The Mystery of Ko Matsushita
At 11am Japan time.
John Pamintuan (J): Good morning, Ko. How are you?
Ko Matsushita (K): I'm a bit tired and yesterday evening I had a little fever.
K: Little bit.
J: Me also, I do not wake up in the morning. I wake up at 12 o'clock noon
K: Mm... Yesterday?
J: No. Everyday. Hahaha.
K: What time do you go to bed?
J: Maybe 4 o'clock
K: It's probably difficult. Composer's life.
J: Yeah. It's very hard to fall asleep.
K: Me, too.
J: Yes, I know. I asked you before. As a composer, maybe the mind is very active and it's hard to fall asleep.
J: So, I want to ask you. You know, this interview is about the mystery of Ko Matsushita.
K: (laughs) What does mystery mean?
J: People think you are mysterious.
J: I don't know. Maybe they want to know more things about you, that's why. If you don't know something, it's mysterious. So, I will ask you very simple questions
J: Sometimes people like to know very simple things and it makes them know you more. Example, where were you born? What place in Japan?
K: Oh, ok. I was born in Tokyo. Not center of Tokyo. The city name is Musashino.
J: How about when you were growing up? Did you stay in Musashino City?
K: Yes, until I was 5th grade of elementary school. From 6th grade, I changed to Hachioji.
J: Oh Hachioji. Some time ago, you told me that your mother lives near Mt. Fuji.
K: Yes, yes. My parents lived by the mountains after my father's retirement. Before that, they lived in Hachioji with their family.
J: What is the name of that place?
K: Not by Mt. Fuji, but by the mountain, "Yatsugatake." It's very, very beautiful mountain. This mountain has eight tops. "Yatsu" means eight.
J: Ah...because I want to know the influence you had when you were a child. The influences which made you start composing music.
K: The very first time, I forgot. But my mom said, that I said I want to play the piano when I was five years old. So, I went to the lesson of the piano. I remember there was a second floor of the dentist. (Reminiscing fondly with a smile on his face) There was one very young and very cute teacher. She taught me piano. And someday, she told my parents, "Oh, maybe Ko has talent. You should bring Ko to the music school."
K: Not only regular elementary school, but also a music school. In Tokyo, there is one of the very famous and very strict music school under the music university. I took the exam, and somehow, I...
J: Katsu! (winner!)
K: Katta! I passed! Yes, I went to this music school during my elementary and junior high school. I went to elementary school Monday to Saturday, and after the classes of Saturday, I went to music school. Only Saturday. And probably Wednesday, or Thursday, I went to the piano teacher.
And another one day, I remember it was Tuesday, I went to study sight singing or dictation. Solfege.
J: Did you join chorus in elementary or junior high school?
K: No, no chorus. I'm not interested.
J: Hahahaha. You never joined chorus even in university?
K: Before that, I should tell you about my history in my childhood. Actually, when I was 2nd grade of junior high school, my piano teacher said, "You should quit from the music world. Because you don't have any talent."
J: Hahaha. She is wrong.
K: Hahaha. So, I had to quit from the piano teacher and also from the music school. And I lost my hope.
K: I entered one high school in Tokyo and very fortunately met a music teacher in the high school. The music teacher was a very good person. He invited me strongly. "You should be in the chorus. Choir."
K: Until then, this high school choir was a female choir. But this teacher wants it to be a mixed choir, SATB. That's why I'm chosen. And every day, every time, he followed me. "Ko, please join us. Please join us." Even so, I entered, but still I didn't like choral music. I had to take the competition. NHK. You know NHK.
J: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
K: NHK student choral competition. I stood on the stage and I sang with my colleagues, my friends. It's the very first time to have such kind of... I'm very touched. And, I changed my mind and I loved choral music, and so on. This is very funny story.
This teacher quit from this high school when I went to the 2nd grade of the high school. He changed to another high school. We lost the good teacher and I had to be the conductor, because we lost the conductor. The next teacher was very young, just graduated from the music college and she knows nothing. So, my friends said, "Ko, you should be the conductor."
That's why it started my conducting life. And so, the teacher changed to another high school. He raised me. In his next high school, he raised another person. This person is Nobunaga. We have the same teacher.
J: Ah... The teacher inspired you and Takatomi Nobunaga. (Takatomi Nobunaga is also a famous Japanese composer for choral music.)
But he did not study music.
K: Ah, yes. Yes.
J: He only learned by himself how to write. But you, after that high school, you went to music college. Kunitachi.
K: Kunitachi. Yes.
J: What did you study?
K: I was in the composition class. After I met choral music, I wanted to be some musician.
J: Hahaha, some musician.
K: Hahaha. Actually, I wanted to be a choral conductor. I was looking for the choral conducting class of the music college, or music university in Japan. But there were no choral conducting class. Some of the college had orchestral conducting, but not choral conducting. That's why I decided: "Ok, I should go to composition class."
J: But you know, your piano playing skill is good. How advance did you study piano?
K: Yes. Actually, my piano teacher taught me only Beethoven, Mozart, Bach. And sometimes Brahms. It's finished. No French music. No Scandinavian music. Just German music. It's very...
J: One dimension.
K: Yes, yes. But after I met choral music, so many patterns, so many styles I learned from choral music. I'm influenced from, especially the writing way of the piano, maybe French: Debussy, or Ravel; or Akira Miyoshi.
J: Ah... That was my next question. When you were a composition student, did any Japanese composer influence you that time?
K: Yes. Akira Miyoshi. And not so famous outside of Japan, Saburo Takata. He is a Catholic. So, he wrote many, many church music, I'll show you. (He goes to the library)
J: (Catholicism is not very famous in Japan, that's why we say of note, that Takata san is a Catholic.)
K: (shows book) This is almost all of Takata's piece.
J: Akira Miyoshi is one of the well-known Japanese composers, and he has developed this very fantastic modernist technique.
K: And he was influenced from French music. Actually, he was not studying music in Japanese university. He graduated from Tokyo University, Mathematics, or Chemical, or I don't know. Literature, I don't know. And after that, he went to Paris, and studied in the conservatory.
J: I think many Japanese composers have been influenced by French music.
K: (whispers) YEEEEAAAAH!
J: Even Japanese pianists, they love French music.
K: How about in your country?
J: I don't know. Hahaha. I think many. You know, Philippines is at the center of many Asian countries, and we were also under Spanish, and American. There are many choices.
K: If the music student wants to study in Europe, which country do they go?
J: All different. Germany, Italy, Holland. not only one. The vocal majors mostly go to the United States.
K: Ah yes, yes. I think so. Is it good?
J: I think the method of teaching in the United States is very modern and not traditional like European. in American schools, they teach more science, the parts, the functions, very analytic.
So, after Kunitachi, you went further studies in Hungary. What is the reason why you wanted to study in Hungary? Why did you choose Hungary?
K: So, because of one concert in Tokyo. One day, I went to the concert of the Hungarian Radio Children's Choir, conducted by my teacher, Remenyi Janos. It's first time to hear the choir for me. But I'm very surprised, and touched. So, after the concert, I visited the back stage and I asked him, please, I will be your student.
K: And he told me, "Ok, if you can come to Budapest, it's ok." And after that I learned the Hungarian language in Tokyo, and 2 years later I went to Budapest.
J: With your whole family?
J: And your children were still young that time?
K: Yeah, 2 years old.
J: Oh, wow. Did they go to school in Hungary?
K: Kindergarten. My wife studied piano teaching under the wife of Kocsar Miklos. She is a very good teacher, and my wife was very happy. My son went to kindergarten every day and after one year, my son is a top-level Hungarian speaker, hahaha!
J: Hahaha. But now your son is an Engineer.
K: Yes, in Hitachi company.
J: He did not become a musician.
K: When he was a student of high school, once, he asked me, "Hmm, I want to learn the double bass." And he studied under a very, very famous star player, Japanese. But he didn't like him and he stopped.
J: Your daughter now has a YouTube vlog; I saw her cooking.
J: So, your children pursued different interests.
K: Hahaha, yes.
J: What is your favorite food?
K: Actually, this is a difficult question, haha. I have lots of favorite foods, such as…Sushi, Yakiniku, Teppanyaki, Ramen, Soba (Japanese noodle), Beef-noodle (Taiwanese), Goulash soup (Hungarian), Steak tartar, etc.
J: Your favorite drink?
K: Japanese Sake, Beer, Coffee
J: Your hobbies? Not about music.
K: I’m an aviation enthusiast, railfan.
J: Can you cook?
K: Yes. I like cook Chinese foods, especially stir-fried dishes.
J: Your favorite countries?
K: Hungary and Taiwan. My unforgettable areas are Fjord in Norway and Corsica.
J: Let's go back to music. So, this influence of children's choir in your life, did it lead you to have plans for the future? Like now you have this Minamino children's choir and you use your techniques from Hungary in teaching this choir. This time in your life, did this greatly influence you? Example, you write a lot of children's music, you have a children's choir.
K: Actually, I have so many jobs now. Not only conducting, but also composing, and organization things. So, I'm operating some festivals, as you know. Very recently, we just started Asian Choral Association. But every time, every day, I want to be a musician. Not producer. Not CEO. Not adjudicator. Not lecturer.
I am very sad I lost the chance of performing Britten's War Requiem. We're supposed to have it in March, but postponed to beginning of August. Now, it's cancelled. But I want to have it again, one or two years later.
J: Hmmm yeah. Also, you know, in Japan, it's very difficult to cancel, because everybody expects you to follow the agreement.
K: Yeah. About my choir, I think it's a very meaningful job to have a children's choir. That's why I like to continue teaching the children's choir. You know the Japanese society doesn't like choral music.
K: Choral music is not so smart, they think. Brass band, and dancing team is very cool, but choral music is not smart.
J: Who are thinking this: the parents, or the children?
K: Society, especially children, because choral music is living in only the school classes. Not religious thing, not for faith, not for praying. Only for school, and every school has the school choral competition. Every class performs in this competition, and they decide the gold medal, silver medal.
That's why so many people are thinking that choral music is for students or mom. Mom's choir.
J: Yeah. It's very famous in Japan, Mama san chorus.
K: Yes, Mama san chorus.
J: They have their own festival. Because when the children grow up, the mothers at home do not have a hobby, so they join a chorus.
K: Yes, yes, yes, that's right.
J: How about your wife? Is she a member of a chorus now?
K: Yes, she is singing under the conducting of Emi.
J: Ah, yes. Emi is your assistant conductor for many choirs.
K: Yes, and Emi is main conductor of my wife's choir, Lilycal. Lily is the flower of Hachioji.
J: How many choirs do you have now?
K: (After thinking for a long while) Now? Mainly, twelve.
J: OMG, so many.
K: 3 mixed, 2 men's, 6 women's, and 1 children.
J: Wow! Do you have enough time to teach all of them?
K: That's why I have several assistant conductors like Emi and Haruka. Haruka is chief of ICCC (International Choral Composition Competition). She is very good conductor.
J: Yes, your students are very good conductors.
K: Thank you very much, yes, I think so.
J: How about now, during the time of COVID, I know you have many organization things, but do you still write music this time?
J: How many pieces do you write in one year?
K: One year? Like you (laughs), so many!
I write the suite very much. One suite has 4, 5, 6 pieces. If I count these pieces, one suite, five pieces, probably, I'm writing 30 pieces a year. 20, 30.
J: Wow, that's about 2 or 3 pieces every month.
K: Yes, yes.
J: That is aside from your organization work as CEO, and conductor of 12 choirs. You still have time to write 2 or 3 pieces every month. Very busy! I think you are one of my busiest friends, that when we invite you to go for adjudication, we have to ask you more than one year in advance.
So, my final question for you today: what do you think is the future of Asian choral music?
K: I don't know the actual situation of the composers' level of each country. I think the composers' level should increase, go up. I want to say, "Please, be interested in choral music."
J: Yes. We hope that the young people write more choral music. That's why you have ICCC, to encourage many young composers to write choral music.
K: And basically, Asian choral music wants to be very... gaiety. (Mimics shouting and ruckus movements). The end of the piece, all of the piece, same (flamboyant finish), hahaha!
The contemporary poet should write lyrics for choral music. Meaningful and not gaiety.
J: Not loud, but reflective.
J: So, thank you very much for your time this morning. Your interview is very important. Many people will read the interview.
K: Ok, thank you!
video above shows a virtual choir of over 300 children from Japan and Hong Kong, singing Ko Matsushita's "Horane"
7/4/2020 01:24:54 pm
Wonderful interview, love music and singing soooooooo much
Paolo Daniel Pardo
7/4/2020 01:41:56 pm
I liked this article because it is not difficult to read like in many other choral bulletins or journals. It has a lot to say about the composer, and the article brought us closer to him.
7/4/2020 01:46:16 pm
Thank you for your kind words. Please look forward to our next issue!
Boyi Sun (孙博一)
7/5/2020 10:48:09 pm
This article is very informative for me. I've been wanting to know more about Mr Matsushita for a very long time as I have sung and analysed many of his choral pieces since I was in primary school. He uses lots of different and very innovative modern techniques in many of his music. Now I know him as a person even better through reading this article. His life is very inspirational!
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