[From February Issue 2013]
This artist custom-makes flutes from mass produced straws and in doing so, has created a sensation on TV with his performances. KAMIYA Toru, a resident of Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture, dreamed of becoming a recorder player while studying in the science department at Kyoto University, and, after graduating, threw himself into both performing and teaching the instrument.
At a training camp for the college of music he taught at, one of his students crushed the tip of a straw and accidentally made a sound. Kamiya recalls having a go at playing it himself but felt that, even though it was a wind instrument, when it came to producing a sound, he himself was only a beginner. He continues, “I was curious to see what kind of tones I could produce if I practiced.”
First he managed to play a scale by making finger holes in the straw. Then by trial and error he developed a range of flutes. For instance, to play low notes he needed a long straw, which he bent so his fingers could reach over the holes. With no one to play with, he struggled to create harmonies, but has now developed a flute on which he can play a solo quartet.
He has often appeared on television and performed at concerts overseas. In the US, he played the Japanese children’s song “Mushi no Koe” (Singing of Insects) on a flute shaped like a grasshopper. “After a few seconds, the tone becomes high-pitched like that of a grasshopper, before returning to normal. People were surprised by this unexpected change. I use different flutes depending on the song I play. I only played short pieces, things like children’s songs. My playing is also fun to watch, as some flutes have moving parts. I got the same response from the audiences abroad as I had had in Japan.” The flute for the song “Shabon-dama” (soap bubbles) is made in such a way that real soap bubbles emerge while he’s playing it.
During the Great Hanshin Earthquake his apartment block was completely destroyed. “I was at a loss, but my children said, ‘you’ll be all right with your straw flutes.’ It’s funny because there’s that phrase ‘to grasp at straws,’ and by rebuilding my life with straws, I had to do exactly the same. Because of my experience as a disaster victim, coupled with my desire to give people pleasure, I continue to give free concerts in the areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake.
“I think I’ve succeeded at improving my straw flutes because I’ve done other things in my life, so I’ve had all kinds of experiences and abilities to draw on. Since I have no predecessors, I’ve created a trail for others myself. It’s lonely and exhilarating at the same time. I’m happy that, wherever I go to play, people smile and enjoy themselves. I want to go on giving concerts and creating flutes that make audiences happy,” Kamiya says with a bright smile.
Text: KAWARATANI Tokiko