Please join us at our Central Library on May 12th for a dazzling koto performance from Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto. The performance will take place on our Art and Music 5th floor.
Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto – Koto musician, teacher, band leader, filmmaker
Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto is known as a musician of traditional Japanese music and has studied classical Japanese koto music extensively with several masters, including Chikushi Katsuko, Kazue Kudo, Yoko Gates and her mother, Kazuko Muramoto. She also plays jazz koto and is the director of the Murasaki Ensemble which features music from traditional to contemporary to jazz and rock, established in 1998. Shirley’s skills in composing and arranging for the koto has led to performances with famed musicians Chikushi Katsuko, Sawai Kazue, Souju Nosaka Keiko, June Kuramoto, Kazue Kudo, Pete Escovedo, Maurice Jarre, and appeared on recordings with David Grisman, Lori Lewis, Elias Negash and Joe Craven, among others.
Shirley earned her “Shihan” degree (instructor’s credentials) with “Yushusho” (highest) honors and her masters “Dai Shihan” from the Chikushi Kai School based in Fukuoka, Japan. Shirley teaches koto privately and through virtual formats using the base curriculum of Chikushi Kai repertoire and traditional koto music. Shirley’s musical training includes playing the violin through her public school days in Oakland, and classical guitar at the college level. With this diverse musical background of Japanese and western music, Shirley has composed and written many arrangements for koto to suit the needs of the diverse artists she has collaborated with through the years.
Because Shirley started performing as a little girl following her mother who was also a koto teacher, she has played koto for over 60 years all over the Bay Area, across the U.S., in Canada and Japan. During the pandemic, she learned to teach and perform via virtual formats, and also produced streamed programs such as the cultural series “NextGen Geijutsuka: Future Stars of Japanese Cultural Arts”, and “A Tribute to Sahomi Tachibana: American Legacy of a Japanese Dancer”. On May 15th, she will co-host a fundraiser for the people of Ukraine, “Stings of Hope: the Bandura and the Koto for Ukraine” virtual show featuring performances on the Ukrainian bandura with Japanese koto. Recently, she curated Japanese koto programs for Nikkei Matsuri, the Consulate General of Japan and the Old First Concerts concert “Music of Kimio Eto”. In 2021, Shirley was asked to curate a virtual program with the San Francisco Symphony, “CURRENTS” series, which was conceived by the late Oakland Symphony conductor Michael Morgan. In February 2022, she performed at SFJAZZ with jazz harpist Destiny Muhammad.
Shirley’s mom’s story of learning to play the koto at Topaz and Tule Lake camps during WWII led her to research Japanese traditional cultural arts in the WWII camps. The decades long project was awarded funding in 2012 to turn the research into a documentary film. The film “Hidden Legacy: Japanese Traditional Performing Arts in the WWII Internment Camps”, funded in part by the National Park Service Japanese American Confinement Sites grant, and released in 2014. It is one of the few sources of information about how cultural arts thrived in the camps. It is now available for free viewing on YouTube. Shirley and her colleague, Prof. Minako Waseda of Kunitachi University, are currently transcribing all the interviews from the film to live on a new website dedicated to the study of Japanese traditional arts as they were practiced in the WWII camps, which will be available to the public in the next year or two. Because of her koto music stemming from the camps, Shirley feels her koto music is a direct connection to cultural arts in the camps and the teachers who taught her mother to keep the koto music tradition alive today. She feels a responsibility to keep up this legacy in the U.S. so it does not die.
Last year, Shirley was involved with a program educating Berkeley public elementary school students about the music of the WWII American concentration camps along with flutist and Santa Clara University music professor Rayõ Furuta, and administered by Pc Muñoz, the Director of Education and Community Engagement at Freight & Salvage, and which is seeking further funding to expand the program to other public schools in Berkeley next year.
In 2012, Shirley was honored by the Hokka Nichibei Kai Japanese American Cultural Association of America by being inducted into the Bunka Hall of Fame for her life-long dedication to teaching and performing on the Japanese koto. She has received support and funding for various projects from the City of Oakland, the SF Japantown Foundation, the Berkeley JACL, and the Apprenticeship Program from the Alliance for California Traditional Arts to train future artists for the continuance of Japanese koto music into the future.