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Weblog of Kaoru Watanabe, NY based Flute/Fue player

Upcoming Projects and Review

Fumi Tanakadate

Hello friends!

I'm spending most of May in at home in New York, cultivating both my actual and artistic gardens and trying not to get too caught up in the news. I've been composing, arranging and experimenting with music daily with my eye on various upcoming projects. It's been a very rewarding endeavor and I always feel blessed to have musicians around me that can help hone and develop ideas.


In June, I will be traveling for various performances with folks like Mike BlockShane ShanahanKenny Endo and Fumi Tanakadate. One particular New York performance that I'd like everyone to know about is on June 1 and is a fundraiser for my daughter's Japanese language pre-school Aozora Gakuen. Mari and I are so grateful this special place where empathy, play and creativity, self-determination and good manners are celebrated.

And like last year we are helping organize the event, with me in charge of the musical entertainment: I have invited Satoshi TakeishiShoko Nagai and Fumi Tanakadate to perform with me along with MC and singer Akiko "Kewpie" Hiroshima. We're going to be playing some eclectic music - not-quite jazz, not-quite Japanese traditional music and definitely not Enka but a little bit of all-of-the-above. Along with the music, there's going to be great food and drinks and prizes, all for a great cause.

Also, part two of my JO | HA | KYU series is happening on July 31st at the amazing venue National Sawdust. While the focus was on Indian music last time, for this show, I will be looking towards Central and South America with an emphasis on Brazil, Cuba and Jamaica

UPDATE | March - May

Besides the composing activities, the last couple of months have been great for gaining invaluable experience as both an educator and performer. Starting in March, Jun Aoyama and Thomas Shiroto, two young men from Atibaia, Brazil from the taiko ensemble Wadan, came for two weeks. While they were both physically strong with many years of experience playing taiko, we spent a lot of time on learning to play with more relaxed, larger and cleaner movements, gaining a deeper understanding of rhythm and perhaps most importantly, exposing them to various forms of music- not just traditional and contemporary Japanese music but also the various types of music that I deal with in my life as a musician in New York- from avant-garde improvisation, to my own compositions to a collaboration with Indian classical musicians (featuring very special guest Ryutaro Kaneko, a hugely influential taiko drummer and former Kodo colleague). Very soon after they left, Eien Ishikawa-Hunter, a Portland-based musician spent a week in NY. We had almost daily lessons, focussing for hours at a time on tone production, vibrato, finger embellishments, dynamics, phrasing, and unconventional fue techniques. It was great working with a someone who could already play at a high level but who had the desire, the humility and the wisdom to continue his studies.

Jun and Thomas on the left. © Thomas Shiroto

Jun and Thomas on the left.
© Thomas Shiroto

With Eien. © Eien Hunter-Ishikawa

With Eien.
© Eien Hunter-Ishikawa

While Eien was in town, a man named Bunta Sato who plays the flute from the region of Northern Japan called Tsugaru visited my studio. I have studied and listened to a variety of music from Tsugaru such as Nebuta, Neputa, Gezan Bayashi, Yamauta, Te-Odori and others over the last two decades and so it was such a treat to hear Bunta san's wonderful presentation of different styles, melodies and techniques. Plus he graciously answered my endless stream of questions. And perhaps most inspiring of all was to hear his mighty sound on the fue. He is planning for a concert in NY next year which I will let everyone know about as soon as all the details are set!

From left: Eien, Fumi, Bunta, and myself © Bunta Sato

From left: Eien, Fumi, Bunta, and myself
© Bunta Sato

Playing my composition with Eien and Fumi for Bunta Sato © Bunta Sato

Playing my composition with Eien and Fumi for Bunta Sato
© Bunta Sato

As for my performances, I was doing a lot more reading of music that unusual. In April, I did a concert with members of the renowned gagaku ensemble ReigakushaMayumi Miyata (shō), Hitomi Nakamura (hichiriki), and Takeshi Sasamoto (ryūteki) at Columbia University, a performance accompanying Nihon Buyo Japanese classical dancer Michiko Kurata with singer and shamisen player Sumie Kaneko at Wellesley College, a contemporary music concert with the group Composers Concordance performing a piece for flute, four guitars, cello and violin, written for me and an appearance at the 25th anniversary of Arts First Festival at Harvard University where I joined Silk Road Ensemble members Joe Gramley and Haruka Fujii accompanying Harvard student Grant Hoechst, performing Marimba Spiritual by Miki Minoru. I did have two duo performances of original music, one with the great bassist Yasushi Nakamura and one with Shane Shanahan also of the Silk Road Ensemble. 

From gagaku concert @ Columbia University © Marty Regan

From gagaku concert @ Columbia University
© Marty Regan

From Musume Dojoji @ Wellsley College from Michiko Kurata on Vimeo. Click  here  to watch the video!

From Musume Dojoji @ Wellsley College from Michiko Kurata on Vimeo. Click here to watch the video!

Also, one of the most bizarre performances in a while I did was a short performance at the Met Gala. For those of you who have no idea what the Met Gala is - I had to Google it myself- it's the biggest fashion event of the year, one that apparently all A list celebrities pray to be invited to so they can pay over $20,000 for a seat. It was a bit surreal to see folks like Aziz Ansari, Amy Schumer, Judd Apatow, Stephen Colbert, Mindy Kaling, Kim Kardashian, Hugh Jackman, Edward Norton (notice most of the people I recognized are comedians...) all up close and personal. After Fumi and I did our forty second performance in the midst of all the glitz and glamour, Pharrell came out and introduced Katy Perry to perform a few songs. Baz Lurhman directed the evening's festivities. One of my favorite take-aways from all this was how over the course of telling (bragging) to various NY musician friends about this bizarre gig, a surprising number of them responded "oh cool- yeah I played at one of those a few years back!"