Class of 2016
Recent YIS graduate Leo Konno ('16) is following his dream. The talented young koto player is currently preparing for a rigorous audition for Tokyo University of the Art's prestigious Contemporary Koto Performance Program. Catching up with Leo recently, he explained, "I'll have to perform several different pieces during the audition. There is also a written test and an interview." Leo hopes to enroll in the spring of 2017.
In the meantime, Leo practices koto every day and has also recorded his first professional CD, due out in February from Columbia Records. As Leo detailed, "the CD is aimed towards Japanese koto clubs and wider audiences alike with a variety of songs from all genres: pop songs, traditional Japanese songs, modern koto arrangements."
"I got to know the producer through a competition," Leo continued. "A producer from Columbia came and introduced himself through my teacher. We started talking and it's taken two years to finalize the details." The competition was the Grand Prize (Minister of Cultural Affairs Award) at the 20th Hasegawa Kengyo Memorial Kumamoto Hougaku (Japanese Music) Contest in 2014. At the age of sixteen then, Leo was the youngest person to receive first place at this prestigious contest where most competitors are professional musicians. Since then, Leo has also been featured on NHK television and won the Hidenori Tone Memorial Hougaku Competition in January 2016. He also holds a teaching license with the Sawai Koto Institute, where he studies with esteemed koto professional Kazue Sawai, co-founder of the organization.
Leo discovered the koto through Curt Patterson, YIS music teacher and professional koto musician. "I started koto in 4th grade as part of the YIS curriculum," Leo explained. "Mr. Patterson started taking me to competitions from elementary school, and that encouraged me to practice more. After I started playing koto, I also started studying the guitar and the drums, too."
Leo credits Mr. Patterson's continuous guidance: "YIS supported me with so many chances to perform koto, and that really helped me to improve. I really like composing, so it was fun to challenge myself by composing an original piece as a YIS alumni. I really enjoy coming back and working with the YIS students." Leo recently arranged an original piece, "Jai Ho," for YIS students to perform, from the popular Indian-style theme music from the 2008 movie "Slumdog Millionaire." It's all part of Leo's life-goal: "after I graduate from university, I plan on being a professional koto player. Part of that path includes teaching, taking on a few students to mentor."