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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

REMOTE | Etsuko Kimura: ‘I’ve Been Working On How To Put Music And Comedy Together’

By Michael Zarathus-Cook on May 15, 2020

Etsuko Kimura
Etsuko Kimura (Image courtesy of the artist)

Etsuko Kimura, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Assistant Concertmaster, joins us for this episode of REMOTE to share her experience of the anxieties we all share since the beginning of this crisis. It’s her remedy for coping that I find most relatable: a persistent combination of laughter and music. From dusting off her passion for Japanese comic books to returning to the basics of practising scales, her approach to keeping busy during this lockdown is sort of a rising tide lifts all boats mentality.

How are you doing during this pandemic?

I think I am doing quite well. I am a super positive person, so I am taking this time as a sign that Mother Earth needs time to rest and recover. It’s nice to hear that the air is cleaner, animals are happier, and I think it is important to realize how we abuse the environment.

Also, it is so nice to have dinner with family every single day! My kids are 21 and 18, so the four of us sitting together at the dinner table before the pandemic was rare. Talking about their childhood, discussing topics that come up at the dinner table is very, very special to me.

On the other hand, we have an aunt living in a retirement home. We haven’t seen her for more than two months. Her hip surgery was postponed because of the pandemic. She is in incredible pain, cannot sleep, cannot walk, she is just miserable. We worry about her so much, but we can not do anything for her. Hearing the stories of what’s happening at some nursing homes breaks my heart.

Peoples’ mental health is the other thing that worries me. CAMH and other institutes have been giving online sessions throughout this pandemic and I really appreciate their effort. We all go crazy after being indoors for a few months and not knowing when this is going to end, but for people with mental health issues, this is 100 times harder to get through. I really, really admire all the healthcare workers who are working directly with the patients with COVID-19 and indirectly with people affected by this situation including mental health support, volunteers for homeless people etc….my biggest respect and appreciation goes towards them.

In addition, I think about how many people lost their jobs, including my musician friends who are temporarily laid off makes me feel very sad and depressed. I am super lucky that I still have a job, surrounded by great colleagues who support each other, and to have a very supportive family.

How are you managing to keep busy?

As I am aging, certain skills have gotten easier, but many things get harder to maintain as a violinist. I decided to go into music quite late in life so I’ve always had this complex that I am a bit behind compared to other musicians. On top of that, I have a joint problem on my left hand which I have been suffering from since I was in my early teens. Because of that, there is a limitation to my technique for certain hand positions on the fingerboard without having pain. For the longest time, I tried to figure out what exactly the problem was, how to cope with it, and how to develop muscles to cover the problem and improve. I never had enough time to really focus on it because my training was accelerated to make up for my late start.

So now I am going back to basics! Every day, I spend a lot of time doing finger exercises properly, playing scales, going through study books, and I am very happy that I finally have time to do this!! I also spend Zoom time with my friends discussing violin techniques and teaching methods which I have never thought about before the pandemic. (I am slow to learn technology, but, I have to say, it’s great!)

As for performing, back in March, my friend who is a music therapist in Japan asked me to do a Facebook Live concert for people who are still suffering with PTSD from after the 2011 tsunami. We tried many methods of live streaming but nothing worked well enough, plus the 13-hour time difference made it extra hard to schedule. So instead, I asked people to send me some requests, which I then recorded and posted on YouTube. So far I’ve done four pieces, and it’s a learning process for me to use devices to record and edit, but I’m looking forward to more!

I grew up in the Kansai area of Japan which is very famous for comedy — most of Japanese comedians are from this area. Making people laugh is one thing that everybody there is passionate about — it’s in our blood. Over the years I’ve been working on how to put music and comedy together. And, I want to use some serious violin pieces for it so that people become more familiar with classical music. We’ll see what happens — stay tuned!

Maintaining my health is very important to me too. Playing the violin is the most unnatural position for your body, and an orchestra job is hard physical work, so it is important to maintain your physical strength. Under normal circumstances, I find it hard to motivate myself to exercise, but now I walk 1-2 hours a day with my husband, and I take online yoga classes regularly. My days are pretty full!

What are you missing the most right now?

I miss my TSO colleagues….I really miss playing on the stage with them. I miss FaceTiming with my father who has Alzheimer’s and is living in a nursing home in Japan. I miss seeing our aunt here. I miss all my friends in Japan since I can’t visit them this summer. Basically I miss seeing people face to face.

Books, films, or TV on the go?

I’ve been reading Japanese books, including comic books. Comic books are a huge part of Japanese culture. Plus, there are many educational comic books, as well as those just for entertainment.

I also love murder mysteries and books on human psychology and behaviour. I consider myself to be a little crazy, so psychology is a favourite topic of mine. And, of course, some heart-warming fiction is good to read and have a cry over!

One thing you can’t live without right now?

Laughter!

To begin with, music is my life. No matter what happens I will always find a way to express myself, and to connect with people, through music. So to me, that’s not something I feel special about right now. It has been my life, and it will be with me no matter what.

But at times like this, we need to boost up our energy, and laughing is the best way! When we are in these kinds of stressful situations, our world becomes smaller and smaller — especially for the elderly. If you have grandparents, send them funny pictures, or videos, or jokes. Laughing is incredibly important!

Words of wisdom to get through this?

“Live the day without fear and sadness but with full of honesty, kindness, and joy.” — Tempu Nakamura, the first Japanese yogi.

Life without fear or sadness is almost impossible for any of us at any time, but even so, try to help the people around you with small acts of kindness so that they do not feel alone.

My favourite Japanese saying is, “Laughter is the key to happiness.” My grandmother taught me never to complain, and let me tell you, it is hard!!! Honestly, I complain a lot, but at least I love making people laugh. So I will continue to laugh until we see the end of this!

For more chats with artists in social isolation, read on HERE.

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Michael Zarathus-Cook

Michael is a student at the University of Toronto, a music writer and general arts critic on briband.com He has been published in The Wholenote Magazine, Opera Canada, The Dance Current, Schmopera and more.
Michael Zarathus-Cook

Michael Zarathus-Cook

Michael is a student at the University of Toronto, a music writer and general arts critic on briband.com He has been published in The Wholenote Magazine, Opera Canada, The Dance Current, Schmopera and more.
Michael Zarathus-Cook
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