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Reviewed by:
  • Composing Japanese Musical Modernity by Bonnie C. Wade
  • E. Taylor Atkins (bio)
Composing Japanese Musical Modernity. By Bonnie C. Wade. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2014. viii, 272 pages. $90.00, cloth; $30.00, paper; $30.00, E-book.

For decades, Japan has been known as one of the best markets for European art or concert music (generically, if imprecisely, called “classical music” or kurashikku in popular parlance). In addition to world-renowned orchestras and concert halls, record labels, corporate sponsorships, and astute audiences, Japan is the country of origin of some of the music world’s best-known figures: Ozawa Seiji (b. 1935), conductor emeritus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra; groundbreaking composer Takemitsu Tōru (1930–96); composer and marimbist Abe Keiko (b. 1937); and pedagogue Suzuki Shin’ichi (1898–1998), whose eponymous teaching method—combining Japanese-style rote practice with nurturing, child-centered educational phi losophies—has become one of the most popular forms of musical instruction around the world. Ethnomusicologist Bonnie Wade provides a comprehensive, in-depth, and historically informed ethnography of the institutional synergies that fostered and sustain a music-friendly environment. Other scholars have shown us discrete aspects of this cultural realm before, but what distinguishes Wade’s treatment is her effort to identify the connections between state, commercial, industrial and not-for-profit enterprises, composers, performers, educational institutions and approaches, audiences, and private entrepreneurs that constitute the infrastructure by which concert music can prosper in contemporary Japan.

Wade attributes the professional successes of Japanese composers to their social engagement, relevance, and “artistic flexibility” (pp. 9–10, 159): “most Japanese composers have continued in some ways to maintain a relational sort of role in their society. Rather than composing music as an autonomous art, most composers have been and are grounded in the social—or, as I will put it several times, they ‘remain connected to the people’” (p. 2). This pattern was established in the Edo period when “performer- composers” operated and functioned within specific social spheres (pp. 1–2); it continued in modified form into the early Meiji period, [End Page 461] when music was regarded as a crucial component of the overall modernization project. Accordingly, composers of new music learned their craft and worked in service to a broader, state-guided social engineering process and the construction of a “new, shared cultural space” binding the nascent nation together (pp. 8, 15–18, 211). Following Ury Eppstein,1 she contends that Western music was selected for “pragmatic” reasons, resulting in “the perception of and expectation for composers that they will be individuals who will make tangible contributions to their culture”; indeed, “the very role of composer emerged with the need for someone to write school songs” (pp. 211–12). Wade argues that this pattern persists to this day and offers the analytic notion of “affordance” to explain the sustained social engagement of Japanese composers with the wider society. “An ‘affordance,’” Wade explains, “is a quality of an environment that allows an individual or offers an individual an opportunity to perform an action, dependent on his or her competency” (p. 12).

The historical conditions of modernity and its peculiar trajectory in Japan created circumstances, institutions, networks, and competencies that encouraged and facilitated the creation of musical compositions. Unlike their counterparts elsewhere, who adopted a detached “high-modernist stance,” the author insists, “most Japanese composers responded to the expressive needs of the citizens,” keeping them “‘connected with the people’—in a different sort of socially relational position from that of the performer- composer in premodern Japan, but socially relational nevertheless” (p. 8). In other words, the mutually beneficial connections between state educational policies, music publishers and recording companies, instrument manufacturers and private music schools (such as Yamaha and Kawai), institutions of higher learning, competitions and festivals, professional and amateur ensembles, advertising, public relations, and broadcasting all “afford” opportunities for composers to write, teach, and sell original compositions.

Because previous histories and ethnographies have dealt extensively with the importation of foreign music as a process fraught with cultural tensions and identity crises,2 Wade is at liberty to explore Western music (“here defined as musical practices and knowledge from European and American [End Page...