Listening to Nature

By Aine Nakamura, BFA Jazz and Contemporary Music:

From this semester, I have been working on an Independent Study under the guidance of Doctor Chris Stover.  I met Molly from Tishman Environment and Design Center along my study, which is why I was given this opportunity to share my story here.I study about the concepts of songs of islands of Okinawa and Yaeyama area.This has become a beginning of my quest, Listening to Nature…Okinawa and Yaeyama islands are located southwest of Japan’s main island, northeast of Taiwan in between East China Sea and Philippine Sea. They are current Okinawa prefecture of Japan along with Miyako islands.


The music here is based on and strongly linked to idea and concepts that exist in this area, Nirakanai (world of gods and ancestors), Utaki (sacred places), nature worship...

Parts of the aspects of the songs of islands are sacred festivals in the area.In sacred rituals, music and dance are given to gods of nature.These are parts of village people's lives.

My study started with my personal desire: to live as a person, pursuing the most important essence of music and life for me, in other words, music as a humanitarian act or an “act of love” if I borrow the words by Haruki Murakami in his short story (The Kidney-Shaped Stone That Moves Every Day).

My honest intension is to sing and compose in admiration of the mother nature and the nature inside of us as we are parts of the nature.  ...The nature you feel the existence of in very small islands like [Iriomote Island and Kudaka Island] and probably originally in cities with tall buildings as well.

In early summer of 2016, I was in a boat going back to Okinawa Island after a trip to Kudaka Island and Zamami Islands.  Under a rainbow that appeared after several squalls, I realized and remembered that these islands and the ocean that surrounds them are nobody’s property (in nature).  In this nature that is not controllable in any way and just there with its overwhelming presence, there live some animals, some birds and many insects, some human beings, and other living things, and, gods and things that cannot be seen.  If you walk on a beach of Iriomote Island, you rarely meet other person even during the day time.  The air is filled with subtropical sunlight and quietness.  You see the natural forests of the island, the sky and the bright blue or sometimes emerald green sea that seems like endless.  After the breathtaking sunsets, you see countless stars that fill the night sky and fireflies’ luminescence around you.  You hear sounds of creatures that you do not hear in the daytime.  In this situation that has been untouched by human-made economic changes but yet keeps changing from the ancient time in cycles of nature, [I am] just a tiny part of it. 

It is this kind of region that the songs and dances were born, have been played and given to gods and ancestors, and continue to develop.

Excerpt from my independent study


Soon after this trip, I came to New York.  The first aim for my education here is to train myself as a musician.  The second aim is to pursue my intention to sing about nature here in this center of cities.  This is an endless and lifelong quest for me.  And, I feel humbled by it.The more I believe in my quest, the more I meet people who make me believe that it is possible.  Teachers, mentors and artists...The independent study started to become my main focus and inspiration for my composition and performance, and also my being.In Kudaka Island, a ritual called Izaiho had been held once in 12 years for hundreds of years until 1978.  At Izaiho, all the island women between 30 and 41 are designated to retain spiritual power for their rest of their lives to protect the island and family.I am also starting to feel I need to sing as a woman connecting to the mother nature.This semester, I also met someone who truly inspires me, Oica.She is a character I created for Dimitri Krymov Project, a CoPA's project.  She is an old and wise 70-year-old woman from Kudaka Island and she became me as I became her... She sang a song about dolphins with her instrument, Sanshin, in her arms...With wonderful people I met during my quest at the Jazz School and in the CoPA's project, we will have the following event.  This will be a combination of music and storytelling.  Please come by. Listening to NatureJune 24, 2017 SaturdayTenri Cultural Institute of New York7pm | $15 Aine Nakamura | voice, poemChristophe Assier | guitarJasper Dütz | hornsJohanna Tysk | storytellingJonghoon Han | storytellingSahar Sepahdari | storytellingSholeh Dalai | videographyI imagine about the time even before the life began. How strong was the light? How quiet was the darkness?We were born in this world and started to live with the nature, receiving its blessing and coexisting with its power, and being the nature.People have treasured the nature and the nature has always been with them.Even here in the city, even now in this global age, if we listen, I believe we see.venue info: Tenri Cultural Institute of New York43A West 13th street, New York NY 10011212.645.2800For reservation, please contact: - - - Aine E NakamuraJazz and Contemporary Music, The New