Yukimi Kambe Viol Consort
(Yukimi Kambe, Eriko Ozawa, Maki Noguchi,
A Conversation on KUSP-FM -- "A Musical Offering"
LL: Some have been surprised to learn that viols were in Japan in the 16th and 17th centuries. We know from your article in the Journal of the Viola da Gamba Society of America, vol. 37, 2000, that Portuguese and Spanish missionaries traveled to Asia as well as the Americas. Please, tell a couple of those stories to help us understand?
Yukimi: In 1561, the Portuguese missionary Ayres Sanches brought viols to Japan to accompany sung masses as a substitute for organs. He began to teach 15 youths from Japan and Goa. The following year, the Christian feudal Lord Sorin Otomo was invited to a missionary's house and heard viols played by youths after a banquet. Christians celebrated Assumption, Easter and Christmas with viols. In 1581 Nobunaga Oda visited the seminary in a town near Kyoto after an afternoon of falconry and heard viols played there. In 1591, Hideyoshi Toyotomi met four youths who had recently returned from visiting Europe as diplomatic missionaries and heard them play viols. From documents dated 1603, we know that they also made instruments in Japan. We learned about this first appearance of viols in Japan from the documents of Jesuits in Rome.
LL: We'd like to know any details you can tell us about the matched set of instruments you play, built by Mr. Sato, about whom we've heard for many years.
Maki: He is one of the best makers in Japan. We are fortunate that he made us a matched set of viols where each size was carefully scaled according to pitch.
LL: Are there other viol makers in Japan?
Yukimi: Yes, there are a few. Japanese players use viols both from Japan and western countries.
LL: We read that your mother builds and repairs viols, and that this is an unusual occupation for a woman. Did she study with Sato?
Yukimi: Yes, she is an amateur maker and player. She studied with Mr. Sato after learning violin-making several years ago. She has already made six viols.
LL: Does she make student instruments?
Yukimi: I must ask her, but I know she rents out some of her instruments to students.
LL: We read that some of the Consort members teach young children. What methods? music? instruments do you use?
Kaori: Basically, I use Wenzinger's book, which Yukimi translated into Japanese, but I put together a lot of my own teaching materials, and I choose suitable music for each student. We have 80 student viols which are fiddle-shaped instruments with steel strings. Thus, we have plenty of instruments for class lessons.
LL: About how many viol players are there in Japan?
Kaori: The Viola da Gamba Society of Japan has about 240 members and maybe twice that number play viols.
LL: Are these mostly adult amateurs? How many professionals are there?
Kaori: Most of them are amateurs. As in Europe and North America, only a few people are able to spend a lot of their time teaching and playing gamba. There are several teachers in Tokyo and some in other cities as well.
LL: Is being a member of a viol consort, or being a composer, an unusual occupation for women in Japan?
Kaori: Playing viol is a small part of musical activities in Japan. Music schools have 90% female students, because there are so few jobs for graduates.
LL: In your article, Yukimi, you explain why viol-playing in Japan disappeared for several centuries until it reappeared in the 20th. Please, tell us about that.
Yukimi: Hideyoshi Toyotomi recognized that Portugal, Spain, England, and the Netherlands wanted to colonize Japan. So, he prohibited missionary activities. Foreigners were only allowed to trade. Some missionaries did not accept his restrictions, and they were killed. All their things were destroyed including all of the viols. It was not until 250 years later, in the Edo era that we opened our country again in 1868.
LL: Did you know Leo Traynor? Wasn't he one of the first to inspire contemporary Japanese and American composers to write for viols?
Yukimi: Yes, I knew him. But, he was not really the first inspiration for composers. There was already a competition in England in the 1960s and composers writing for viols, notably David Loeb.
LL: There is the VdGSA competition for new music for viols, and also the Japanese gamba society has a similar competition, yes?
Yukimi: Just before Mr. Traynor retired and returned to the U.S., he provided money to sponsor a competition for new music for viols. I was President of the VdGSJ at that time. We ran the first two competitions. After that, we passed it to the American Society.
LL: What can you tell our audience about your approach to music, and about your program for Santa Cruz this Saturday night? Baroque Festival at Holy Cross Church, 8 pm
Eriko: Our program is entitled "Renaissance Roots, Global Flowerings." In the first half of the program we are playing European music of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Then, in the latter half of the program we are demonstrating the unlimited possibilities of viols, reflecting our feeling of the 21st century by presenting music by modern American and Japanese composers. We try to program modern music which is easily accessible to audiences, and we think you will surely enjoy hearing this exciting music. We try to find something new in the early music we perform, and we want to adapt the sense of consort playing that we developed playing early music to our performances of modern music.
LL: What is next for the Consort, after this tour? What new/old music will you be learning?
Yukimi: We are preparing two CDs right now. One is a whole CD of music by Mizuno. The other is all music by Henry Purcell.
LL: Thank you all very much for coming to talk with us today. This has been "A Musical Offering" with host Luciana Lombardi on KUSP Santa Cruz 88.9 FM, KBDH San Ardo 91.7 FM and on the web at kusp.org.
For a list of music played, go to the KUSP-FM Playlist for "A Musical Offering" on February 27, 2002 at the MusicAndWords website.