“I started playing the violin, actually, at four years old. My parents are musicians. Of course, [one] can make friends in school, but music gives us an opportunity to make more friends. My parents had such a good experience and made so many friendships through music. My father is a baritone, a singer, and my mother is a pianist. So I wanted to choose a different instrument [she laughs].
After I graduated high school, I moved to Tokyo [Japan] for my studies. I went to a music college in Tokyo, and also started working as a freelance violinist. I liked this job because you get to experience many different music styles. I played in orchestras, did solos in concert, some gigs, of course, and some other recording sessions.
My [U.S.] visa status was as a business visa to teach violin at the Suzuki music school, which is under the University of Arkansas. My students couldn’t understand my native tongue, of course. So I needed to improve my English skills quickly. I had a very good tutor [at OLC]; she was very intelligent. She had lived in the UK and Russia for her business. The first time I met her, she told me that she had lived in a foreign country, so she could understand my [situation], that it was difficult managing a new life abroad. I was very lucky to have such a great tutor. She understood what I needed very quickly. She focused on building my teaching vocabulary in English. She found [a] book about one girl’s violin story. It [became] my textbook to learn music vocabulary. I memorized the phrasing, which worked very well for my teaching. [My] first semester, I always created my teaching scenarios. Before my students came to my studio, I always looked over my vocabulary and phrasing. I really wanted to speak clearly, so [my tutor] fixed very small things, even the consonants. The Japanese language doesn’t have very strong consonants, but in English, of course, there are very strong consonants and accents. So, she fixed many things. After the first semester, even my students realized that my English had made an improvement.
I really liked [OLC]. It was my first time to be isolated from the Japanese language. No Japanese were there, so nobody could understand my native tongue. It was a little bit scary at first. But the teachers and classmates were so friendly, that even though at the time my English vocabulary was not large enough, my small vocabulary could work very well; many international students had the same feeling (sentiment). So it was very easy to communicate to many people.
[Learning English has] brought me many things. I [recently] went to California for the Ojai music festival, a very famous contemporary music festival with over 70 years of history. This year, they had a music director [named] Barbara Hannigan, a Soprano and conductor. Usually, the Soprano doesn’t conduct the orchestra, but [Barbara] is special; she does two things at the same time. I was very interested to listen to her performance, and I also wanted to listen to her story. I never expected that I could meet her or talk to her. But, the first night, they hosted a party for the donors; I went because I had donated a little bit. Barbara [ended up standing] very close to me; I wanted to talk to her, tell her why I was at Ojai. My husband pushed me, “You should talk! [Tell her] how much you are interested in her, what you want to learn from her.” So I introduced myself. I really wanted to learn her skill [of melody]. I play in the orchestra as principal second violin, which means that we don’t play melodies often. We support the melody part, so we play countermelodies or rhythms, or collaborate with woodwinds, or the violas. It’s hard to lead my section sometimes. But if I learn this skill, I’ll be a better leader, so this is why I went to the festival. She was so glad to hear the story; she inspired me very much. After I talked to her, I thought, “If I hadn’t tried to improve my English, this never would have happened.” And I thought about OLC. OLC gives us, of course, English skills. But it also gives us courage.
OLC gives us [the] opportunity to know different cultures, people from many countries, where we’ve never visited. Of course, improving [our] English is mandatory to us, to survive in this country. On the other hand, [OLC] is our second home. It’s very safe. Even without much vocabulary, we can communicate, heart to heart. It’s a very special place.”