Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto – Koto musician, teacher, band leader, filmmaker, producer
Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto is a fourth generation American of Japanese descent who has played the koto for over 60 years. Muramoto has dedicated herself to the art and sound of the Japanese koto. In striving to spread the art of koto music, she often works with artists of diverse genres of music and art while respecting the tradition and techniques of the koto. Muramoto graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a bachelors in Japanese in 1976, and in the same year, she made her first trip to Japan to train for her “Shihan” teaching credential on the koto. She attained the degree with “Yushusho” honors from the Chikushi School in Fukuoka, Japan. She earned her "Dai Shihan" Master’s degree from the same school in 2000 for her dedication to the koto.
Muramoto has been teaching private students for over 50 years, and has offered classes in koto music at public schools and at universities, most notably teaching koto to students at UC Berkeley for seven years. Through her group, the Murasaki Ensemble, Muramoto has featured the koto in world jazz fusion settings while also highlighting classical and contemporary koto music. Because she also learned violin and guitar during her school years, she is able to bridge eastern and western styles through her compositions and arrangements of world and contemporary songs.
Muramoto became the first koto performer from outside of Japan to qualify for the prestigious Kenjun Koto Competition in 2018. In 2012, Muramoto was inducted into the Bunka Hall of Fame by the Hokka Nichibei Kai Japanese American Cultural Association of America for her life-long dedication to teaching and performing on the Japanese koto.
Muramoto’s koto influences include masters Chikushi Katsuko who was the founder of the Chikushi Kai and Ranjū-hōshō the Indigo Ribbon Medal of Honouree (an Imperial award), Sawai Kazue of the Sawai Soukyokuin, June Kuramoto of the Hiroshima Band, and eclectic composer and performer Eto Kimio. Because of Muramoto’s ability to play a variety of styles on the koto, she has performed for many notable people and celebrities. She has also performed at many eclectic events, such as The 50th Anniversary of San Francisco Peace Treaty (Treaty of Peace with Japan); the State of the World Forum hosted by Mikael Gorbachev; the first Sumo Basho in the U.S.; Asian American Jazz Festival in Chicago, the 100th Anniversary of SF Japantown, the 50th anniversary of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, and the Wakamatsu Fest150. Muramoto has performed at numerous community events, including Cherry Blossom Festivals in San Francisco and Cupertino, Bon festivals in Oakland, Palo Alto, Mountain View and San Jose, just to name a few. Muramoto has also provided music for commercials, films, corporate events, weddings, funerals, and birthdays, mostly in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Muramoto has performed or recorded with artists such as Madame Chikushi Katsuko, Latin jazz percussionist Pete Escovedo, Emmy-nominated bluegrass singer Laurie Lewis, Hawaiian taiko drummer Kenny Endo, folk and bluegrass mandolinist David Grisman, the Asia American Symphony led by Oscar-winning cinematic composer Maurice Jarre (“Lawrence of Arabia”, “Doctor Zhivago”), with the Sacramento, Fremont and Marin Symphony orchestras; the Fillmore Jazz Festival; at the AT&T Golf Tournament hosted by Clint Eastwood; Hengenjizai Concert with koto masters Kazue Sawai and Souju Nosaka, and with shakuhachi masters Tachibana Shigeo and Kakizakai Kaoru
Most of Muramoto’s life has been devoted to researching Japanese traditional performance arts in the World War II American concentration camps inspired by her mother having learned to play the koto as a child at Topaz and Tule Lake camps. In 2012, a National Park Service, Japanese American Confinement Sites grant was awarded to her project, the documentary film, “Hidden Legacy: Japanese Traditional Performing Arts in the World War II Internment Camps”, completed in June 2014. Hidden Legacy has been shown nationally on public TV and PBS stations, and screened at numerous community showings and universities including UC Berkeley, UCLA, Stanford, Wellesley, Brandeis and University of Massachusetts in Boston. The film has also been screened in Japan at Tokyo Arts University, Nihon University, Waseda University, Musashino College of the Arts and Doshisha Women’s Universities.
The artists Muramoto interviewed for her research in connection with the practice of traditional Japanese arts in the WWII camps, has inspired Muramoto to dedicate the rest of her life to promoting traditional arts in the United States and throughout the world. She continues to teach, lecture, demonstrate and perform in honor of those teachers who came before her.