Your koto questions answered

We asked our Instagram followers what they'd like to know about the koto from Sydney's master of the instrument, Satsuki Odamura. Here's what they wanted to know and Satsuki's enlightening answers.  

How did you first start learning the koto? 

Most of my friends from primary school started learning piano so actually, I wanted to learn the piano but my parents didn't let me. I just happened to have a koto that belonged to my auntie so that's how I started koto. 

What's the koto made of?  

It's made of Paulownia wood.  It grows in Japan, and also in Canada. A standard koto has thirteen strings and each string has a movable bridge so it can be moved to change the pitch. I pluck them with the plectrum or thumb and use two fingers of the right hand to apply pressure to vary the pitches. 

Satsuki Odamura playing koto

Are the strings made of silk?  

Nowadays, we use nylon strings, but it used to be silk and I've got a base koto where the first four strings are made of silk. It sounds much nicer so I use them but they're really easy to break. Very expensive too! 

Do your skills on the koto enable you to play other instruments? 

I also play shamisen which is a part of training as a koto player, so all koto players play shamisen and also sing as well.  

How is the music notated?  

We have koto notation which is Japanese numbers. Traditional koto music tells me which number to pluck. We also use Western notation but always have to transcribe it into koto notations because each music has a different tuning. 

Traditional koto score

What is the concept of 'ma' and what does it mean to you?  

The concept of ma can be translated to mean gap, pause or space between two sounds. Each sound is imbued with spirit -- the essence or emotion of performance -- making every sound profound and meaningful. 

What are you looking forward to about Silk, Metal, Wood?  

Jakub Jankowski is writing for us, so that's really exciting for me and to be playing across Australia too.   

Tell us about Jakub Jankowski's new work.  

We had two sessions. The first one he came to my place and we played and just had a kind of jam session and the second session was on Zoom. He has a lot of ideas, so I'm so excited to perform  his music.  

Catch Satsuki Odamura performing with cellists Jean-Guihen Queyras and James Morley in Silk, Metal, Wood this August 14-26.