Backstage at the Norton Center with… Kojiro Umezaki, shakuhachi player with the Silk Road Ensemble

1. VERY FEW PEOPLE KNOW THAT I… worked as a junk bond analyst at the New York office of Japan’s largest securities firm, Nomura Securities. (Last October at a Silk Road Ensemble concert, my boss from those days unexpectedly discovered what I’m up to these days…he had no idea…great reunion!)

2. WHEN I’M NOT ON TOUR I… am a faculty member of the Department of Music at UC Irvine’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts.

3. WHAT I LOVE MOST ABOUT MY ART IS… that it is framed as exploration and experimentation in which better dialog among seemingly disparate practices and ideas are fundamental values.

4. A LIFE LESSON I WOULD LIKE TO SHARE WITH CENTRE COLLEGE STUDENTS IS: always have a vision (or multiple ones!)–one with minimal harm involved–no matter how ridiculous it may seem that can take you from where you are now to what you hope to achieve.

5. I DEFINE ART AS: crisis (borrowed from Stephen Barker, who is considerably more thoughtful and eloquent than I certainly am on the subject).

6. MY MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT IN SHOW BUSINESS THUS FAR WAS: one of many “mosts” could be on stage with the Silk Road Ensemble one show where my listening and appreciation of the other musicians during a piece featuring my instrument led me to miss playing a substantial section of my part. Everyone else was sounding so good, and that shakuhachi was playing in my head along with them…but I wasn’t actually playing it!

7. THE PERSON WHO MOST INFLUENCED ME IS: probably the person who, 50 years ago, decided to buy a one-way ticket to Japan as a young Dane from a small island to marry a young man from southern Japan.

8. IF I COULD BE ON STAGE WITH ANYONE, PAST OR PRESENT, ALIVE OR DECEASED, FICTIONAL OR REAL, IT WOULD BE: admittedly not exactly an answer to the question, but I’m looking forward to all the musicians, composers, and artists–many of whom we have yet to meet–who will define us as an ensemble and project, on and off stage, going forward as we pass our 15th year of existence.

9. WHILE TOURING, ONE OF MY GUILTY PLEASURES IS: no guilt in the pleasure of having margaritas with the great people of the Silk Road Project and Ensemble!

10. IF I COULD ENSURE THAT THE AUDIENCE TAKES HOME ONE THING AFTER MY PERFORMANCE, IT WOULD BE: rethinking ways in which we communicate with each other, regardless of the situation we find ourselves in.

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More about the artist:
Kojiro Umezaki grew up in Tokyo, Japan where he began studying Western flute and the shakuhachi. His career encompasses both traditional and technology-based music and a range of electronic media. “My mother is from Denmark and my father is Japanese. My multinational background may be one of the reasons why I don’t limit myself to the traditional repertoire. In all my work, I try to put the shakuhachi in a more contemporary, musically diverse context. Hopefully this work can become part of the evolutionary process of the instrument.”

© Magdalena Lepka 2012

Ko is Assistant Professor of Music at the University of California, Irvine where he is affiliated with the Integrated Composition, Improvisation, and Technology group (ICIT) and holds a degree in Electro-acoustic Music from Dartmouth College. Recent commissioned works and producer credits include those for Brooklyn Rider (2009), Joseph Gramley (2009, 2010), Huun Huur Tu (2010), and the Silk Road Ensemble (2012). He performs regularly with the Grammy-nominated Silk Road Ensemble and has recorded on the Sony BMG, World Village, and Smithsonian Folkways labels.

The shakuhachi – Japanese end-blown bamboo flute – is played by blowing air across the beveled edge at the top of the instrument, while covering and uncovering the holes with fingertips. Introduced to Japan in the 7th century, it has been used to create music for Zen Buddhist meditation. The sounds produced by the shakuhachi range from soft whispers to strong piercing tones, often intended to reflect natural phenomena such as falling leaves, wind, and the cries and gestures of animals. Learn more at www.kojiroumezaki.com.

Kojiro Umezaki will perform with The Silk Road Ensemble and Yo-Yo Ma at the Norton Center on Thursday, March 21, 2013.  For more information, visit NortonCenter.com.

Categories: Backstage at the Norton Center

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