Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Obituary: Yumiko Kano (鹿野祐美子)

My mother emailed me yesterday that she received a "Deferred New Year's card" from the parents of my best friend from Toho School named Yumiko Kano, that their daughter has passed away back in March.  In Japan we still have the tradition of sending New Year's card, which is to precisely arrive on January 1st, called "Nenga-jo" (年賀状).  However, when you have a death in the family, we send in the greetings in advance.  I was quite shocked that I didn't learn of her passing until now.

Yumiko was a composer/pianist.  As a young teenager she was a class ahead of me at Toho School, and was at the top of the ear training class.  Toho School's Music School for Children (like Juilliard' Pre-college) was where you get the most rigorous western musical education in Japan.  Yumiko was at the highest level which means that she could pretty much sight-read orchestra scores on the piano perfectly, transpose, improvise, solfage, analyze and compose in any style on the fly.  We became friends, and I have performed her compositions, when not many violin students were playing composition students' works. I was introduced to courses in harmony, orchestration, analysis that "normal" violin students wouldn't take at Toho School.

Part of the reason which put us together, was a rare group of composers who formed a "mountain climbing club" at Toho School!  I wanted to join the club, and they made it a condition that I perform their pieces :)   Imagine, these rather geeky group of composers had an odd member, the only violinist :)  I fondly remember our trips in high mountains, chased by approaching thunderstorms, cooking on mountain tops, sleeping in cabins together.  Yumiko taught me how to climb for a long time without much effort, the method I still use to climb up stairs.  You basically "roll" from one to the next step, without pausing, carrying your weight from one to the other.   It curiously has a lot in common with music and rhythm.  We spent hours discussing the difference between how Asians (Japanese) and westerners walk, and the kind of steps we take, influence the rhythmical interpretation.  We talked about shoes worn by westerners; the tip of their shoes are curved upward, where Japanese shoes are not, since Japanese don't walk the same way as the westerners.  Japanese were used to wearing sandals for a long time, and our clothing: kimono, didn't allow us to walk the same way for generations.  And we discussed how this traditional Japanese character might be influencing when Japanese perform western music.  I make use of our discussion today for my own performance and phrasing in music.

Yumiko and I performed a lot together; she was a formidable pianist as well.  She went on to study at the Conservatoire in Nice, France after Toho School.   She leaves behind 2 CDs published in Japan: "The Seasons of High Attitude Plants", and "Quatre Tableaux Féeriques"(4 pictures of Féeriques) for four-hand piano, which won her the 1st prize at the 2nd International Composition Competition for Piano Duo in 1992 in Japan.    These works are published from Ongaku-no Tomo ("Friends of Music"), the prime music publishing house in Japan.   The program include:  Quartre Tableaux Féeriques-Chansons de France pour les Petits Français, Fantasie sur les Thèmes des Alpes, Sept Vielles Chansons: Veilles Chansons et Rondes, accompanied by her advice notes on performance.  (Ongaku-no Tomo, No. 438610)

Yumiko taught at Toho school, and performed and taught widely in Japan.  This Amazon link is in Japanese unfortunately and it says it is out of stock, but says will be filled shortly.  Above is the CD of this work,  available on Amazon.  It is published from a Japanese company called Nami Records, which lists a contact info. The CD number is WWCC-7264.  The aforementioned "The Seasons of High Attitude Plants"is WWCC-7361.

Yumiko also published piano textbooks, which are quite amazing, including pieces like "Let's have fun with *mixed time signature*", "combined rhythm, 2 against 3, 3 vs. 4, etc", illustrating uniquely and clearly through her compositions, quite advanced musical concepts for children.  The scores are in two volumes, "Expressive Piano Lessons" book 1 and 2. (Also Ongaku-no Tomo, but I couldn't find it in the website. I have them)

Yumiko leaves behind her parents, after a long battle with breast cancer.  She fought very hard for several years, after it metastasized to her spine.  She researched all the radio-active hot springs and knew all the data, measurement that she needed to slow down her cancer.  The last time we spoke, she rather joyfully explained to me in length the locations of hot springs, which extended to Taiwan I think, and the radiation levels, how often, how long she should go into the hot spring etc.  It was very analytical and typical of Yumiko, that she took her condition quite scientifically and dealt with it as the best she could.

The news of her passing slowly is marking me as the end of an era in my life, although she passed away last March.   I owe her our countless hours of lively questioning and discussions, thinking and searching of music.   I miss her terribly, and I celebrate the life and contributions of Yumiko Kano.

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