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Curt Patterson
Curt Patterson

Curt Patterson

Japanese Music Teacher

Professional koto player and YIS music educator Curt Patterson believes in the reciprocity of music and the importance of living with an awareness of multiple perspectives.

Curt, who has nearly thirty years experience and training in the traditional music scene in Japan, teaches Japanese Music across the MYP at YIS in addition to leading the middle school and high school Japanese music ensembles. In his sixth year as our full-time Japanese music teacher, Curt's multifaceted involvement with the traditional Japanese music community --- as a koto teacher, as part of the acclaimed Sawai Koto Academy and Institute (started by Tadao Sawai in 1974) and as a frequent professional performer -- all enrich his work as an educator while his work in education enriches his professional music endeavors.

Through the teaching of Japanese traditional music, Curt is also introducing various aspects of Japanese culture that extend beyond music, for example the tradition of performance mentoring. As Curt explains: "One of my goals in the next year or two is to put together a performance of mine that incorporates YIS students into the program, because that is the way things traditionally happen in Japan. You perform with your teacher, gaining your training in performance by actively taking the stage with your teacher and fellow students. You don't suddenly finish your studies and become a performer; you watch your teacher, you perform along with them, you emulate performance techniques."

Teaching in an international environment also allows Curt to take a wider perspective on music education throughout Japan. "Working with the students at YIS has allowed me to crystallize what could be added to the current Japanese music curriculum," says Curt. "Since the Meiji era, when Western music became central to all musical education in Japan, traditional Japanese music was no longer a part of the curriculum. Recently with various pressures, there is now a stipulation that traditional music must be introduced in schools, but there are no clear standards. It almost becomes another box to tick off so that teachers -- most of whom are only trained in western classical music -- can move on to Bach, Beethoven and Brahms."

With his experiences at YIS, Curt hopes to help spark change and return the many benefits he has gained --- his vocation, bilingualism, an expanded world-view --- back to Japan: "There has to be a change made, and it has to be done soon, if we want to prevent Japanese music from losing its place in society. We must convince Japan that their traditional music is a viable and living tradition that we can be part of in an interactive way and not just by attending a concert or listening to it in the sushi shop. The koto can be used in a very practical way, just like the recorder to teach elementary students basic musical principles"

Concludes Curt, "I've learned to see the koto through the lens of a music educator emphasizing concept-based inquiry, and I am looking more and more at how YIS can become a voice for this kind of program, using the koto to teach foundational skills and bringing about a renaissance for traditional music across Japan."

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