Composer Korine Fujiwara Celebrates Her ‘Storyteller’ Father in Music

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Photo: Composer Korine Fujiwara
Composer and violist Korine Fujiwara

When composer Korine Fujiwara was a child, her father thrilled her with traditional Japanese stories about warriors, princesses and monsters.

In fact, Karlo Fujiwara impressed hundreds of other kids in their hometown of Billings, Mont., with his stories. He taught martial arts there for decades and often used the tales to teach a lesson at the end of a karate or judo class.

After Karlo Fujiwara passed away in 2010, Korine Fujiwara created a musical tribute to him in a piece for violin and orchestra called “The Storyteller.”

“I think everybody has a storyteller in their life whether it's a parent or a teacher or any kind of a guru,” she said. “They share something and they’ve taught you a lesson. … I wanted to keep that part, the storytelling, alive. It was a magical part of who he was.”

Fujiwara, who lives in Tacoma, Wash., had woven her biography into previous compositions, like "Fiddle Suite: Montana," which reflects on places she knew as a child.

For "The Storyteller," she filled the piece’s three movements with characters from stories Karlo Fujiwara told his three children, as well as the stories his father had passed down.

The composer set the characters and their adventures against an orchestral backdrop that incorporates traditional Japanese folk music.

For violinist Charles Wetherbee, who commissioned the piece and premiered it in 2012, part of the fun and challenge of performing it comes from recreating the sound of Japanese instruments Fujiwara wrote into the score.

Photo: Charles Wetherbee, violin
Violinist Charles Wetherbee.

“It's a challenge to get the right flavor, the right timbre, the right color of those instruments,” said Wetherbee, concertmaster of the Boulder Philharmonic, which is set to play the piece on Sunday. “At the same time all of these effects all of these characters in the stories ... it's all incorporated in a very melodic and romantic language.”

Korine Fujiwara finished “The Storyteller” and saw its concert premiere in 2012 in Washington, D.C.

The music gave her a way to honor her father’s memory and take part in the storytelling tradition, she said.

“We honor the storytellers in our lives by remembering their stories, and continuing to tell them,” Korine Fujiwara said. “You create the stories, you tell the stories and they stay alive, as do the memories of the people who tell them.”

For more on "The Storyteller," click the audio link at the top of this post.