Three Koto (Japanese zither) players residing in San Francisco Bay Area, Shoko Hikagei, Tomohiro Tanaka, and Kayo Toki hold the New Year Koto Concert. They will perform a traditional koto & shamisen music, Japanese folk songs arranged for koto and bass koto. They will also perform new music works by Shinigo Edo, Hyo-shin Na, Katsuhiko Yoshizawa and more.
About the Koto
The koto, similar to the Chinese gu-zheng, is a 13-string plucked zither, which was introduced to Japan from China through the Korean Peninsula in the 7th century. This was at the about the same time that Buddhism and many other cultural influences arrived in Japan from the continent. [It is though that there was also a koto-like zither which already existed in Japan, evidenced in a small, clay figurine dating from the Yayoi period (3rd century BC to 3rd century AD). ]
According to legend, the shape of the koto originated from that of a crouching dragon and parts of the instrument are named after the dragon. The koto is roughly six feet long and usually has thirteen strings arched over independently moveable bridges that sit on a hollow body of paulownia wood. The movable bridges are called ji and are made from plastic, ivory or wood. By adjusting these bridges, any thirteen-note scale can be produced, even one with microtonal intervals. In addition to the notes available through the adjustment of the bridges, each pitch can be altered by pushing down the strings with the left hand. Such a movement stretches the string to produce up to a whole step difference in pitch.
The instrument has been part of the gagaku court ensemble for over one thousand years, and also became popular among the merchant class of the Edo period (1600-1868). An important member of the traditional sankyoku ensemble, along with the three-strings shamisen and shakuhachi (bamboo flute), the koto developed further in a solo capacity, eventually gaining its place as one of Japan’s most prominent instruments. Today a varied repertoire of compositions, along with a wide range of playing techniques providing a wonderful palette of sound textures, make the koto appealing to audiences the world over.
A 17-string bass koto was developed early in the 20th century by koto master Michio Miyagi, and this instrument now plays an integral role in contemporary ensembles.
About the Sangen or Shamisen
The sangen is a three-string long necked lute. The neck extends through the head of the instrument over which skins are stretched in the front and back. There are no frets on the neck, so it easy to make subtle changes in pitch and tone quality through slides and various other techniques. There are numerous traditions of sangen performance, each with a unique sound and repertoire. Neck and head size, shape and size of plectrum and type of lower bridge all vary depending upon genre.