures. PHOTO: HUMA CHOUDHARY/EXPRESS

ISLAMABAD: Since arriving in Pakistan a few years back, she has been a fixture on the classical concert scene in the Diplomatic Enclave, performing as part of a group or as a solo pianist. The Express Tribune sat down with Japanese-born pianist Yukiko Tidten-Yoshikawa to talk about her experience playing in Pakistan and life in the country.

Over a cup of tea, Yoshikawa explained how she began learning to play the piano when she was four. “At first it was just a hobby, but I changed teachers when I was ten and started thinking about becoming a pianist,” she said, adding that she later went to a high school in her native Kyoto which specialised in training musicians, before going on to study at the prestigious Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris in France.

She later went to the National Conservatory for Music and Dance in Lyon, where she wrote a master’s thesis on Asian influences in the piano works of Claude Debussy.

Given the fact that her thesis was on the French maestro, it is unsurprising that she also identified him as her favourite composer. “I like him because he was influenced a lot by Asia, for example, Indonesian music. When he composed a symphony, he would place an image on the sheet music’s cover, such as Japanese art.”

With a laugh, she added that when she plays something by Debussy, “I feel very comfortable, I don’t know why, maybe because I’m Japanese.”

As a performer who has lived, studied and worked in countries with distinct musical cultures, she acknowledges the impact that living, studying and working in countries with distinct musical cultures has had on her own style and preferences.

“I’m from Japan and play western classical music, so it’s important to know the background of composers and individual pieces. That’s why I wanted to study in France.”

On teaching music, she said she has a few Pakistani students, but most of them are foreigners. “I’m happy because although in Pakistan, you don’t have a big culture of listening to western classical music, there is still some interest in listening and learning.”

When asked what the government of Pakistan can do to encourage children to develop an interest in the arts at school level, Yukiko said, “In Japan, until junior high school, music is a compulsory subject. At high school it depends on the school; you can chose calligraphy as an alternative,” she said,

Adding on a general note of multiculturalism, “People can open their eyes and ears and look at the good things in other countries. It doesn’t just apply to those who can travel abroad, because now we can use the internet to watch everything and listen to music, or read books from abroad” she shared.

She also noted the differences in musical styles between Europe and South Asia. “Pakistani music is different in a way it doesn’t have [fixed] sheet music, while with Western classical, you always read sheet music and have to follow the cues; loud here, soft there, and so on.”

As for life in Pakistan, she said, her first concern was actually moving here. “It was complicated moving my piano here from Germany because I couldn’t find a piano mover. We had to use a normal mover and it was very scary!”

She said it was also hard finding a good tuner.

Although she is not a fan of the humidity in Pakistan, saying that even Japan is humid, “but not like Pakistan”, she appreciates the green look of Islamabad and the beauty of northern Pakistan. “We travelled north to Gilgit-Baltistan, it was very beautiful, and Taxila is also very interesting,” she said, adding that she also likes colourful Pakistani dresses.

On the food front, while Pakistani curries are a stand out, “I always have to have to ask for the milder options, like stuffed parathas.”

Published in The Express Tribune, January 31st, 2016.

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