Finding the Road’s Curve in Classical Piano Music

An Interview with Amateur Pianist Toshiko Nishino

At the age of 36, Toshiko Nishino, an amateur jazz organist, emigrated from Japan to the United States. She had only a vague sense that she wanted her life to be different. What she discovered in America was classical piano music with an entirely different approach.

Tell us about your piano studies when you lived in Japan.

I took private classical piano lessons for about six or seven years while I was in elementary school. As a child, I really loved playing the piano. I was comfortable performing in front of people. When I visited my relatives, they would say, “Toshiko, play something for us,” and I played.

I stopped playing classical piano when I was around 15 or so, because I wanted to focus on basketball. When I became a university student in Kyoto, I learned to play a Hammond organ, an electric keyboard used for jazz. I really enjoyed learning jazz, and I loved the sound of the Hammond organ.

Why did you decide to come to the United States?

You know, I had a very comfortable life in Japan. I was working at a trading company as an accountant, and I played the Hammond organ with jazz groups for leisure when I had time. But I was missing something, and I wasn’t sure what that something was. I felt that the road I was on was too smooth and too straight.

I had a friend who lived in Boston at that time, and I visited her for vacation a couple of times. I talked to her a lot about my job, my life, and my music, and one day, she suggested that I moved to the United States. My parents, though surprised by my decision, supported me and told me to follow my dreams. Without their encouragement, I probably would not have made the big move.

When I decided to move here, I did not speak English. I took accounting classes and eventually got a job in New York. My company sponsored me for a green card. Later, I became a Certified Public Accountant.

Why did you decide to go back to classical piano music?

I felt like I couldn’t really play jazz in America—for some reason, it didn’t feel right—so I started taking private lessons in classical piano music. I found piano practice in America totally different than in Japan. My teachers here, like Cosmo Buono, would explain the music to me and teach me how to feel the piece, whereas in Japan, it was mostly about technique. Here, I learned that if there are one hundred people out there, there are one hundred ways to express the same music.

Now I think about the piece much more than I used to. In Japan, I just looked at the sheet music, and I played the notes. But here, I study the music away from the piano, sometimes when I am in the subway, and I think a lot about how I can play the music. Some friends have told me that my sound has changed. Ultimately, my dream is to play with an orchestra, and maybe play a full-length concert at some point.

You know, with the piano, I think I have found what I was looking for. It was that curve in the road.

Copyright © 2018 Nancy M. Williams. All Rights Reserved.

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