Profile

Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto – Koto musician, teacher, band leader, filmmaker

Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto, musician, recording performer, teacher, band leader and filmmaker on the Japanese Koto based in the SF Bay Area.

 In 1976, Shirley received her “Shihan” degree (instructor’s license) with “Yushusho” (highest) honors from the Chikushi School in Fukuoka, Japan, and her “Dai Shihan” Master’s degree from the same school in 2000

Shirley became the first koto performer from outside of Japan to qualify for the prestigious Kenjun Koto Competition in 2018. In 2012, Shirley was honored by the Hokka Nichibei Kai Japanese American Cultural Association of America by being inducted into the Bunka Hall of Fame for her life-long dedication to teaching and performing on the Japanese koto.

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“The koto is an extremely versatile instrument,” says Shirley.  “Though it seems limited and simple in nature with only 13 strings, it’s possible to extract a myriad of textures and sounds through various techniques and tunings, and even percussive rhythms by incorporating the body of the instrument itself.  The koto is initially easy to play, but it really takes years of practice to be able to produce a good sound.”

Shirley’s musical influences include koto masters Chikushi Katsuko, Kudo Kazue, Sawai Kazue, Kimio Eto and June Kuramoto.  Growing up in Oakland, California, she enjoyed R&B and jazz music, and also played the violin in youth symphonies all through her public school years which nurtured an appreciation for European and American classical music.

A dedicated musician for over 60 years, Shirley strives to involve diverse genres of art and music in her performances.  She teaches students privately and through virtual formats. She taught classes in koto music at public schools and at UC Berkeley. She also composes her own koto pieces and is the leader of the world jazz fusion group, the Murasaki Ensemble.

For many years, Shirley has had an interest in researching Japanese traditional arts in the World War II concentration camps. Shirley’s mother learned to play the koto as a 10-year-old child at Topaz and Tule Lake camps. Shirley wondered if others had similar experiences in these camps being exposed to and learning cultural arts.  This research and stories took decades to gather because survivors were understandably hesitant to talk about their experiences, and more so about anything of the Japanese culture practiced in the camps. The arts helped those incarcerated to be resilient and survive. In 2012, a National Park Service, Japanese American Confinement Sites grant was awarded to her project, “Hidden Legacy: Japanese Traditional Performing Arts in the World War II Internment Camps”. This project turned her research into a documentary film, completed in June 2014.  Hidden Legacy has been shown nationally on public TV and PBS stations, screened at numerous community showings, and at universities in Japan and Europe, as well.

In studying and talking to artists from the camps, Shirley was inspired to dedicate her life and music to supporting traditional arts in the United States and throughout the world. Traditional arts are part of the American cultural fabric brought here by immigrants and becoming part of the American art scene. She continues to teach, demonstrate and perform in honor of those who came before her. In the summer of 2020, she presented a virtual series entitled “NextGen Geijutsuka: Future Stars of Japanese Arts”, featuring young up-and-coming artists who have shown dedication and commitment to keeping up the cultural arts. In 2021 the SF Symphony sought her out to curate a program for the virtual CURRENTS series, where she chose songs that would incorporate the symphony orchestral instruments with Japanese musical instruments.  

 

Media

The New Moon Newsletter from the Alliance for California Traditional ArtsOctober 2021

The New Moon Newsletter from the Alliance for California Traditional Arts featured a Q&A with me about my experience performing with the SF Symphony recently in their CURRENTS series, interview by Lily Kharrazi, “Traditional Koto at the Symphony”,

https://actaonline.org/traditional-koto-at-the-symphony/?fbclid=IwAR3YY-QuhwaxOpmoIQSX8Wj1kHQTbcmth8C7_XwZ07qF9yznd_yoN0cqMwE

 

CONTINUING TRADITIONS: The evolution of koto artist Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto

April 3, 2021 by Kenji G. Taguma, Nichibei Weekly

https://www.nichibei.org/2021/04/continuing-traditions-the-evolution-of-koto-artist-shirley-kazuyo-muramoto/ 

Events

Events 2022

Feb 3  SFJAZZ performing with Destiny Muhammad, Jazz and Social Justice, 7pm and 8:30p           https://www.sfjazz.org/tickets/productions/destiny-muhammad-2122/

Feb 26 Gardena Valley JCI Day of Remembrance

– This year, the GVJCI Day of Remembrance (DOR) 2022 event will be held online via Zoom on Saturday, February 26th, 2022 from 2:00pm to 4:00pm. This year’s DOR theme will be “Camp Creativity: Resilience Through Art” with the intention of highlighting the courage, healing, and creativity of camp survivors through fine and performing arts. Specifically, we will be sharing works ranging from cultural performances, big band music, and more. From February 22-25, the GVJCI will be publishing these stories through special video interviews, film clips, music playlists, and photographs. The February 26th live program will feature interviews with some of those featured throughout the week of the virtual DOR on the GVJCI website. From these collections, viewers will gain new knowledge in the experiences of Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II. We hope the community will be able to walk away with a greater understanding of the history of this time period and the fortitude and resilience of its survivors.

April 23             Topaz Stories – Utah State Capitol, Salt Lake City, Utah

Events 2021

Feb 17, 2021 Consulate General of Japan, San Francisco virtual program, “Japanese Strings: Past and Present”, Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto performing with Brian Mitsuhiro Wong; also on the program is Kyle Abbott/shamisen

https://www.facebook.com/cgjsf1/videos/252738819682667

April 24, 2021           Nikkei Matsuri, virtual https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-I4mnZI7q8o

May 26, 2021            Music @ Noon, Santa Clara University virtual concert http://scupresents.org/performances/music-noon-japanese-koto-shirley-muramoto?fbclid=IwAR3laUbLwBnpdj4sNymnyBG2ThD8UTrlPpG1KcGxngk4x5WVnO6jSMOf8R8

June 19, 2021           Memorial, private, Manka’s Inverness Lodge Boathouse

July 15, 2021             Asian Art Museum private event, Murasaki Trio

July 31, 2021             Oakland Obon virtual event

Aug 6, 2021              Berkeley Public Library Peace Day, virtual https://www.berkeleypubliclibrary.org/events/peace-day-commemoration

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xj-QLVVIFDw

Aug 21, 2021            Shinzen Garden, Fresno, Toro Nagashi Lantern Festival

September 2021      SF Symphony CURRENTS virtual series, “Niji”, curated by Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto

Explore the intersection between classical music and Japanese classical musical culture.

https://www.sfsymphonyplus.org/videos/niji-rainbow

Koto master and curator Shirley Muramoto joins San Francisco Symphony musicians in a program that celebrates the elegant power of an instrument to connect across genres and reflect the endless diversity of our community.

Shirley Muramoto expresses, “I called [this program] ‘Niji’ because it represents a rainbow of different people and different things in the Bay Area that I’ve had the fortune to connect with and collaborate with and share music with.”

Shirley Muramoto, curator

Program:

TRADITIONAL (arr. Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto): ‘Sakura’ (Cherry Blossom)
Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto, koto

NAGASAWA KATSUTOSHI: Movement II from ‘Futatsu no Deneshi’ (Two Pastorals)
Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto, koto
Brian Mitsuhiro Wong, bass koto
Linda Lukas, flute

CHIKUSHI KATSUKO (arr. Kaoru Watanabe): ‘Nagare’ (Flow)
Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto, koto
Brian Mitsuhiro Wong, bass koto
Catherine Payne, flute
In Sun Jang & Raushan Akhmedyarova, violins
James Button, oboe
Carey Bell, clarinet
Steven Dibner, bassoon
Robert Ward, horn
David Kim, viola
Peter Wyrick, cello
Charles Chandler, double bass

SHIRLEY KAZUYO MURAMOTO & BEN PADERNA (arr. Matt Wong): ‘Niji’ (Rainbow)
Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto, koto
Brian Mitsuhiro Wong, shakuhachi bamboo flute
Jerome Simas, clarinet
Steven Braunstein, bassoon
Aaron Schuman, trumpet
Paul Welcomer, tenor trombone
Sarn Oliver & Suzanne Leon, violins
David Gaudry, viola
Amos Yang, cello
Charles Chandler, double bass
Vince Delgado, egyptian tabla
Destiny Muhammad, harp

Currents is sponsored by Chevron

Oct 7               Santa Clara University, Global Music, Music and Social Justice class, Ray Furuta/professor

Hidden Legacy

HIDDEN LEGACY: JAPANESE TRADITIONAL PERFORMING ARTS IN THE WWII INTERNMENT CAMPS

 It has been almost 80 years since the Executive Order 9066 during World War II led to the forcible relocation of approximately 120,000 Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans, about two-thirds were American citizens, into American concentration camps.  Though much has been researched and written about this American history, there is still a subject which has not been thoroughly researched, and that is the story of how those incarcerated survived the prison camps for the four to five years they were imprisoned there.
The Hidden Legacy project researched and collected stories from former incarcerated artists and Sansei and Yonsei students who learned from some of these teachers. The questions were: how and why did traditional Japanese arts in the camps continue, how they used creativity to practice them, and how they fashioned equipment, kimonos, instruments and so on to be able to practice them. These arts played a critical role in the lives of those incarcerated to continue to survive and help them be resilient. After the war as many felt these traditional arts would make them appear “un-American”, many shunned these arts.  Now, we are learning that traditional cultural arts and music aid in survival and continue to do so today as we learn how the arts help us to understand ourselves.  Trying to survive in this pandemic, we have found that the arts also help us today to stay resilient. This project emphasizes the importance and benefits of keeping traditional arts alive not only for ourselves but for future generations as well. 

The documentary film, “Hidden Legacy: Japanese Traditional Performing Arts in the WWII Internment Camps” (2014) can be seen on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HDqKDexQRSg&t=400s

CONTACT

Hidden Legacy