Arts4All Blog

Get to Know Tamami Honma

Posted September 24th, 2018  |  By A4A.admin

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CSMA welcomes Cal Arte Ensemble to Tateuchi Hall on Sunday, September 30 at 2pm. Featuring Artistic Director Tamami Honma, they will perform The Soldier’s Tale, Stravinsky’s anti-war, jazz-evoking theatrical chamber work.

CSMA also welcomed Tamami Honma to the Music School as a Distinguished Teacher this year. In addition to having over three decades of teaching experience, Tamami is an active performer and regularly appears on many stages across the Bay Area. Learn more about Tamami Honma!

Tamami Honma, Artistic Director, Cal Arte Ensemble and CSMA Distinguished Faculty

How did you begin playing music?

My mother was a piano teacher. She thought it might not be the best thing for the parent to be the instructor, so she had me start on the violin at age 3. I wanted to be with her more often, like her students, so when the option was offered to me at age 4 to try the piano (in place of violin) it was a clear choice for me. What that short period with the violin did for me was get my ears better trained, and created a lifelong love of chamber music. What it didn’t do for me was that, although I changed to the piano, my mother still assigned me to another instructor! I stuck with it anyways. 

Did you have access to music education in school? If not, how did you find your way into music?

I remember learning the 50 states song and other ideas through singing in elementary school. Teachers at school always created opportunities for me to play something - assemblies or accompanying hymns in front of the congregation (even at age 7!). Starting when I was 9, I was more formally educated in the Utah State University Youth Conservatory program where they offered music theory, harmony and ear-training classes. I was always surrounded by other piano students via my mother’s classes and teaching. The Gina Bachauer International Competition took place nearby, so I would always pop into those which I found very exciting and interesting. My best friends were also piano students and we’d go to competitions together, and spend hours side by side practicing and finding creative ways to distract each other.

Tell us about a great music teacher you had.

Byron Janis had the strongest influence on my approach to playing today. He was one of the first and very few students of Vladimir Horowitz. I was Byron’s only regular student while I was at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City. He and his wife Maria (daughter of the late actor Gary Cooper) spent a lot of time with me. My lessons averaged three hours per session - apparently a good sign as I heard later that some students would be sent away after 15 minutes if they were not prepared! He encouraged me to take dance lessons (I did - with Paul Pelliocoro who choreographed Al Pacino in ‘Scent of a Woman’), as well as listen and study vocalists (which eventually led to my involvement in the opera world). He shared many anecdotes about people he had encountered - Rachmaninov and Toscanini, for example. We went on family-type outings as I was far from my mother back in Utah. Maria shared many books with me like ‘Letter to a Young Poet’ by Rainer Maria Rilke, ‘The Little Prince’ by Antoine de St-Exupery, and Byron shared poems, such as by his favorite W B Yeats. Maria is an artist herself (she studied with Pablo Picasso!), so we went to museums as well. So yes - he was a big influence on me!

How often do you practice and/or rehearse?

LOL. Whenever I can! I encourage my students to enjoy their student years and make the most of their energy to invest in their future as much as they can. With adulthood comes other obligations and less time to practice.
During competition times as a student, I’d stay at USU after school with my mother (who taught there until 9), do my homework, and then I’d often be up until midnight practicing. On the weekends I’d practice 6-8 hours.
Now, I practice after I put my kids to bed. If they are awake they can suffer through my practicing which can last until 1 or 2am. I also practice during pockets of time throughout the day between work and other things, so I probably average 2-3 hours a day. That would have been frowned upon when I was growing up - it’s only about as much as I used to practice in my elementary days!

Tell us about the work that Cal Arte Ensemble will be performing in Tateuchi Hall. What can the audience expect?

We are presenting the Suite Italienne by Igor Stravinsky, along with his Soldier’s Tale (L’Histoire du Soldat) for septet with actors and dancer. The audience can expect to be surprised. We’ve made sure to incorporate the three speaking parts as three individuals, as directed in the score by Stravinsky himself. Often this work is presented without dancers or with one narrator presenting all three of the parts as a monologue. The soldier is also a female figure in our version which brings another perspective. The two teams - the non-instrumentalists and the players - have worked many hours individually and as two groups coming together so there is a lot for the audience to take in. While it is wonderful music on its own, the actors and dancer add so much energy and brilliance to the performance. It’s not often companies can put together this much into a single work. It demands so much from every person involved. I highly recommend that, if you ever get a chance to see it in its full version like we are bringing, you can go experience it!

What advice do you have for young, aspiring musicians?

Find your passion, and put your back and everything you’ve got into it! Learn to find joy in everything you do, and it will find its way into your craft. Byron said, “becoming an artist and becoming a pianist are two entirely different things. You have to take care of and develop both aspects.” For him, and I believe he is right in this, becoming a true artist is a lifelong endeavor. Regarding technique - I often think as I see students working out issues in performance that it is very much like training in a sport as far as what is involved and the amazing skills you must develop to master everything that the works throw our way. About the artist aspect - that’s what makes us each different with many feelings to express and communicate. Life experiences, perspectives, joy, sadness, loss, and love are all invaluable in art. I think people who study and explore art can enjoy life that much more. The more you can be skilled at overcoming the technical difficulties, the more you can get more out of everything.

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