An Apprenticeship in Okinawan Kutuu

ACTA - Posted on 09 December 2007

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Master artist Katsuko Teruya Arakawa (left) and apprentice Pamela Joy Afuso, surrounded by Okinawan kutuus, at the Teruya Sokyoku Kenkyukai in Gardena.Gardena-based master kutuu player Katsuko Teruya Arakawa is a current master artist in ACTA's Apprenticeship Program with apprentice Pamela Joy Afuso of Los Angeles.  Throughout the past year, Arakawa conducted lessons with Afuso at her kutuu school, the Teruya Sokyoku Kenkyukai, in Gardena.

The Okinawan kutuu, more commonly known elsewhere in Japan as the koto, is a thirteen-stringed Paulownia wood zither played by plucking strings with three picks in the right hand and modifying pitch and tone with the left hand.  Used in Okinawan court music since the 1800's, the kutuu accompanies Okinawan sanshin (shamisen) in classical music, dance music, and folk music as well as serving as a solo instrument.  Singing also is a part of the kutuu musical repertoire.

Afuso studied tone and timing, folk music improvisation skills, and understanding Arakawa's subtleties in her singing.  The apprenticeship focused on Afuso's ability both as an artist and as a teacher.  Arakawa worked with Afuso to learn and master set pieces required for the master teacher examination which Afuso intends to take in several years.  "Primarily, I selected Joy because I feel she can continue on a path to master the kutuu and reach out to the next generation of kutuu players."  Indeed, Afuso currently has kutuu students of her own, having received her teaching certification in 2004.  Another aspect of the apprenticeship under Arakawa's guidance resulted in Afuso's development of a lesson plan for first year students that covers basic technique, short recital or demonstration pieces, singing pieces, and contemporary pop pieces.

Musical notation for the Okinawan kutuu.Arakawa began studying over fifty years ago in Naha, Okinawa, under the tutelage of Nae Kochi, the senior headmaster and one of the founding members of the Ryukyu Sokyokyu Koyokai Kutuu School.  Awarded a teaching certificate after twelve years of intensive studies, Arakawa moved to Hawai'i, returning intermittently to Okinawa to continue working with Kochi.  She was recognized as a master kutuu teacher two years later.

"I am from Okinawa and as my life has taken me to Hawai'i and California, music has always been my link to my homeland."

Afuso also recognized the link in practicing kutuu to her own Okinawan heritage.  "Katusko sensei imparts how integral music is in her life.  For me, the music is fun, sometimes hypnotic, sometimes incredibly exciting.  It always reminds me of those Issei [first generation Japanese immigrants] who came before me."  Afuso, who started training in kutuu and dance with Hideko Tanahara in Los Angeles thirty years ago, resumed her kutuu training in 2001 after focusing exclusively on dance for seventeen years.  Afuso's commitment to her studies has made her "feel as though I have only scratched the surface of Okinawan music."

Master artist Katsuko Teruya Arakawa (right) and apprentice Pamela Joy Afuso playing the Okinawan kutuu.

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