Beauty in the Strings

By Daniel Ruiz

Now that I have returned once again to the Japanese language and culture studies for a second year, I was excited as to what sort of thing we would be doing next. This presented itself as a visit to the Kennedy Center, who would be hosting some Japanese people in the musical arts. I took interest in a lady, Yumi Kurosawa, who played an instrument called “koto.” I was a little curious at first due to the odd looking instrument which gave me the impression of some kind of piano/harp hybrid. This was something to look forward to. As Ms. Kurosawa proceeded to play the first of her notes, I was very surprised. The way that she moved reminded me of a river. She seemed to flow with the sound of her own string. I looked it up on google which said that a koto will have 13 strings, but sometimes also 17 string variants can be used. While the koto did not have as many strings as a harp or piano, I swear it could keep up with one, if it had a skilled player like the one I was watching from a seat far behind from most of the audience.

There was some kind of tab or something that I think changed the tension on the strings so that different sounds could be played. It was something I noticed, when after every song or even in the middle of one, Ms. Kurosawa would move the knobs, after which a different pitched sound would resonate, and that really intrigued me. I had no idea that such an instrument had existed. Never did I think that it could also be played along with hip-hop dancing. Another performer, Virgil Gadson, had danced hip-hop while the koto player had remained with her strings. An unlikely combo that had me skeptical at first. It was good to be able to witness the integration of cultures which would have in my head been very distant from one another.

I was so moved by this music that I went home, booted up YouTube and searched up “koto music.” I even had my mom listen to it and we killed a good hour or so listening to the beauty of the string.

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