koto is one of the most popular Japanese traditional musical instruments.
To many, the character of koto music is evocative of traditional
Japan with the attributes of the western harp, dulcimer and lute.
(Photographs from the Japan Festival Melbourne 2002. Click on image
legends refer to the origins of the koto. A popular one says that
the koto was formed in the shape of crouching dragon, a charmed
and mythical creature of ancient Japan and China.
The koto was
brought to Japan around the end of the 7th century by Chinese and
Korean musicians who came to play in the Japanese court orchestra,
gagaku. By the 15th century, solo repertoires for koto, sookyoku
began to emerge. In the early Edo period (around the 17th century),
sookyoku was a popular source of entertainment for the wealthy merchant
thirteen strings of the koto are stretched along a soundboard of
nearly two metres made of hollowed-out paulownia timber. The strings
were traditionally made of silk, nowadays synthetic. It is tuned
for different songs by movable bridges of ivory or plastic.
The koto is
played with ivory plectrum on the thumb and the first two fingers
of the right hand, the left hand applying pressure to vary the pitch.
The music ranges from the simplicity of the traditional to the melodic
as well as challenging contemporary pieces.
The Sawai International
The Sawai International
Koto School was opened in 1989 under Ms. Odamura Satsuki, as a branch
of the Sawai Koto School in Tokyo. Ms. Odamura has pioneered the
introduction of teaching and performing of koto to Australian students,
musicians and audiences. The Sawai International Koto School has
now two branches in Sydney and Melbourne.
The Sawai Koto School, Sawai Sookyoku-in, in Tokyo was founded in
1965 by the late composer and kotoist Sawai Tadao and his wife Sawai
Kazue, and is now directed by their son Sawai Hikaru. Both modern
and traditional Ikuta-style koto and Jiuta-style sangen are taught
in the School.
The Sawais have
been instrumental in bringing recognition to the koto as something
more than simply a traditional instrument. They perform and teach
koto with the concept that it is versatile and many-faceted. The
school is noted for its openness to new types of music, innovative
playing techniques, and a variety of sounds. This philosophy is
reflected in the dynamic performances and diverse compositions of
Sawai Tadao and Sawai Hikaru.
with permission from Saeko Kitai, The Sawai International Koto School,