This is the English translation of an Japanese essay, "Jibunno Kansei wo Taisetsuni" written by Yoshinori Natsume. The translation was also made by Yoshinori Natsume.
Generally speaking, group-oriented Japanese simply don't wish to behave differently from the majority. They just try to follow suit. Even when a person thinks in their heart that something is wrong, he or she would probably follow what others do. As a matter of fact, one of my students studying at a music college in Tokyo called me the other day, saying, "Most students at my college are carrying the same white music scores. I'm wondering whether I should do the same."
"Those white scores" meant a series of piano scores published by Shunjusha Ltd., edited by Motonari Iguchi, the late big-name [leading figure] in the Japanese piano world. Since all of his scores, unlike most other music scores, have shinny white covers, they are easily recognizable. My student told me on the phone that almost all the students walking around the campus had those white scores under their arms. Being a novice piano student with little knowledge about the difference between editions, it was quite understandable that she was worried that her scores might not be as good as those white editions.
To tell you the truth, however, there are many other editions apart from Iguchi's which are available for the same scores. I believe it is only in Japan that you see most students with the same white Iguchi editions, where, needless to say, several other reliable editions are available. It's really a sad situation.
To be frank with you, I've been critical about some of Iguchi's editions of Bach music for quite a long time. Let's take Bach's C major Invention as an example. Mr. Iguchi wrote "forte" meaning "play loudly" for the opening part of this piece. This suggestion poses several questions.
This beginning part is repeated in a higher range in the following section, then reaches to an even higher peak later on. If you start loudly at the beginning, how can you raise the volume (can you crescendo) toward the following higher part?
Bach wrote in the preface of this music score that the main purpose of this music is "to make students study how to play cantabile." No doubt the opening melody of this piece is the kind of melody you can really sing beautifully. If you play it forte, though, how can you sing itcantabile? On seeing the mark "forte," you may take it as suggesting that this is a strong, decisive melody, so you shouldn't play it softly.
This is a little piece with only two pages. Taking this into consideration, it's inappropriate to start it loud when it has its climax later.
As I mentioned above, this edition has several problems which you can easily find. Nevertheless, his scores are very popular among piano teachers and their students in Japan. Why? I think it's because of the fact that he was seen as an authority within the piano-teaching world during the fast-developing period of Japan's classical music which came soon after the war. In Japan, people tend to blindly follow authority. As a result, a tacit recognition that Iguchi editions are the best has been establised here.
This strong Japanese tendency will not be easily influenced by a comment made by a mere music teacher in a local city like Nagano. To tell you the truth, however, I have an interesting story in connection with Iguchi's editions. It happened in a piano master class by Prof. Martin Canin, a prominent piano teacher at Juilliard Music School in New York.
A student of the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts And Music was playing "Allemando" from one of Bach's "English Suites." As she played it too loudly, he looked at her score and found "forte" printed on it. He asked her, "Whose edition do you have here?" As I suspected, it was Iguchi's. He said, "Allemando is a solem and graceful piece! How on earth can you play it forte?." He held the shiny white book up and said to the audience, "There seems to be a lot of problems in this edition. I strongly recommend you not to use this score when you study Bach."
At that time I thought that only a great teacher like him could influence the Japanese, even though it seemed to me quite clear that Allemando would come out most beautifully only when you play it gently and gracefully following your natural musical instinct and without any preconceptions or prejudices about the piece.
It's not fair, however, to blame only this student. She must have been asked by her Japanese teacher to buy it. In my view, this problem stems from the peculiar part of our culture. In Japan, to learn is basically to follow exactly what your superior says, and teachers themselves generally don't try so much to develop their own ability to interpret pieces for themselves. So they give, without thinking much about it, Iguchi editions to their students, and teach according to Iguchi's suggestions. This inevitably prevents students from developing their own free and flexible musicality. There may also be the strong possibility that the teacher was one of Iguchi's students.
This seems to parallel the fact that here in Japan almost all the Toyota employees own only Toyota cars. In this society no one has any doubts about doing so. In sharp contrast, however, in America, even if you are employed by Harley Davidson, there wouldn't be any one in the company who would blame you for buying a Honda's motorcycle. It's up to the individual which maker's motorcyle you buy. I think this highlights how different our culture is from other countries.
Contrary to the way it is taught in Japan, however, Western music is an art which places great importance on your own musical individuality. In this light, you could say the teaching in Japan of Western classical music is still far from its original philosophy.
In a piano competition for children which was held here several years ago, they gave a sonatina by Mozart as a required piece. The Sonatina consists of two movements and the first one was marked by Mozart as "Adagio" (very slowly). Nevertheless, most children played it relatively fast. In fact, Hans Kan, the editor of the score, gave his metronome mark to the piece. This metronome tempo is so fast that it would never make you feel that this piece's temp is in fact "Adagio." Yet again, a lot of teachers seemed to follow his tempo suggestion, without relying on their own interpretation.
To me, however, it seemed impossible to bring out the rhythm, the feeling and the beauty of its melody at a tempo suggested by the editor. So I taught my students to play it slower than Mr. Kan's metromone mark. As I expected, judges wrote in their reviews to my students to "play it faster."
In point of fact, there was a book written by a distinguished flutist around the same time this piece was composed which argued in depth about the relationship between tempo and meter. He wrote that "Adagio" written in two-two time such as this one has to be played much slower than Mr. Kan's tempo. When I told Prof. Stessen from Julliard about it later, he criticized Mr. Kan's tempo, simply saying, "Ridiculous!"
There may be some people who will disagree with my argument and try to support Iguchi's editions. Some other piano teachers may insist that Kan's tempo is alright. Nonetheless, what I'm trying to say here is the fact that almost all the teachers follow only these editors, and that such a situation seems to me really strange from the viewpoint of the principle upon which Western music is based. I believe that more than one hundred years since Western music was first introduced into Japan, it's now time to finish the period where people try hard to learn it as technique. And even as jsut a piano teacher in a small local city, I believe we Japanese should start to study Westen music based more upon your own musical sense and judgement.
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