I have played the koto, a traditional Japanese lute, for 9 years. At first it felt like a chore, but I have grown to enjoy playing it, now that I learned a lot through the process of improving. During middle school, I played the koto both in music class and in an extracurricular ensemble, and in high school I took part in a subunit of the extracurricular ensemble called K8.
During the period where I took koto as a class, I explored different formats of practice logs, such as videos, audio recordings, calendars, etc. This taught me how to find the right practice log for me to continuously record my practices in a way that fits me, which turned out to be recording a video of me playing – I still record my practices this way even for music pieces I play for the extracurricular group and K8. This allow me to listen to how I play objectively, and made the reflection process easier. More importantly, I learned the importance of recording your practices to keep track of your growth and be reflective of your improvements – I found this a challenge because this requires a degree of self-analysis, so I developed the skill to think critically of myself in order to effectively improve, especially if a performance is nearing. It also taught me the importance of putting the habit of practicing to stay consistent and naturally advance at the instrument.
One significant event where I was able to demonstrate artistic skill, was when I participated in a koto competition held by publisher Shueisha at the Tokyo International Forum on January 2, 2018. I, along with fellow members of K8, performed a musical piece called “Esoragoto”. Leading up to this event, the 8 of us met up during the break several times to practice and rehearse. I developed new skills, because during the process of practicing a rehearsing, I really felt the challenges of synchronizing with the group whilst focusing on your own part, but by the last days of the rehearsals, I felt that I was able to do them simultaneously, whilst making the music sound whole as a group. Additionally, among the judges of the competition was the actual composer of the music piece we played, so we felt a huge pressure to meet up to his expectations and the way he wants to hear the song. Despite the pressure, I believe we were able to convey the hard work we’ve put in to both the judges and the audience, and we were able to enhance the beauty and essence of the musical piece. This effort resulted in us winning the competition in first place. Challenges were undertaken, because we were up against professional koto players from Tokyo University of Arts and other incredibly talented people, but I learned that rivalry and competition drive you to give your best performance.
I believe this experience also proved the benefits of being a global citizen. Despite the koto being a traditional Japanese instrument, we surprised the audience and the judges because we had many multicultural/biracial members. Their reactions were positive, and they commented on our performance saying they were happy to see Japanese culture being passed on not only by young people, but international people, because the culture can be spread to a global audience. I developed and reflected upon how playing an instrument transcends culture, but also taught me the importance of preserving traditional artistic expression.