“Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears — it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more — it can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them, music is not a luxury, but a necessity.”
― Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia
I spent more time in front of the piano than I did with other children as a child. Music has been my language, my friends, and most importantly, it has been an extension of myself.
My parents were not typical Asian parents, mind you I was raised in Japan, not in the States. They told me to follow my dream and do what makes me happy. I didn’t start playing because I was a typical Asian girl forced to learn — rather, it was my choice to start playing piano, at 4 years old. I loved dressing up for the recitals, receiving flowers, and seeing all my family there to see me perform. I played Mozart, Chopin, and Beethoven from very early on. I loved challenging myself every year. Can I play something more difficult? And I love the attention that I got from my parents, my teacher, and every audience member. It was my moment. They saw me proudly with a big smile on their face. I knew I was there.
But at school, I was the odd one. I was the odd one whom they constantly ignored and picked on. I was small, too confident, too everything. I didn’t understand why they didn’t like me, nor why they constantly ignored me. All I wanted to do was become their friend. Soon after, I hardly spoke at school. I come home and spent hours and hours in front of my piano, sometimes accompanying myself singing. I started choosing more and more dramatic music to play like Fantasie-Impromptu, Etude in E, Op.10 №3, Moonlight Sonata… Unlike with my peers, the piano let me express what I felt without holding myself back, and it wouldn’t ignore me. My piano wouldn’t tell me that I was small, too loud, or too annoying. By the time I moved on to high school, I increasingly added singing to my piano routine. When I found a song that resonated with me, I became obsessed with it. “Why does this artist understand what I’m feeling?” “This is exactly what I’m going through”… Their words were my words, that I didn’t know how to articulate. And let’s just be clear that I had no intention of becoming a musician. My hands and fingers were too small to pursue career as a pianist. My voice were big and passionate, but as everyone else at school told me over and over, I wasn’t pretty enough to be out there. But Piano gave me the support that I needed, lyrics gave me the words I needed. Music was my love. I wasn’t gonna let that go.
It wasn’t until I moved to the States that I learned more about Musical Theatre. Singing in English was so different from singing in Japanese. It seems like there was more room for interpretation. I learned about the subtexts and intentions underneath the lyrics. But what I was really learning was to articulate in my own words what I was feeling as a subtext. It was a whole new playground. Around that time, my car was my rehearsal space. I sang hours in my car. Just like I was with my piano. That music, those words, those stories, those emotions that I was supposed to be keeping inside, I was given a permission to feel it full out. I was able to cry, get mad, be sassy, and be strong when I couldn’t in real life. It was healing that I didn’t know that I was doing. Without a doubt, most of my favorite songs were “On My Own” from Les Miserables, “Defying Gravity” from Wicked, “Back to Before” from Ragtime; all those who knew they were different, who knew there were meant for so much more and who I won’t be casted in a traditional casting. “This girl is meant to be on Broadway” “You should be on Broadway”… I heard that over and over. And I wanted to be on Broadway because just like at my piano recitals, I was being seen when I sang. But soon after I moved to NYC, I realized that there wasn’t much place for someone who looks like me. Fast forward a few years, now, I am no longer pursuing the career on Broadway. Not because I gave up. But because I found something that I am even more passionate about. That is, to bring healing, connection, and social innovation through art, with my organization “I AM” Series and beyond.
Music is my first love. It gave me a voice when I didn’t know how to speak. It was my friend when I felt alone. It reminded me that I exist when I just want to call it quits. It gave me healing and opportunities to connect with myself. It gave me a permission to be me. Now, I can still say that music is my language, and that my friends and an extension of me. Music connects people. Music heal people. And together, we can change the world. For me, it has been through piano and singing. For you it might be feeling that music and getting inspiration to write, paint, dance, or create something else. But as Oliver Sacks said, “Music is necessary”. Let that be your fiends, your healing and your inspiration. My invitation for you is to let music be something that’ll help you fall in love with yourself more. Because this world needs the whole you. The WHOLE Entire YOU.
Love and light
— YUKO KUDO
Japanese native Yuko Kudo is a singer, photographer, pianist, and founder of the “I AM” Series, whose mission is to create healing, community, and social innovation through art.