SILVER SPRING, MD (September 15, 2011) - The Montgomery Station class room at Riderwood retirement community in Silver Spring normally is equipped with flip charts, audio-visual machines and screens. However, on weekend mornings it is transformed into a space where the sounds of Japanese koto lure people to come inside and experience enchantment.
The koto is a harp that is not really a harp, accompanied by the sound of a flute that is more akin to a recorder, with a melancholy counterpoint to the plucking of many strings. It is possible for listeners to imagine themselves at the base of Mt. Fuji as the exotic music soothes the soul and the mind.
The music is taught by resident Kyoko Okamoto, who is known worldwide for her concerts and recitals. Okamoto, an ethnomusicologist, conducts her practice sessions for people have an interest in the music, the large brown and white instruments needed to play it and in traditional Japanese composition.
Finding a suitable area for the long zither-like, multi-string koto, each owner kneels on the right side and begins the moving of the ivory bridges, adjusting all 13 strings in a tuning process. Then, with three ivory tipped fingers, the musician plucks a resonant strum along the koto's impressive length.
The teaching and practice sessions at Riderwood are in preparation for such events as the springtime National Cherry Blossom Festival Lantern Lighting Ceremony and the Annual Spring Koto Recital at the University of Maryland, Performing Arts Center. They are also for recordings of popular koto music.
Okamoto, a graduate of the Kyoto University of Foreign Studies and Ikuta School of Koto, founded the Washington Toho Koto Society in 1971 to promote the enjoyment of Japanese koto music. Her successes once garnered her appreciation from the Foreign Minister of Japan who honored her with a special award.
The mystical sound of koto is ever present. All that is needed is a desire to seek it.