Big Think Interview With Midori Goto
Midori Goto is an internationally-renowned violinist and philanthropist. Born in Osaka, Japan, Midori began studying violin with her mother at a very young age, and made her debut with the New York Philharmonic at the age of 11. Her violin is the 1734 Guarnerius del Gesu "ex-Huberman," which is on lifetime loan to her from the Hayashibara Foundation. Since 1992, Midori has balanced touring and performing with humanitarian work. She has founded four community engagement organizations—Midori & Friends, Partners in Performance, Orchestra Residencies Program, and Music Sharing—and in 2007 she was named a U.N. Messenger of Peace. She currently lives in Los Angeles.
Midoro Goto: Okay. So, I'm Midoro and I play the violin. I've been playing it for many, many years now and besides performing, I'm very involved in educational work through community engagement activities and although through teaching.
Question: What does the violin mean to you?
Midoro Goto: What a violin is for me, it's one of my voices. It's one of the voices that express my thoughts, my feelings, my understandings of different things and different matters. It tries to communicate different messages, different ideas, different discoveries, different beliefs, different interpretations, many different things. Violin is really for me, a voice.
Question: What is special about your violin?
Midoro Goto: My violin was made in 1734. It's made by Guarnerius del Gesu, one of the two most notable makers of the instrument, of the violin. And I've had it for a little over ten years now. It's Italian, it's made like a Stradivarius violin or other Guarnerius violins, made in Cremona, in Italy. And it's difficult to say, you know, what's the violin and what's me, because it's a combination that really makes it very unique. Another player playing the exact same violin would sound very differently. I might play another instrument, not the one that I have, but might be something else, and I would still sound like me, also. But it's really a combination and also, I do think that the violin is a living being. First, it's extremely sensitive to humidity and to heat, temperature changes. It's very, very capricious, it's very temperamental, it's, it gets grouchy, it gets, you know, into a good mood and takes regular maintenance, that's like going to a violin doctor. But I actually love this instrument and it just feels, it just feels like that this is the partner that I want and am very, very grateful for having access to such a great instrument. It doesn't matter who plays on it, it is a great instrument, but it's something about this particular great instrument that I'm just so attracted to it and I think it's a lot to do with chemistry as well, it's not something, you know, that one can say as, "Well, if you put this element into this violin then this person is going to like it better," as, I think, just a combination of known and unknown things that make it very, very special.
Question: Do you consider the violin an extension of yourself?
Midoro Goto: I consider it a partner. I don't think of it as an extension of myself, and people like to think that, you know, well, a violin could be like a part of your body or a part of you, I think it's a wonderful partner. I do give it that little distance that it's, something, with a bit objective.
Question: How do you prepare physically and mentally before a performance?
Midoro Goto: I'm always very conscious of having to warm up correctly. In a way, it's very much like an athlete, we warm up. We warm up our bodies so that the body can be relaxed, to take on the stress or the pressures of the performance. And it's the same thing also in practice. It is very much physical, to a certain extent, when we play our instrument. I don't particularly work out or lift weights or try to build muscles or anything like that, but I'm very careful about making sure that I'm very relaxed and there is, you know, there is no unnecessary tension or tension locked in, in the arms or in the body because it also affects the sound.
Question: Do you get nervous?
Midoro Goto: I think that before a performance, I think I try to concentrate, I don't get nervous at this point, but I'm always very eager to go on, to play, very excited to go on stage. But I also don't think of it as something particularly ultra-special. Just, you know, it's something—I think one of the reasons why I keep myself so calm is because I don't hype it up to be something so extraordinarily special, but I'm there to do what I like, I'm there to explore the music. And that makes it much more calm, say than, you know, hyping myself to think, "Wow, you know, I get to play in front of a large audience and this is a big concert and I have to do X, Y, and Z." Rather than that, every concert for me is important. But then also, that it's something that I don't particularly think as being almost, I don't think of it as, sort of a, you know, life or death situation. I take it as it comes. I am of course very well prepared, hopefully, for most of the concerts. But psychologically, I try not to make it feel so, so, so special.
Question: What is your mental state like while you perform?
Midoro Goto: I think that it's a form of, at least for me, extreme concentration. I don't particularly say that I go into a trance, but I'm concentrating on the music so much that it is very difficult to distract me, which in a way is a little bit trance-like, some people might say. But I think that the concentration, the focus is so strong, so pointed, that it's not possible for me to be distracted so easily or to be startled and I listen, I think it's hard to describe what the thoughts are, but, you know, so many things happen, or so many things should happen, you know, it's a lot of multi-tasking when one performs, but very difficult to explain verbally what this experience is like.
Question: What does it take to be a concert violinist?
Midoro Goto: It's unique to each individual musician. I think that some days I think that physical stamina, being healthy, is so important, that without it, I really, really can't be a performer. Artistically, I could also say that to be sensitive to the sounds, to be sensitive to the emotions, to be sensitive to the beauty of things, also. To be sensitive to one's, you know, surroundings, everything. It's really difficult to answer, just because there isn't really particularly one set of elements or characteristics or personalities that's going to make it happen. I also think that being able to relate, being able to be open to different ideas, also these opportunities to explore different worlds, different experiences. Just everything.
Music is something that's just encompassing, the entire person and his or her own world and so it's really difficult to say what really makes it happen, but it's everything.
Question: What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?
Midoro Goto: Every musician, every person is an individual, so there is no such a thing as a generic, generalized advice that one can give. I can say that I have benefited greatly from the experiences, but also it's about, it's not just about the experiences, but it's about how you internalize these experiences, how you take these experiences in and how you decide that you're going to utilize them. There are spontaneous things, too. You know, you realize something and there's a light that goes, you know, goes up and, you know, in front of your eyes and it's really exciting. But there's so many different things that happen with music.
But what I was coming down to before was that if music is something that calms people down or if, actually opens up another world for somebody who listens to it. You start to wonder about the community aspect of it. You start to wonder about, you know, how one tries to belong to a community and one tries to connect with other members of that community and communication starts. And I think for understanding each other, this is very, very critical.
Recorded July 9, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller
A conversation with the violinist.
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