Composed by James Nyoraku Schlefer and performed by Yoko Reikano Kimura (shamisen and voice) and the Voxare String Quartet. February 25, 2018.
"String Journey" was inspired by the dubiously verifiable story of an itinerant musician and his wanderings.
The year 1850 was an eventful one for the samurai known as Satoshi Nagauta. Having deserted1 the army of Daimyo Hatohiro five years earlier, he changed his appearance and happily took up playing the shamisen, entertaining common folk on the streets and in Osaka’s pleasure quarters. As his reputation grew, so did his presence and soon enough he was spotted by his former comrades in arms still loyal to the Daimyo. Satoshi fled2 to the port of Nagasaki and became a stowaway3 on a ship ultimately bound for California. His hiding place was discovered, but Satoshi soon won the hearts and minds of the sailors with his songs and storytelling thus gaining his freedom. The treacherous journey lasted one year but he arrived at last in the new world.
Satoshi was overwhelmed by the diversity of cultures that he encountered and figured, wisely, that his only hope of survival would be with his shamisen4 music and by meeting and performing with other musicians. His musical adventures were astounding - a bluegrass fiddler, a classical string quartet, military bands, a barber shop quartet singing in something called harmony. These influences far and wide inspired him to new heights of artistry. He was most drawn to the sound of the blues, the banjo being most similar to his own instrument, and the songs that spoke of loneliness and suffering. Several years passed for the itinerant musician, but eventually he yearned to see his homeland again. He especially missed seeing the sakura in springtime. He recalled the words of his favorite song, “If the cherry blossom were not known to our world, perhaps our hearts would be peaceful at spring time.” It was time for him to return.
Following another treacherous crossing, and making landfall under cover of night, Satoshi found himself once again wandering the streets of Osaka5 where he learned that Hatohiro had been assassinated by his long-time rival Hirohato, and his old comrades could welcome him back. Upon hearing Satoshi’s beautiful voice and unusual music, Hirohato elevated him to the highest music post in the castle. He married and had five children, two of whom became famous musicians and carried forth his name and his musical style.
1 Desertion was a capital offense.
2 Leaving Japan was a capital offense.
3 Stowing away was a capital offense.
4 Originally from China, the shamisen came to Japan in the 16th century and was often played by wandering minstrels and storytellers.
5 Entering Japan was a capital offense.