When I was a teenager and even before, I sought out great teachers and great teaching. I always had an internal meter reading when someone was conscientiously engaging learning, and when they were shucking and jiving. I put it this way because I think learning is a state of mind. You need a particular environment for it to occur. The teacher has a huge impact on this environment with every gesture, word and intention. When done well, it’s like you can’t not learn in their presence. The environment draws you into a state of inquiry internally and externally. You inquire, you discover, you explore and observe. This is learning.
I met John Kamitsuka in 1986 or ’87 when I first started College. Even though I attended Rutgers at the time and had good teachers, I sought out more in New York City. I came to John through Fred Hersch and Sophia Rosoff and studied with him for a number of years.
John Kamitsuka is an accomplished concert pianist and teacher and has been performing internationally since a very young age. He plays a solo recital annually in New York City at Carnegie Hall. He has an exceptional feel for Bach and his recording of the Goldberg Variations is one of the best. In addition to Bach, he plays a wide variety of piano literature including contemporary works. When I see him perform, I am always struck by how he evokes the distinct spirit of each piece he plays. He often accomplishes this with extra attention paid to the rhythm.
Recently we had a conversation and I was so knocked out by John’s insights and comments on modern life, I decided to start this page to share with you. I hope you enjoy John’s responses to my questions below and I hope to see you at John’s next concert. He plays Weil Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, Wednesday, June 16 at 8 PM. The first two questions he responded to in one week’s time. The third question he contemplated for three and a half months!
1.What’s the most intriguing thing about being a musician?
A human being is capable of experiencing life spiritually, emotionally, intellectually and physically. Music, perhaps more than anything else on this earth permeates all of these aspects of a human being. The task of a musician is to explore and experience this all permeating music on a daily basis, with all of the dimensions of human capacity at full availability and concentration. Not an easy task, and certainly one life time is too short a time for the exploration…….but the journey is intriguing, to say the least!
2. What motivates you to stay with it in hard times?
A musician is married to music. You can’t dump her just because things get tough.
3) How has performing changed for you over the years?
We live in a world which is inundated with unfocused nervous energy, where multi-tasking is venerated, where food is so chemically manipulated that it is almost impossible to find ingredients which taste like themselves, and people spend as much time in virtual reality as in reality itself. There is a drastic loss of the ELEMENTAL in many ways- the tasting of the full flavor of real food, the doing of one activity fully, the experiencing of one experience fully….the living of one life fully. It is also ironic and tragic, that the economic and social systems which have generated this culture have also led to a situation where the next bloody wars will be over clean water to drink and to give our crops.
This condition has affected the musical world as well. Concerts have become shows designed to distract us from real life. CDs are “produced” instead of simply recorded. The imagistic and the packaged are mistaken for art and human communication. Again, there is a drastic loss of the ELEMENTAL. This is a precarious situation because, just as junk food and soda fanatics lose the ability to enjoy the complex and full taste of nourishing food and water, audiences are losing the appetite to focus on the overwhelmingly multi-dimensional and soul filling experience of REAL MUSIC ALONE. And especially after struggling with the vicissitudes of a life in music over years, musicians can waver or even lose their faith in the MAGNIFICENCE and POWER of MUSIC ITSELF and how it speaks to being a human being and the miracle of life.
For a musician to be able to impart MUSIC to their audience, they must not “do” the music but BECOME it. This requires a complete command of the musical materials so that the musical materials can be moved by the expressive spirit BEHIND it. Music moves by it’s spirit, not it’s material. Needless to say, this is an impossible task in the complete sense. Certainly one lifetime is too short to fully prepare to do this. But this is the process and meaning of being a musician. The goal is to be able to make music in such a free way, that nothing else exists at that moment but the MUSIC ALONE, so that the MUSIC ALONE can speak and nourish and exhilarate our hearts and souls.
Thank-you John Kamitsuka for sharing your insights with us.