What's this Challenge about?
Yukako Furudate is Japanese, but at the same time an expert in Hungarian gypsy violin. As a first step towards her final goal of creating a future for Hungarian gypsy music, she is representing Japan at the "World Championship of Performing Arts" (WCOPA) in Hollywood. While still supporting her birthplace, the Tohoku earthquake affected Miyako, Iwate prefecture, by taking part in this competition which has a long history worldwide and is often called The Olympics of Talent, Yukako Furudate sets up a challenge to herself: not only winning the gold medal, but also discovering a new appeal for gypsy music and its great potential for the future.
Gypsy music at a glance
What is gypsy violin?
"Gypsy violin" is a music genre too little known to contemporary Japanese people. It stands for all the violin performance styles, by gypsy (Romani by their official name) musicians. The violin gypsy jazz from France, the Hungarian Gypsy Violin style and repertoire, they all fall under the same "gypsy violin" label.
Not more than 20 years ago, there was actually a while when musicians from Hungary or Romania, would come to Japan for longer or shorter periods of time, to perform in restaurants and beer halls.
A rare world music heritage: Hungarian Gypsy Music
We can distinguish 5 very rare (even at a world level) particular traits to gypsy music:
1. Even before the Middle Ages, it would provide live background music.
2. A musicality that left a deep impression even on renown classic composers, to that extent that it urged them to write new music pieces using gypsy music as an inspiration.
3. A unique phrasing and tempo, which can only be brought to life by gypsy musicians. （ ☆ As a matter of fact, as you're listening to their live performances, there are moments when you get a strange feeling like you're transcending into a new dimension, or that time and space are bent, in a positive way ）
4. It preserves a charm that never grows old.
5. It is a soul-felt music that stirs the listener's heart.
About Hungarian gypsy music
A few words about Hungarian gypsy music nowadays.
Lately, we tend to reduce Hungarian gypsy music to the live BGM bands we hear in Budapest's restaurants, but behind the tourist-aimed performances there lies an exquisite traditional music technique that, in the past, bore a huge influence even on classical music composers such as Mozart.
The roots of Hungarian gypsy music date back to the Middle Ages, when a Hungarian king asked a gypsy woman by the name of Panna Cinka to perform at the court, which marked the beginning of gypsy music.
Later on, gypsy musicians started to perform for noble families, for the recruiting soldiers campaigns, or sometimes at weddings and funerals, by adding a gypsy touch to Hungarian traditional folk music. In the 1800's their music spread all over Europe, and became the source of inspiration for many now classical composers.
It is in the 70's that gypsy bands know their Golden Age, with the rise of outstanding masters of the genre, such as Farkas Gyula.
Farkas Gyula, who built the first Gypsy Art School, tried to make the already extremely praised gypsy music, even more appealing to modern listeners, by rearranging classical music pieces, in the gypsy music fashion. He created the Rajko Orchestra music enesemble, where gypsy children would play the rearranged classical music pieces, and toured for months all over Europe and the United States, marking an unprecedented evolution period in gypsy music history.
However, apart from a few pieces compiled by a Hungarian television quite a long time ago, there is unfortunately no recorded movie or data of Hungarian gypsy music. Videos showing the musicians and the way they were performing back then, do exist, but they are nothing more than scattered personal recordings made by amateurs and uploaded on Youtube. Despite this state of facts, gypsy musicians, even among other Romani populations living in Hungary, probably have the biggest contribution to Hungary's culture. In March 2014, "The Budapest Gypsy Orchestra", a large scale gypsy music ensemble, composed of the graduates of Rajko Orchestra, was acknowledged by the government as one of Hungary's cultural products. Unfortunately however, it is hard to say that this news means glad tidings to all gypsy musicians.
Hungary facing the biggest crisis in gypsy music history
After the fall of socialism, Hungary is now walking the path of democracy. Hungary's gypsy music culture, which developed over the years, as a music for the people, is nowadays facing extinction.
Gypsy music has completely vanished from hotels and restaurants. The reasons are numerous. Among them, the economic crisis, the tendency to consider all tradition as outdated and last but not least, discrimination against gypsy populations. For gypsy musicians restaurants used to be their workplace, and with a large number of luxury restaurants closing and new restaurants not needing live performances, most of the musicians are losing the opportunity to deploy their exquisite musical talents, and also their only source of income.
Unfortunately the situation is not only limited to Hungary. Gypsy musicians' live performances are disappearing all over the world, and having lost their jobs, the performers are forced to return to Hungary, increasing the number of jobless musicians. It is without doubt the greatest crisis in the history of gypsy music.
Gypsy musicians almost never use musical scores. And there is a reason to this.
Hungarian style gypsy music has a very delicate music technique, and the variations of tempo and rhythm are difficult to put on paper, since the existent musical notations are to rough for their music.
Just as Japanese kabuki, gypsy music is traditionally a family business, and being a musician used to be passed on from generation to generation. The most difficult aspect about gypsy music but also what gives it its true charm is that it does not rely on a musical score, and that it is passed on through oral instructions. However, without successors, this type of intangible cultural asset, is doomed to be lost forever.
And nowadays the tendency is not to let the children become musicians anymore.
This is where the greatest crisis lies in.
Why would a Japanese choose Hungarian gypsy music?
Discovering the gypsy violin
For a while, after graduating the Toho Gakuen, apart for playing in the orchestra, I used to perform at restaurants and beer halls in the town.
I was always fascinated by the restaurant performance style, to play next to the customer, lively and freely, rather than to play in an orchestra where you have to stick to the scores.
Come to think of it, the sound of my violin is kind of tough, more the Enka kind, really sturdy, like the sumo exclamations (laughs). Looking back now, I wasn't probably made for playing in an orchestra, and I was a little tired of it.
One day, as I was looking through some fliers in the lobby of the hall where I had my rehearsal, I noticed a red one, with a bunch of smiling middle-aged men.(one of them was actually the founder of "100 Violins", Laszlo Berki).
I didn't know anything about gypsy music or gypsy violin, but I felt like I had to go to that concert. I went and it really shook me up, like all the scales had fallen from my eyes.
They'd jump in the middle of the song, or walk from one side of the stage to the other while playing an extremely fast song... I was impressed with that energy, I wanted to be like them. So i bought a CD at the concert hall, and I used to listen to it almost every night for two years.
Around the same time, I had already started to give street performances with a certain guitarist, but if you don't have something to attract the audience, they'd just walk by. So I came up with this idea of making a musical arrangement in a gypsy way, and I started playing their songs...But somehow there were always parts I couldn't get only by listening and imitating so I took the plunge decided to go to Hungary.
Apprenticeship in Hungary
I used to practice every day 10 hours a day, for four months, book of Hungarian language in one hand, with the solo cellist of "100 Violins", Vajda Barnabas. I guess he was angry at me a lot, but since I didn't understand the language I didn't lose heart (laughs). After that I used to visit every year and practice hard.
One of my other masters, Lajos Boross, was an extremely charismatic person, respected by all Hungarian gypsy musicians. He is considered the perfect, still unequaled gypsy musician, endowed with both the sense of music and technicality. And to my surprise, Mister Boross's violin tone and mine were extremely similar. Listening to the recordings of the lessons, you couldn't say which one of us is playing which part. Everyone was surprised at this. Mister Boross doesn't have many apprentices and to be one of them and be treated so nice, even though I am Japanese, feels like destiny working in mysterious ways and I cannot be more grateful.
In Japan, because the tonality of my violin was different from the average Japanese tonality, I hesitated to join the orchestra, and in return, I used to perform in restaurants and at parties, to give street performances with a guitarist, and earn the tips.
On the other hand, when I came to Hungary, and I was told that my performance would be considered high-level gypsy music, and even when I was handed an official certificate from a person considered a national treasure, I still found it hard to believe.
Shocking self consciousness revolution
My days in Hungary were drawing to a close, so I decided to leave the band behind in a complete form, so that I wouldn't forget what I had learned. I therefore decided to call the band to Mister Barnabas's house, whom I used to live off, and make a recording.
On the day of the recording, the band counted around 10 members and we finally started the rehearsal.
When I heard the first sound with the accompaniment, I suddenly had this strong feeling that that was the sound I have been waiting for all my life.
All the band members, brought together by Mister Barnabas, were famous people in Hungary. And, unlike in Japan when the sound of my violin used to stick out from the band's, it was the sound of a Hungarian gypsy band soloist, and the performance was complete.
It felt like the moment when you get the last piece of a huge jigsaw puzzle in place, and all of a sudden what was nothing but scattered pieces until then, becomes a complete image.
I felt like I had finally found my place to be!
It was an extremely shocking revolution of my self-consciousness and also the first step towards establishing my future direction in music, as a gypsy musician.
The advantages of being Japanese
Even though I was Japanese, after becoming deeply involved with Hungarian gypsy music, for a while I used to travel between Budapest and Tokyo.
I became friends with the families of several musicians. While talking about various things with other Hungarian musicians, I said something like "I love Hungarian gypsy music so much, that sometimes I wonder why I wasn't born in Hungary?" To which two of my interlocutors pointed out a few interesting things.
(Person A) "You don't know what you're saying! If you were actually born in a real gypsy family, when you grew up you wouldn't have the time to play the violin. Gypsy women once they get married they have no freedom. You can still play the violin because you're Japanese. "(wife of a musician)
(Person B) "I'm not gypsy but I love their music. I really respect their performers and the music they make. But when I tried to play gypsy music I was criticized and even harassed by everybody. You were accepted because you're Japanese. I'm actually envious "(violinist girl in her 20s)
"Because you are Japanese"... You can't understand the meaning of this as long as you live in Japan. I felt like it had an important meaning only because I was in Hungary.
What my parents gave to me
My hometown- Miyako
The place where I was born and raised is Miyako City, in Iwate Prefecture. To be more specific Kuwagasaki, a place on the seaside. Miyako is really a rural area, even nowadays with all the transport facilities, it takes 5 hours to get to Tokyo.
As you all know, most of the houses in the area were washed off by the tsunami caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake. We did not only lose the buildings, but also the history of the area, memories, our whole life.
The place where her parents house use to be before it was washed off by the tsunami
Her father and how she started playing the violin
I started taking violin lessons in Sokei when I was 5. I went there at my father's invitation, who used to love the tango genre. He poured a lot of efforts in my violin lessons. I mean, now I am also a teacher, and when I remember those times from this perspective, how he sacrificed his free time, when he was not at work, for my practice hours, I really admire and respect him a lot.
He even used to record on an open-reel, my performances and those of the guests who came from Tokyo, just because it might be useful in the future.
The guests back then are now amazing violinists, performing all over the globe. This is the kind of learning environment my violin classes provided.
As I grew up I started to go to the lessons by myself, when I was in elementary school, in Morioka, in middle school, at the house of a teacher in Tokyo, and this went on without break until i went to college.
My parents probably struggled really hard to get the money to pay for my trip expenses to and from Tokyo, from a tiny countryside town, over and over again for a whole year.
After the tsunami: what was lost, what remained
Violin is an instrument you start learning when you are little, so as you grow up you have to buy new ones. My little brother and sister also took up violin, since they already had the instruments, and this way a few violins were preserved in the family.
And then the 3/11's Great Earthquake. The tsunami washed off the entire house but somehow by miracle, the violins gathered as I grew up, were spared. That was because the ocean water couldn't reach to them through the cases.
Except the violins and a few manuals, everything else from pictures, programs, open-reel tapes from the performances, to tape recorders, stereo systems, the piano, posters from my performances in Miyako after I became an adult, souvenirs from Hungary, they were all lost. I cannot even begin to imagine how much money and labor that means.
What my parents gave to me
My parents still live in temporary shelters without any idea when the goals of reconstructing the area will be achieved.
They used to own a general store, but due to the tsunami, the house which also included the store was washed off and became a vacant lot, and even the ground floor of the storage house was destroyed and became completely see-through. My parents decided to reconstruct the place in haste, that very summer, re-opened the store, and are still doing their best to help the community.
Normally I should probably ask my parents to come over to Tokyo, or go back to my hometown and help along with my parents to the reconstruction.
But when I think of all the recorded tapes and the programs from the annual performances, ever since I started playing the violin, that they never threw away not even a single one, when I think of all the money they paid for the travel expenses to Tokyo for my violin lessons, or for my going to college, Toho Gakuen, a school only for very rich students, the money they sent throughout the college years, and even after I graduated, I just cannot just drop all concerts - which are mainly in the metropolitan area- and go back to Miyako.
My parents never ask me come back, they just live their life steadily.
Returning the favor: a task from now on
Once every few years we organize a self-sponsored concert in Miyako. My parents, people from the area who always watched over me as I grew up into a violonist, art lovers from Miyako they all attend every time. This concerts exist thanks to my parents, my relatives and all my fans.
My parents grumble a little after every concert, but deep down inside them I believe that they are proud of the violinist they raised.
The feeling that I have to show my gratitude to my parents and hometown, grew stronger and stronger after the earthquake.
In order to be able to offer moral support in the reconstruction of my hometown, Kuwagasaki(Miyako), the place where I, the violinist Yukako Furudate , was born and raised, I need to consolidate my position as a violinist, to become known all over the world, and to continue and improve my performances. This is what I wish for at the moment.
A challenge with the help of Crowd Funding
So I started to think about the ways in which I should be involved with gypsy music from now on.
To participate in an audition for talented people in Hollywood, with a gypsy music performance.
And what's more, with the sponsorship of crowd funding…
At first sight it seems there is no logical connection, but for me, this is a personal challenge, as a Japanese asking for a new evolution of Hungarian gypsy music.
So what is WCOPA(World Championship Of Performing Arts)?
（WCOPA 2014 Hollywood, USA 紹介ビデオ）
I will quote from the contest guidelines. They are also writing about me as the Japan representative.
[A competition in an Olympic format]
A stage art contest in an Olympic format, held in Los Angeles, the United States.
There are 6 categories(singing, modeling, acting, dancing, musical instruments, and varieties)and the winners are awarded gold, silver and bronze medals as well as scholarships. Moreover, the jury is formed of famous producers from idol, recording or movie making companies and apart from deciding the final ranking, they also provide opportunities for scouting, contracts and even the big debut.
[The gateway to success]
This competition has a history of 17 years, and the candidates, skilled performers from more than 40 countries, have to pass through a national audition, with the local WCOPA official director, in order to represent their country.
Especially in the Philippines and other countries, this event is supported at a national level, with the participants getting encouragement messages from the President, and making courtesy visits after the competition. WCOPA is extremely well known in the Philippines.
WCOPA is also playing an important role in discovering new talents and supporting debuts in all domains. Not only in the Philippines, but also in many other countries, the gold medal winners awarded the platinum disc, star in worldwide famous movies, are cast in the main part of national TV series, or receive international modeling contracts.
[First Japanese participation at WCOPA]
Until now, Japan did not have an official WCOPA director. This year, through newly appointed official director Royce Shiroma's coordination, Japan could send its first participant, a fact that received a lot of attention from the promoters.
This time, Japan's first representative is Yukako Furudate, performing in the instrumentalists category, and she will probably be welcome with deep interest by the competition's officials.
Nowadays, it is not unusual that a form of culture considered unique to a certain country, achieves a remarkable progress thanks to foreigners.
It has become extremely normal that the foreigners inject the new bloods into all kinds of cultural fields to the original country. This applies to sports like sumo and judo, music and cinema, even food culture, like Italian or French cuisine.
I am also one of them. My area is gypsy music, a genre that does not receive almost any attention in Japan.
To advertise the beauty of gypsy music and its potential for the future, in Los Angeles, in front of promoters and talent scouts, as well as the other participants, the very best in the world in the field of performing arts, is a challenge worth taking, not only for myself, but also for the entire world. It is a challenge not only to pass on this culture, but also to bring new blood to its veins.
Requirements for this year's competition
This year's world championship has three requirements:
（1） Music revision
For instance, perform a new musical arrangement. And also, record a CD with the accompaniment.
For instance, to come up with a costume in conformity with the music style you are performing, so that everyone can easily understand it is a new style.
(3) Learning international stage manners or choreography
Of course, in order to equal the other contestants from all over the globe, who most certainly are preparing their performances with careful planning, I am entrusting the music and outfits production to the best of the best of the staff, in Hungary.
Adding the living and travel expenses, the participation fee, the plane ticket and many others to this investments, you get such a huge amount of money, that a freelance performer cannot possible cover by themselves.
For an even bigger goal
The purpose of the funds raised through crowd funding this year, is not only to ensure my success.
In this attempt there lies an extremely important and meaningful possibility: to raise the awareness towards Hungarian gypsy music, around the world, but more than this, become the first step towards helping the gypsy populations, across the globe, through my music.
There are people who helped at making gypsy music known at a global level, through movies, there are also gypsy musicians and dancers whose life got better because they starred in a movie. But none of these gypsy musicians were Hungarian.
My ultimate goal is to achieve world recognition of Hungarian gypsy music, and to create, with the help of a brand new staff, a brand new type of performing art, a Hungarian style gypsy show, with tours all over the world. For instance like the Canadian circus group which at the moment is giving performances all around the globe.
Participating in this audition is just the first step towards this big goal.
The value of crowd funding, the value of the return gifts.
I want to think of all the funds I received through crowd funding, as more than just amounts of money, as a manifestation of "love" towards gypsy musicians. This is because I did not forget that the value of what my parents invested in me was more than just the value of the money actually used.
Therefore, in return for your generosity I am also preparing special products from my hometown Miyako. This way I can support not only gypsy music, but also my native place.
Of course, the best return gift would be to win the gold medal in Hollywood.
This is a challenge only I, Yukako Furudate, the gypsy violinist, can take up.
Please support my lifelong dream by showing your "love", through crowd funding!