Oh, what an audacious title! Allow me to indulge. In my first book, I wrote about what motivated me in my early years. To briefly recap, it was to eventually meet Van Cliburn and to personally explain to him how sad I was about a concert that was canceled in November 1963. You see, it was not just any concert. The very first live event was to be beamed from the U.S.A. to Japan, featuring none other than Van Cliburn, my teenage crush. This was to be a historic event for the relationship between the two countries.
The day of the concert came. What ended up being televised instead was the funeral of President John F. Kennedy. I was crushed. I hardly knew the English language then, but my young mind knew what I had to do.
Fast forward to May 11, 1996, I finally reached my then life-time goal. Van Cliburn was the honored guest at the Ford Honors Program at the University Musical Society in Ann Arbor. Seated at the most expensive table at the event – which was worth every penny – I was afforded an opportunity to speak to him in person. I was finally able to tell him the story of how everything I did up to that moment revolved around eventually telling him the story of 1963 in his language. He instantly remembered about the canceled event. As I told him the story, he had tears in his eyes and gave me a big hug. Nearly 33 years after the first televised program, my mission was finally accomplished. I still remember that moment as if it happened yesterday.
Fast forward to June 7, 2009, at the 13th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, Nobuyuki Tsujii of Japan tied with Haochen Zhang of China to win the gold medal. By this time, I was so focused on my business – to survive in the wild economic environment in my adopted country, the U.S.A. – that I did not know about Nobu’s win until years later.
Fast forward to February 27, 2013, Van Cliburn passed away. At a certain age, one begins to accept the fact that every life ends in death. Still, it does not make it any easier when someone who meant so much to one’s life passes on. The news of his passing was when I first learned of Nobu. Finding out about Nobu was as if a gift had been left for me by Van Cliburn. Nobu’s talent can only be explained as a miracle. Van Cliburn described his performance as “You could feel God’s presence in the room when he played.” I concur.
Whenever I need to concentrate on writing, I play Nobu’s piano music in the background. The beautiful sound he delivers helps me focus on the task at hand – every time.
Nobu was born blind. Unlike how most of us learn to play the piano, he never read sheet music in his life. He once explained that piano is like a part of his body because he has always played it since he was a baby, starting out with a toy piano. He can reconstruct every note even in the most complex piano pieces. This includes, but not limited to, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto #1, the piece that drew me to Van Cliburn years prior.
By the time I graduated from college in Japan, most people thought that I should become an interpreter because, by then, I was bilingual. I had zero interest in becoming one, however. I did not like the language of my origin because, in the environment in which I grew up, I associated the Japanese language with harshness, violence, hierarchy, male dominance, and constant criticisms. Consequently, I studied English every waking moment so that I could escape to where I could live my life without having to listen to others constantly criticize, oppress, and control my thoughts.
Thanks to my sweet husband who brought me to the U.S.A., I’ve been enjoying life here, which I consider heaven on earth no matter how tough life gets.
After years of denying the Japanese language to be part of my life, here comes Nobu, a young man, who speaks my mother tongue with such kind, respectful, and beautiful tone. Not only is Nobu a gifted pianist and composer, but also a gift to those of us who needed to be healed from the past. The universe works in mysterious ways. Today, I love listening to Nobu, whether he is playing the piano or talking in Japanese. Kudos to Mrs. Itsuko Tsujii, Nobu’s mother, who believed in him. She is a beautiful lady, both inside and out.