Guitar great Hiroya Tsukamoto talks quarantine life, UU virtual concert

WE'VE SPOKEN TO Hiroya Tsukamoto before, and it’s always a pleasure. The celebrated guitar player has made the Unitarian Universalist Church here in Savannah his first choice for a venue on quite a few tours, and amid the pandemic he’s continuing to support the church with a virtual concert on Sun., October 4 at 3 P.M.

Ahead of the show, we caught up with Tsukamoto to find out what he’s been up to as of late.

I’m curious to see how you’ve been holding up during the pandemic/quarantine, professionally and personally speaking?

My last show with an audience was in Vermont in the mid March. When I had that show, I knew that this would be my last show for a while and the audience also knew it. Even now, I sometimes recall that performance as I felt like me and the audience were on the same boat and it was a great concert. When things started shutting down, I just didn’t know what to do in the beginning as my lifestyle has changed very much, but I needed to think what I can do in this time artistically and also simply to survive. I started teaching more private online lessons. And I have two kids and I spend a lot of time (maybe too much time!) with them now.

Many musicians started doing live streaming and I also played my first live streaming show from my website at the end of March. It was awkward in the beginning to play in front of the screen, but I got used to it a bit now. As so many people do virtual concerts, I decided not to do too often from my side and made it monthly. And even though all the physical shows got cancelled, some venues offer me to do online concerts, too, so I sometimes do that such as this UU church concert in Savannah. So I do online concerts on and off, and I try to make every show different and somewhat special so that people feel fresh.

Not being able to tour as heavily through all of this must be a difficult thing to wrestle with. How have you managed to stay creative during a period of time when you haven’t been traveling quite as much?

As I mentioned, I have been doing monthly streaming shows from my page and people are enjoying it, so I try to write new music each upcoming month for listeners. Also I send monthly newsletters to people and I write about personal thoughts such as what I am thinking and doing and I have been receiving a lot of emails and messages from people in different states where I have played in the past. Those warm and kind messages make me productive.

Before this pandemic to the middle pandemic, as a musician, my two big things in my mind were how to survive and how to be artistic, but as I have been receiving messages from people saying that my music brings peace in this challenging time and healing, I started to feel joy to help people with my music because many people are having a difficult time and we are adjusting our lifestyle differently. So now besides thinking about survival and personal creativity, I would be happy to help people with my music.

Even if this situation will eventually calm down, I feel like we musicians might not be able to travel to play as before. If I look at my life in the past and now, this quarantine time makes me rethink what is important.

You’ve got quite a reputation as a guitar player. I’m curious who some of your influences were early on?

Thank you. As a teenager back in Japan, I grew up listening and playing lots of American root music such as blues, bluegrass and also 70’s rock and pop such as Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, The Eagles, etc. That’s good stuff. And when I was around twenty years old, I discovered an American guitarist named Pat Metheny from Missouri and he has been a big influence on me because he simply composes beautiful music. Also, his attitude toward music has been inspiring me. He doesn’t stay in one place musically and always surprises listeners with his creativity.

What is it about the guitar that inspires you so much creatively?

I think not only me, but in general, guitar especially acoustic guitar is a very personal instrument. Playing acoustic guitar now in my room in NYC feels exactly the same as when I was a teenager playing it in my room in Kyoto, even if the music I play is different. In life, many things come, stop or fade, but to me guitar always has been with me so I can connect pretty much my whole life all the way from when I was a kid to up to now.

This UU event will obviously be a unique experience. What are you most looking forward to about the performance?

Last year, I played at UU church in Savannah and that old beautiful building was one of my favorite spaces in the country. The atmosphere was just beautiful there and also the acoustics. Staff members and the audience were warm and welcoming, too. This time is a virtual concert from my place, but still, I am happy to connect with people in Savannah. The good thing about live streaming shows is that I can connect to people in many different places at the same time. When I do physical shows, I am more like a performer, but for online concerts, I would like to bring a personal feel to people from my place. So what I do is a mixture of music and storytelling.

cs

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