My Music. My Story. is one of Classical Music Indy’s initiatives to feature music, musicians, and music lovers in a fun way. This week we talked with cellist Maya Nojiri Sutherland who regularly performs with Classical Music Indy. She moved to the US to continue her music education and is currently pursuing her PhD at Indiana University Bloomington. Read Maya’s thoughts on music, life, and community below.
Maya Nojiri Sutherland: My Music. My Story.
When did you start playing?
I first started learning the piano at age 6. My mother is a pianist and she started me with what she knew. To be honest I thought there were too many notes to play. Now I appreciate it. Piano is a great place for children to start learning music. I then picked up the cello as my primary instrument when I was 11.
When did you move to the United States and why?
I moved here about 10 years ago. Indiana is the only state I’ve lived in. I was always fascinated by foreign cultures. Thanks to my parents I grew up being surrounded by Western culture— Western literature, Western classical arts, Western art music, etc. To me Japan seemed like the tiniest place on earth and I couldn’t wait to explore.
During my undergraduate years in Japan my cello teacher was a former Chicago Symphony Orchestra member, and he strongly recommended [that I] study at Indiana University Bloomington, where he himself studied with the legendary Mr. Starker. Back then I was very much attracted to American culture, especially the avant-garde music scene in the US, so I did not hesitate in my decision to move here.
What does music mean to you?
Music has been the center of my life since I was born. I grew up listening on a daily basis to my mother play the piano and all the LPs my dad had of classical music. Music is like oxygen—sometimes you almost forget that it’s there because it’s natural and invisible, but you cannot live without it.
How has music influenced your life?
My life revolves around music. I meet people, go places, and discover things through music. I feel that music brought me some great life experiences that I could never have otherwise. Through music, I [haven’t] just learned how to play an instrument but also how to discipline myself and be patient and persistent. Overall I believe music helps me grow as a better person and I am hoping that it continues to in coming years.
Why are you a musician?
I don’t think I could have been anything else. I am a rather quiet person, but through music I learned how to express myself. I am a total introvert and do not talk much. But it’s not that I have nothing to express. Music is a unique form of communication that does not require words (except [in] the case of songs). It even overcomes language barriers—it is a universal language that you can use to speak to someone without using words. I so love that about music and that is probably why I am a musician.
How do you feel your work as a musician benefits the community?
I am a huge advocate for new music. Over the years I noticed that there is not much of it going on in Indiana. So every time I perform through [Classical Music Indy] or other venues, I try to play contemporary works. I would like more people to know that there are good pieces being created every second as we speak, and I hope that it gives the community an opportunity to hear [a] more diverse variety of music.
What is being a performer like?
I am not an attention-seeker, so performing is always a challenge for me. But that is a great thing; I overcome something every time I perform, and step forward. It is a growing process. But there is joy in performing, too! Especially when I perform new compositions, I love the feeling that I am not just performing for myself but also for the composer and the birth of a new art work.
Who is your biggest musical hero and why?
I would say it is John Cage. When I first encountered Cage’s works in my undergrad, my mind was blown and it gave me [a] whole new perspective on music and things in life. He was a genius, rebel, and so brave. He did things only he could do, and broke the traditional Western premises with passion. I love reading his essays. They open my eyes and ears every time I go back and re-read them.
Do you have any great stories you’d like to share?
Yes! My colleagues and I recently launched a new music chamber group. Our first performance is in a few weeks at Grove Haus. We are all so thrilled to share this exciting experience with everyone. You will probably be hearing a lot about this project around town soon—so stay tuned!
To learn more about the new music chamber group Maya is performing with at the Grove Haus on November 13, visit the Facebook event here.