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Koko Ohira: the Healing Power of Music (Ke Alakai)


Koko Ohira: the Healing Power of Music (Ke Alakai)
 

Koko Ohira learned of the healing power of music when she performed for earthquake victims in Japan
 
Called a true musician by her friends, Koko Ohira, a senior from Miyagi, Japan majoring in music performance, has used her saxophone skills to help victims of Japan’s natural disasters.
 
After Japan’s devastating Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011, Ohira played for victims to spread hope through music. “I went to play music for the victims to give enjoyment. And then I played this song – it’s called ‘Homeland.’ It’s a Japanese folk song. I felt that this song is what we remember about our homeland.”
 
The song became so important to Ohira that she always plays the song to introduce herself and her homeland of Japan. “I was so shocked when I saw the destroyed things. Then I played music and then they cried because they remembered the way everything was before the earthquake and tsunami were happening. I remember thinking, ‘I have to keep playing for them and let them remember our home.’”
While the victims of the earthquake had lost everything, Ohira saw how the power of music brought some hope back to their lives. “I recognized how music gives power to live and how music heals people,” she said.
 
After that experience, Ohira set off for college. She said she never planned to come to BYU-Hawaii, but she is glad she stayed because it introduced her to jazz music. “Here, my saxophone teacher said that my classical skill was good, but if I could learn jazz, my skill would become better.”
 
Ohira has learned the new style and is now part of the Salsa Orchestra and Jazz combos at BYUH among other groups. “Jazz music is kind of different [from classical] because I can create my own music or my own melody or a cool solo and I just noticed, ‘Oh this is so good. I can create anything!’ I love it.”
 
Jazz not only helped Ohira’s musical skill, but also her confidence. “When I started the salsa band, I didn’t have any confidence to play saxophone. But Dr. Duerden always told me, ‘You can do this.’ He always gives me a challenge or good advice, so my confidence became stronger. Before I was so nervous to perform in front of people and now I just really, really enjoy my performance.”
 
Ohira’s musical confidence doesn’t always extend to her personal life. “I don’t feel nervous when I perform music, but I’m so shy to talk to people. I don’t know why I’m so shy. I can perform for everyone and I’m okay, but I really can’t talk to people. It’s really funny.”
 
Last semester, Ohira was chosen to perform a concerto with the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra. She said, “It was such a great opportunity. I had played music in Japan, but I was never a soloist. I couldn’t imagine that I would be a soloist.”
 
Kevin Peterson, Ohira’s bandmate and a senior from Laie studying music, said he was proud of Ohira’s solo performance. “Obviously she was fantastic, and it’s crazy because musicians in general are a dedicated group of people. They spend a lot of time practicing, but she practiced that piece forever. I can’t even count the number of times I went into the band room and she was practicing it. It paid off because when she played it, it was perfect.”
 
Peterson described what made her performance so perfect. “She played all the right notes, but more than that, it was just so gorgeous. The way she moves and all the emotion she puts into it, it’s very clear that she’s not just a player: She’s a real musician.”
 
Ohira said she hopes to move on to graduate school, ideally at BYU in Provo. “After I graduate I want to be a teacher and a performer. I don’t want to stop playing, but I love teaching too. I taught some lessons in Japan for a high school student before, and it got me thinking that I could be a teacher.”
 
Peterson gave her a vote of confidence. “I think Koko could go on to do whatever she wants to,” he said. “She’s a phenomenal musician.”
 
Uploaded April 8, 2016
 
Photo by Monique Saenz

Rachel Chambers for Ke Alakai