REIKO YAMADA: Samurai Pianist

                                                                         Reiko Yamada

The samurai warriors of Japan lived to attain man's highest ideals.  To follow the "way of the warrior"
is to live the Samurai Code or bushido.  The Seven Virtues of Bushido are:  Integrity, Bravery, Kind-
ness, Politeness, Honesty, Loyalty and Honor.  The word "samurai" means "to serve".

                                                      Samurai with sword and dagger, c.1860
                                                      -photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

When they weren't serving their lord and master and engaging in mortal combat, members of the
Samurai class were expected to become skilled in the art of living.  As early as the 12th-century,
the samurai played a part in the development of the aesthetics that we associate with Japanese
culture:  the tea ceremony, rock gardens, calligraphy, dance, literature and philosophy.

                                                        19th-century photograph of a samurai

But what of the women who needed to take up arms to defend her home, her family, and her honor
in times of war?  They were known as the onna-bugeisha, a kind of stay-at-home samurai.

                                                        Onna-bugeisha, 19th-c. photograph

The onna-bugeisha were the wives of samurai warriors who were left to manage the household
and defend themselves and their family when their husbands were away at war.  The wives were
trained in the discipline and use of weaponry (swords, daggers, bow and arrows).


These women warriors took up arms and fought with their men in actual combat as female samurai
(onna-musha).  To remain true to the "way of the samurai" in the face of mortal danger was a guid-
ing principal of the samurai class.

Tomoe Gozen, a famous 12th-century female samurai who fought alongside her male counterparts
is often depicted on horseback.

                                                      Tomoe Gozen, 12th-c. female samurai


It is in the spirit of Tomoe Gozen that the characteristics of the ancient samurai can be seen,
embodied in one who lives among us today...REIKO YAMADA, KSO's Principal Keyboard!

To celebrate Reiko's upcoming performance with the Tokyo Symphony, we dedicate this posting...
                                                                                                             -Alice's Archivist


When she gets into her car in the driveway of her home in the leafy suburbs north of downtown
Chicago, she points her trusty 134-horsepower Prius in the direction of I-94 EAST, and away they
go to Kalamazoo, Michigan, to a rehearsal or concert with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra.
Reiko has traversed this well-worn path since joining the KSO in 1995-- nearly 20 years ago.

Neither heavy Chicago traffic will stop her from getting to Kalamazoo on time, nor the dark of
night prevent her from making it back to Chicagoland again, so she can teach her piano students
the next day.  A real road warrior she!  When her schedule demands that she stay overnight in
Kalamazoo, Reiko brings her own miso soup, rice, and green tea with her to cook at the home
of her Kalamazoo hosts.

Reiko Yamada took a star turn as soloist with the Kalamazoo Symphony in 2008 with her exciting
performance of Akira Ifukube's "Ritmica Ostinata for Piano and Orchestra" (1961).  She introduced
Kalamazoo (and North America) to this seminal work of one of Japan's most revered composers.


                              Akira Ifukube Centenary banner courtesy of Tokyo Symphony website
                              for May 31st, 2014 (Ifukube's 100th birthday). Reiko will be the soloist!

2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Reiko's master-mentor, Akira Ifukube (1914-2006),
whose music Reiko has been championing since 2005.  She knew Ifukube personally, when, as a
piano major at the Tokyo College of Music in the 1980s, Reiko was granted permission to audit his
seminars for composition majors.

Reiko remembers her time spent in the presence of Ifukube:  "The insight and knowledge I gained through four years of his seminars are very precious to me and still helpful in my career as a performer and educator."

                                                  -from "An Interview with Reiko Yamada", by Erik Homenick,
                                                   Webmaster, AKIRAIFUKUBE.ORG,  ©Erik Homenick,
                                                    (quotations in this blog posting are used with permission)

As well as holding classes at the Tokyo College of Music, Ifukube cultivated a kind of "salon" in his
home, where a dozen or so students sat on the floor around his table, and in a haze of cigarette smoke,
discussed a wide range of topics, including music and philosophy, over copious cups of tea.

After moving to the USA, Reiko returned to Tokyo to spend time privately studying scores of Ifukube's
compositions with him during his final years.  She recalls going to his home in 2005, a year before his
passing in 2006 at the age of 91.

         "His physical strength had declined a bit, but he was in full of spirit."

                                    -Reiko Yamada, from "Interview with Reiko Yamada" by Erik Homenick

                      Reiko Yamada discusses music with Akira Ifukube at his home in Tokyo, 2005


Akira Ifukube (pronounced 'foo-koo-bee), considered to be one of the progenitors of modern Japanese
composition, was born in 1914, almost one generation before Toru Takemitsu.  Ifukube was a prolific
composer throughout his long life, but is best known for his movie score for the 1954 cult classic,

Ifukube's music has elements of Japanese traditional music, yet is scored for Western instruments like
piano or violin,  and for traditional European groups such as symphony orchestras.  One can hear
influences of 20th-century Russian and French composers, to whom Ifukube was exposed early in life.

Reiko's signature piece, "Ritmica Ostinata for Piano and Orchestra" has Stravinsky-like driving rhythms, yet the 5- and 7-beat patterns are based on Japanese poetry.

"Strict adherence to those self-imposed restrictions is a reflection of my deepest-rooted admiration
for an aphorism by Leonardo da Vinci:  FORCE LIVES BY RESTRICTION AND DIES FROM LIBERTY."
                                              -Akira Ifukube's own words, translated by Takeshi Komiyama

"Ritmica Ostinata", composed in 1961, defines Ifukube's philosophy of music:

       "Ritmica Ostinata" is in a sense my absolute music.  I composed Ritmica Ostinata
       as an embodiment of the Japanese spirituality inherited through thousands of years."

                              -Ifukube quotation from "Interview with Reiko Yamada", by Erik Homenick

In that same interview, Reiko sums up why she has made Ritmica Ostinata an essential part of her
life's work:

         "It became clear to me learning this great work would be essential to me to discover
         my own artistic identity."  

                                                       Reiko at Ifukube's gate, Tokyo, 2005


Reiko Yamada gave her first performance of "Ritmica Ostinata" with a Japanese orchestra in 2006.
Two years later in March, 2008, she introduced this piece to North American audiences in her solo
appearance with the Kalamazoo Symphony, conducted by Raymond Harvey, KSO Music Director.
She received rave reviews and an immediate standing ovation.

          "Yamada is a most demonstrative performer, throwing her entire body into the nearly
          incessant brutal rhythms called for on the piano."
                                  -John Liberty for Gazette, March 29, 2008

                        Reiko Yamada in her solo appearance with the Kalamazoo Symphony,
                        under the baton of Raymond Harvey, Music Director, March 28, 2008.
                        This concert was called "In a Japanese Garden."

                                                                 -Photograph by John Lacko, used with permission

To perform a solo with a symphony orchestra puts the musician in an elite (warrior) class of their
own.  It is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one.  With serene mind and sinews primed,
it is a kind of Zen exercise played out, literally, on a grand scale, and in real time.

                                                                                -photo by John Lacko


In May, Reiko will pack her blue gown and travel to Japan to perform Ifukube's "Ritmica Ostinata"
with the Tokyo Symphony, conducted by Eiji Oue on the Japan Contemporary Works Series
No. 16, the 100th Anniversary Concert of Akira Ifukube's Birth, on Saturday, May 31, 2014, at
3:00 p.m. in the Muza Kawasaki Symphony Hall.


Samurais must consider the sword (katana) for the task at hand.  This is what Reiko has done
in choosing the perfect piano.  Everywhere Reiko performs "Ritmica Ostinata", she requests
that an SK-EX (SHIGERU) KAWAI 9' Concert Grand Piano be brought in for her performances.

                                                     Shigeru Kawai Concert Grand Piano

Reiko describes the special qualities of this particular model of Kawai concert grand, and why it is so
right for "Ritmica Ostinata".

           "It has beautiful, strong carrying sounds.  It is a conscientiously-made piano.
            Especially, the key action is the fastest, that helps me to play repeated notes
            quickly.  (They use special material to make the action strong and light.)"

            "The piano technicians who are trained for Shigeru Kawai have such incredible
            technique that their skills can be applied to all kinds of pianos, giving full play
            to each piano's abilities and the individual pianist's needs."

                                                 -Reiko Yamada, in an email to Alice's Archivist

         At the Shigeru Kawai:  Reiko in concert with the Tochigi-ken Symphony Orchestra (2010),
         Osamu Ogimachi, Conductor.  Her first performance with the TSO in 2006 is featured on
         her first CD, under the baton of Maestro Masaaki Hayakawa.


Samurais refer to the soul that is present in their sword, and how the attitude of the samurai and that
of the sword must be "of like mind", or the mission will not have integrity.  A concert artist might agree.

Being at one with one's instrument is the ideal-- right mind, right action... good performance.  Then
the battle, so to speak, is won.


The concert reviews of her appearances were glowing.   From a review of the two-piano version of
"Ritmica Ostinata" with Patrick Godon in Tokyo:

      "I have never felt such a heat from a music performance.  It was her extraordinarily
       intense power of will and body which were condensed into a focal point...  Powerful
       sound/accoustics and rhythm gushed out of her body like a percussion instrument.
       That created an illusion that the entire stage was generating heat and sound... This
       concert [was] something that cannot be measured by normal standards; it took us
       to another dimension."

    -from the review of a live performance at Tsuda Hall, Tokyo, 2010, by Miklo Toki, Musica Nova

A commemorative concert to honor Ifukube was organized in Nikko (Reiko's hometown) in 2006.

        "It was truly a heated and convincing performance.  After the performance the
         concert hall was filled with an overwhelming positive response.  It was nothing
         but a testament to their performance which embodied Ifukube's spirit.  It was a
         performance befitting to the commemorative concert."

                   -from a concert review of Reiko's performance at Imaichi Cultural Hall, Nikko
                    (reviewer's name not given)


When Reiko returns to Japan in May, she will come armed with 3 CDs to her credit.  She has
topped the classical music charts since 2008, when the CD "Akira Ifukube:  Works for Piano",
Volume I was released.  Volume 2 with the same title was released in 2010, and Volume 3 in

Music reviewer Tsutomu Nasuda recommended Volume 1 as a "must for Ifukube fans..."  It
became "Classical Music Disc of the Month" for Record Geijutsu, a well-known Japanese
music publication.
                                                -original CD cover art by Fumiaki Komatsu

In his review, Nasuda states that the music of Akira Ifukube "has attracted listeners with its
structural grandeur, wild dynamism, and expression charged with emotions rooted in Japanese
traditions"... "Yamada has [a] great feeling for his music and successfully brings out the fascinating
characteristics of these compositions'..."This CD will also be a great pleasure for listeners who are
new to his music."  
                                                     -Tsutomu Nasuda, music reviewer for Record Geijutsu

"Akira Ifukube:  Works for Piano" Volume 1 also became number-one bestseller of contemporary
music at Tower Records Japan.


To hear excerpts and/or download the CD, please click on the CD Baby website:


To purchase the CD to download to your MP3, go to Amazon:
and type in Reiko Yamada CD into the search field provided, to get to her page.

                                         "Akira Ifukube, Works for Piano", Volume 1, CD playlist


Featured on Volume 1, is Reiko Yamada's husband, violinist  Shigetoshi Yamada.   He was also born
in Japan, but the couple met and married in Chicago.

Shigetoshi Yamada, a graduate of the Toho Gakuen University School of Music in Tokyo, went on
to study baroque violin in The Netherlands, where he performed with Franz Brüggen and Nicholas
Haroncourt.  Shigetoshi was then invited to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to play in the Ars Musica Baroque
Orchestra.  He continued his violin studies with Ruggiero Ricci in Ann Arbor, and in Italy.  Shigetoshi
currently teaches at the Music Institute of Chicago, and is heard in recital with his wife, Reiko Yamada.

On Volume 1, Shigetoshi Yamada performs Deux Charactères pour Violin et Piano (1955/61) with Reiko at the piano.

Chicago colleague and piano soloist in his own right, Patrick Godon, is featured in Volumes 1 and 2 of
"Akira Ifukube, Works for Piano".  Patrick maintains a busy career as a soloist, chamber musician, and
teacher in Chicago and area.  In 2012, Patirck Godon was heard in live performance with the KSO in
Camille Saint-Saën's "Carnival of the Animals", along with Reiko, as the duo-pianists.  Patrick was
heard in several Chicago-area recitals of the two-piano works of Ifukube, including the two-piano version of "Ritmica Ostinata".

On Volume 1, Patrick Godon is heard in a two-piano reduction of the Joy of Fire, section four from the ballet score "Fire of Prometheus" (1950).


                                                  -original CD cover art by Fumiaki Komatsu

Volume 2 of "Akira Ifukube, Works for Piano" (2010) is dedicated to the complete two-piano version of the ballet score "Fire of Prometheus", a world première recording, with Patrick Godon on Piano II.

Hear "Joy of Fire" from "Fire of Prometheus" on this YouTube link.  Thank you Kinema Sinfonia.


The final selection is a two-piano version of "Ritmica Ostinata", Reiko Yamada, Piano I, with
Patrick Godon and another Chicago pianist, Brett Rowe, sharing the duties of Piano II.

                                          "Akira Ifukube, Works for Piano", Volume 2, CD playlist


Two new performers join Reiko in Volume 3 of "Akira Ifukube, Works for Piano" (2013)

Souju Nosaka, a well-known virtuoso of the 25-stringed koto, performs with Reiko in Ifukube's "Symphonic eclogue for 20-stringed koto and orchestra" (1982), Ifukube's final concerto (piano

Finnish-born violinist Janne Tateno is also featured on Volume 3, performing Ifukube's "Sonata for Violin and Piano" (1985).  Tateno, who is of Finnish and Japanese heritage, currently lives in Kyoto.  Mr. Tateno performs all over Japan and Finland.

The jaunty and charming solo piano piece, "Rhythmic Games for Children" (1949) is the final selection on Volume 3, "Akira Ifukube, Works for Piano".

                                                -original CD cover art by Fumiaki Komatsu

                                             "Akira Ifukube, Works for Piano", Volume 3, CD playlist


                                                First Torii at Toshogu Shrine, Nikko, Japan
                                                       (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
                                                                  -photo courtesy of Fg2 through Wikimedia Commons


Reiko Wada was born and raised in the ancient city of Nikko, Japan.  Established in the 8th-century A.D., Nikko has for centuries been a sacred destination, famous for its temples, the Toshogu Shrine
(above), and Nikko National Park.

This beautiful mountainous region is also known for waterfalls, rivers and cedar forests.  Located
inland in Tochigi Prefecture, Nikko is about one-and-a-half hours north by train from Tokyo.

Reiko's parents gave their daughter a combination of artistic sensitivity and a strong work ethic.

Her late father was a singer and performer of traditional Japanese folk music, called minyo.  Her mother still runs the family business.  Reiko's older sister is also a pianist, who was already studying piano when Reiko was born.  Her older brother and her mother loved listening to all the music-making in
the home.


Reiko graduated with a degree in piano performance from the Tokyo College of Music.  She came
to the United States in 1990, moving to Chicago to pursue graduate studies at Roosevelt University's
Chicago College of Performing Arts, where she earned a Master of Music Degree in Piano Performance, with a minor in harpsichord and organ.

She went on to enroll in the performance certificate program at DePaul University.  Then her career took off....

Performing opportunities in Chicago kept Reiko very busy in the field of orchestral piano playing.  She was a member of the Chicago Civic Orchestra from 1992-98, serving as Principal Keyboard during the
final three seasons.

Reiko has performed as a supplemental keyboardist with the Chicago Symphony alongside CSO Principal Piano Mary Sauer, Reiko's teacher at DePaul, and played harpsichord on the Chicago Symphony chamber music concert series.

Reiko Yamada is on the teaching faculty at St. Xavier University, and at the Music Insitute of Chicago.


When Alice retired as Principal Keyboard from the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra in the early 1990s, Reiko drove over to Kalamazoo to audition for then Music Director Yohimi Takeda and the players' audition committee.  Reiko's and Maestro Takeda's paths had not crossed before, even though they were fellow Japanese nationals.

Reiko got the job in 1995, thus beginning her now 20-year commute to Kalamazoo from Chicago's northern suburbs where she lives with her violinist husband, Shigetoshi Yamada, her two cats, and her two grand pianos.  Reiko has also maintained a private teaching studio in her home since the early 1990s.  She is a busy recitalist, chamber musician in Chicago and area, in Kalamazoo, and in Japan.

THE "WAY OF THE SWORD"... "iaidó"

                                                  Reiko Yamada practicing iaidó  (Chicago, 2014)

In 2002, Reiko started learning "iaidó", the "way of the sword".  It is a series of stylized postures and advancing movements with a samurai sword (katana).

This martial art combines fierce slicing movements of the sword at an imaginary opponent, followed by resting postures when imaginary blood is "wiped" from the sword.  Only then is the katana carefully re-sheathed, and serenity of mind returns.

Today, iaidó is meant for self-betterment, rather than actual combat. Iaidó forces the practitioner to face the "shortcomings of one's inner self"-- perhaps the most formidable foe of all.

     -quotation from the YouTube video, Samurai Spirit, Part 01. This series stars martial arts expert
      Nicholas Pettas.  Check it out!  

                                                 Reiko Yamada practicing iaidó (Chicago, 2014)


At the heart of the samurai approach to life, is death.  It must be considered, respected, and when the time comes, embraced.  Only when this concept if understood, can one live fully.  It is similar to the
"memento mori" in Western philosophy-- being ever-mindful that death could come at any moment.

Reiko had her time of testing when she was involved in a serious car accident in November, 2003, on
a Chicago toll road.  She was in a coma for 7 of the 11 days she was in the SIC unit, so she remembers little of that time.  Reiko did not know that her sister had come from Japan to be with her.

During her long recovery, Reiko had to concentrate very hard on getting better physically, but it was the healing power of music that brought her back to the land of the living.  Her husband Shigetoshi
would take his violin to his wife's hospital room and play for her at her bedside.  He also kept CDs playing soothing music the entire time.

Reiko's colleagues in the Kalamazoo Symphony organized a benefit concert in Kalamazoo in her honor
in January, 2004.  Upon hearing the CD of the concert, Reiko was so moved by their performances that
memories of her old life came flooding back to her.  She at once remembered what her life was all about-- MUSIC.


In 2004, Reiko picked up the loose threads of her life interrupted, and gradually resumed her piano playing and her commuting schedule as before.  She picked up her samurai sword and returned to iaidó classes.

Both the life-saving techniques of Western medicine and the ancient healing practices of the East helped her recover... but also...

2004 was the year in which Reiko re-discovered Ifukube the composer, and Ifukube the man... and re-discovered herself as well.

From a hospital bed, to a seat at Ifukube's table, to a piano bench front and center onstage... all in a matter of months.  What Reiko had now become superseded all her earlier accomplishments.

       "Maestro Ifukube will always be my great mentor.  Ifukube's wisdom will be my important
       guidance to hew my way to become a better musician and human."

                                                                                                                    -Reiko Yamada

Spoken like a true samurai...


-Special thanks
-Picture gallery of more images (Reiko Yamada's concert posters, photographs of Ifukube)


Erik C. Homenick, Webmaster of AKIRAIFUKUBE.ORG for permitting the use of quotations from the "Interview with Reiko Yamada" for this article.  Domo arigato!  Readers, please visit his most excellent website, the official English language website.  "AKIRAIFUKUBE.ORG is a virtual museum dedicated to the life and music of one of Japan's greatest composers, Akira Ifukube."

                                                                                        -description on Google search page

John Lacko, Kalamazoo's own photographer to the stars, for allowing the use of color photographs of
Reiko in concert with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, March 28, 2008.  Enjoy his work when you come to Kalamazoo Symphony concerts at Miller Auditorium.  John Lacko's photographs of KSO players are always featured on the slide show prior to the concerts.  Visit his excellent website:


Thanks also to Google Images for supplying a virtual feast of photographs from which to augment my image gallery throughout this article.

Thank you to Wikipedia for being my "online samurai teacher", supplying the historical context of this blog posting in your excellent entry entitled:  Samurai.   Thank you Wikimedia Commons for sharing the (c. 1860) "Samurai with Sword" image at the beginning of this article.  Readers, this image is considered by Wikimedia Commons as one of the finest examples on English Wikipedia.

Thank you Reiko for sending the photos of you in action at your iaidó class!

MAY 31, 2014

                                                                                               -Alice's Archivist

For a more lighthearted look at Ifukube's life and his "Godzilla Gal", (Reiko), go to the companion
blog, Alice's Archives 2, "Godzilla's Got a Gal in Kalamazoo (Symphony)":


Keep scrolling for:

Concert Posters of Reiko's performances, printed on both sides of glossy paper (9"x 12")

      2006 Poster of Reiko Yamada's performance with the
Tochigi-ken Symphony Orchestra,
pictured here with Maestro Masaaki Hayakawa.

 2006 Concert Poster (reverse)

Reiko Yamada & Patrick Godon, concert of Ifukube's two-piano works, 2010
-photograph of Akira Ifukube at his home

2010 Concert Poster (reverse)

2013 Concert Poster of Reiko, Souju Nosaka (koto) & Janne Tateno (violin)

2013 Concert Poster (reverse)

Poster for the May 31, 2014, performance with the Tokyo Symphony.
Conductor Michiyoshi Inoe (pictured here) has been replaced by 
Maestro Eiji Oue for this concert
(for health reasons).

Poster for the May 31, 2014, performance with the Tokyo Symphony

Keep Scrolling...

-Akira Ifukube as a young man

Akira Ifukube with signature bow tie & cigarette.

Akira Ifukube, formal photograph;
featured in the CD liner notes of 
"AKIRA IFUKUBE Works for Piano, Volume 1".

Akira Ifukube at home, sitting at the famous table where students gathered for his "salon".
Reiko says that he drank copious cups of strong green tea laced with sugar.

Photo of Akira Ifukube from a CD cover
-courtesy of Google Images

What is not to love about this photograph?  
Reiko Yamada & Akira Ifukube at his home, discussing his music, a year before his passing at age 91.

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