Classical Japanese music comes to Swarthmore

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Tonight, Swarthmore will host Tokyo Chigakukai, a traditional Japanese ensemble. Compositions from the 17th to the 20th century will be played, with brief historical background presented between songs. This authentic performance will highlight the development of classical Japanese music.

Tokyo Chigakukai’s seven members will perform pieces for voice, koto, shamisen and kokyu. “We are very fortunate to have a performance by this instrument [kokyu],” said Tomoko Sakomura of the Art History Department. The reed-like sound of this bowed, three-stringed instrument is rarely heard in the America. Swarthmore is the first location to host Tokyo Chigakukai’s tour, before both Yale and Princeton.

The music to be presented is of the Kikusuji style of jiuta-sokyoku, or classical Japanese music. This style was primarily played by either geisha or members of a musician’s guild. These musicians were usually blind from childhood and therefore devoted their lives to music. Tokyo Chigakukai is a direct descendant of the Kikuzuka guild. The heritage of the geisha also informs the compositions performed. One piece contains text from various religions, including a call to the Virgin Mary and a quote from the Lotus Sutra. “This is significant because the Lotus Sutra was the first Hindu text to claim women could achieve Nirvana,” one member explained. “This was the pop music of its day.”

The performance will last from 7:00-8:00 in the Science Center, Room 101. It is co-sponsored by the Art Department, the Japanese Section of the Modern Languages and Literatures Department, the Asian Studies Program, BiCo East Asian Studies Department (Haverford/Bryn Mawr), the John B. Hurford “60 Humanities Center, Haverford College, and the Todo Music Association.

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