A soft and graceful sound delivering prayers for peace

On August 6, 1945, a made-in-USA Baldwin piano was exposed to radiation from the atomic bomb dropped over the City of Hiroshima, which claimed 140,000 people’s lives by the end of that year. Although the player of that piano, Akiko Kawamoto, 19, was among the victims, her piano survived and its’ restored sound has been attracting the world’s pianists such as Martha Argerich. The first recording made on Akiko’s piano by American pianist, Peter Serkin, was released recently.

Baby Akiko and Piano

Baby Akiko and Piano (Credit Hope Project)

Akiko was born on May 25, 1926 in Los Angeles where her father, Genkichi, worked. From the piano’s fabrication number, 54444, it was also identified as being made that same year. Since a photograph, taken on December 19, 1926, shows 7-month-old Akiko with a Christmas tree and the piano, one can assume that the piano was purchased to celebrate the arrival of this new family member, especially as Genkichi and his wife Shizuko had waited for 4 years for a child.

In 1933, the family moved back to Hiroshima, Shizuko’s home town, just in time for Akiko to enter primary school in Japan. Akiko started keeping a diary at age 6, first to learn how to write Japanese. In almost every page she describes her piano lessons and practice. Although she never mentioned her aspiration to become a concert pianist, Akiko was a dedicated learner and developed a musical ear. In an entry about a concert she attended, she wrote, “the pianist played with virtuosity yet produced a very soft and graceful sound.”

Due to the deteriorated lifestyle of civilians due to the military situation of Japan in the World War II, which began in the early 1944, Akiko wrote little about the piano and most of her comments were about her frustration of not being able to eat properly and to sacrifice her study for a service provided through physical labour.

When the A-Bomb was dropped, Akiko was on her routine service work in the central part of Hiroshima City and died the following day. Although her house was 2,5 km outside of Hiroshima City, Akiko’s piano was severely damaged by the bomb blast and its’ scars are still clearly visible on the surface.

The piano was kept untouched until 2005 when it was handed to a family friend, Ms Tomie Futakuchi (now a Representative of Hope Project), and was restored by the tuner Mr Hiroshi Sakaibara on the occasion of 60th anniversary event of the A-Bombing. Sakaibara, who kept the original pieces of piano as much as possible, observed the wear on the damper for the sustain pedal and said, “Akiko was very conscious of using to change the nuance of the sound.” Akiko’s survived younger brother also testified. “She loved playing Chopin.”

Akikos piano repaired by Mr Sakakibara

Akiko's piano repaired by Mr. Sakaibara (credit Hope Project)

The turning point for the Akiko’s piano to get to known by international pianists was in 2015, when Martha Argerich visited Hiroshima City to participate in the 70th anniversary event where she heard the piano being played by Mami Hagiwara, a pianist from Hiroshima who won the 1st prize in the International Piano Competition in Geneva in 2010. After the event, Argerich went up on the stage, looked at the piano, and played a Chopin’s Mazurka, Op67-2. “Akiko must have liked Chopin. It remembers so,” murmured Argerich.

The Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra also played an important role by providing their co-performing pianists with occasions to touch the Akiko’s piano, including Charles Richard-Hamelin, the 2nd Prize-winner of the Chopin International Piano Competition in 2015, and Peter Serkin, also known as the son of legendary pianist Rudolf Serkin.

Peter Serkin, who encountered the Akiko’s piano in 2017 during his visit to Hiroshima said, “this piano amazingly has a voice of its own, with its warm and human voice, which wants to sing. Its singing consoles us, and can also express a gratitude for life itself.” Serkin, without having prepared for it, spontaneously played pieces by Bach, Mozart and Chopin. His 45-minute recording was the first CD made on the Akiko’s Piano as “Music for Peace” (Kajimoto) in March, 2018, to allocate its profit to be used for conservation of the piano and charity events.

argerich photo credit KOHEI

Argerich (photo credit Y. Koseki)

Argerich, who has been involved in the series of concerts to commemorate the A-Bomb as Amabassador for Peace by the Hiroshima Peace Orchestra, says "It is essential to keep memory alive, and I believe that music can be a powerful inspiration and support to achieve this." She is planning to perform in 2020, the year of the Tokyo Olympics, a new Piano Concerto by a Japanese composer Dai Fujikura, in which Akiko's piano will be used for the cadenza.

Akiko would have been 91 years old this year. Though having lost the owner, today Akiko’s piano delivers a prayer for peace with its soft and graceful sound to heaven and to all of us in the world.

More info:
When Argerich touched the Akiko's Piano for the first time in 2015

A documentary made by high school students on the Akiko's Piano

By Julie Saito

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