June Kuromoto of Hiroshima
Talks About The Spirit of the Season
by Paula Edelstein
Hiroshima is an award-winning ensemble that has continuously experienced and shared their creativity with the world for the past twenty years. With Spirit of the Season, their second release on Heads Up International, the group offers their perspective on the holiday songs and original music written especially to permeate peace around the world. Hiroshima is Dan Kuromoto, Kimo Cornwell, June Kuromoto, Danny Yamamoto, Dean Cortez, Richie Gajate-Garcia, and Terry Steele with special guests The 54th Street Choir on “Thousand Cranes.” This is one of the most beautiful holiday recordings you’ll ever hear…so listen up!
P.E.: Congratulations on Spirit of the Season. What does the holiday season mean to you as a musician, mother, provider and educator?
June K: Actually, it’s a time of year …I feel family, love, caring and sharing.
P.E.: Successful musicians demonstrate skills unrelated to the creation of music that aren’t taught or learned in a classroom, a music textbook or from performing for that matter. What skills have helped you endure the enormous success of Hiroshima and kept your music interesting to your audiences?
June K: Wow, thank you. I don’t know how to…I personally trained classically and it’s amazing how during the first half of my life, I learned all the techniques and the different songs. I was taught traditionally. In the second half of my life…you know how you erase everything and go back and try to relearn from the heart, soul and with creativity.
P.E.: The holiday standards sometimes get over familiar for some, but Hiroshima has come up with several great covers of the traditional music as well as several original holiday songs that capture the SPIRIT OF THE SEASON. How do you inspire yourself to re-write holiday favorites as well as new music?
June K: I can’t take credit for that. That’s mostly from Dan Kuromoto and Kimo Cornwell. They’re geniuses. They have this really special way of blending and they spend a lot of time with each instrument, such as my koto, and they incorporated it with the creative elements of contemporary sounds. I find them amazing, I’m in awe of them especially with such arrangements as they did for “Little Drummer Boy,” and “Spirit of the Season.” I think it shouldn’t be like this for the holiday but EVERY day.
P.E.: Terry Steele’s soulful vocals are truly loving on the title track. Wow what a great song. It talks about why we have Christmas in the first place…not about the things you can buy, it’s about the spirit you can share. June, you really deliver a beautiful ambience on koto. It’s very compelling and very refined. Please give us a brief history of how you came to play the koto.
June K: Thank you. I was born in Japan and moved here when I was about six years old. I always thought I was going back to Japan…not understanding what the move was about. So when we were here in America, I saw my teacher play at this event and when I saw and heard the instrument, I immediately fell in love with the sound. I asked my mom… “Mom, that’s the instrument I want to play. Can I learn?” I believe that was the beginning, it was my connection to Japan.
P.E.: June, do you teach the koto?
June K: Yes, I do teach the koto. I try to teach as much as possible…I feel I have an obligation. I am a very strict teacher because I was taught classically and that’s the only way that I know how to teach. That’s my basic background but I try to stay open. But my foremost goal is to teach creativity.
P.E.: You play the melody line on “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” and it’s a fine old holiday standard. However, with the koto, bells, and other percussive embellishments this presentation is given a new twist by setting it against the modern day synthesizer and traditional Japanese rhythms. How difficult was it to re-work this holiday standard?
June K: It wasn’t very difficult. Actually, that song was fun to do because it’s a fun song. Hearing an old traditional instrument play a funny song was great!
P.E.: What does a day in the life of June Kuramoto involve when preparing for a performance?
June K: Well, I have to make sure that my koto strings are not dead. My preparation usually starts around two weeks before where I am making sure that my picks and strings are okay. But I have to constantly, like all other musicians, to be informed physically so that you can endure the entire set! So it’s a constant process…being into what I have to do mentally and physically. The hard part of the new show is memorizing the songs…it’s getting more and more difficult. For a new show, with new material, I have to start within a month because I like to be comfortable. Depending on the songs, the koto cannot modulate generally. I have to work it a lot because it’s not the same scale for every song.
P.E.: Your husband Dan, wrote and arranged many of the songs that we hear on the recording including “Peace On Earth,” “Listen To The Falling Snow,” and of course the title track. However, on SPIRIT OF THE SEASON, you have composed “Thousand Cranes” with Derek Nakamoto. Does sending a thousand cranes represent the ultimate act of love or something spiritual in Japanese philosophy?
June K: Yes, there are actually many symbolic meanings for the crane in Japan. One of them is happiness because cranes mate for life and so it’s a great wedding present and it’s symbolic of happiness. But in this situation, “A Thousand Cranes” came from this peace memorial that is located in the center of the city of Hiroshima. Within it is this domelike of a little girl on top who was bombed during the war in Hiroshima. There are a thousand cranes laid within the dome for her. She survived the bombing but the radiation affected her, she later developed leukemia and had to be hospitalized. Her friend told her that if she folded a thousand paper cranes, make a wish and wish that her pain would go away. So she began to fold a thousand cranes and around 644, she passed away. So her classmates folded the remaining cranes and buried them with her. So when the word got out, children from all over the world started sending paper cranes and today, they still string the cranes inside. So people from all over the world send a thousand cranes to symbolize peace.
P.E.: What a wonderful gesture and here’s wishing the whole world peace during the holiday season and for eternity. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts about SPIRIT OF THE SEASON. May you continue to be successful and happy June. We really appreciate your speaking to us here at Sounds of Timeless Jazz.com and look forward to hearing the songs in concert.
June K: Thank you.
P.E.: Keep in touch with Hiroshima at http://www.hiroshimamusic.com