CHOPIN Magazine banner for February 2010 issue — with just the top of Aimi’s head showing! Click for the full cover
Aimi’s Essays in CHOPIN Magazine
In mid-2011 my Japanese colleague Ichiro saw that Aimi was doing something like a blog in this magazine, a fact that I was quite unaware of as the magazine isn’t published online. All I knew about was the extensive interview published back in February 2010 (this page on my site). Some time after that CHOPIN offered her a monthly page on which to jot her thoughts about this and that.
The essays show another side of Aimi — a more informal side that’s better shown away from the limitations of the interview format.
The essays are written under the byline:
いつも Happy Music
Always Happy Music
An essay written by a 15-year-old pianist
All translations here are by Ichiro Takahashi
Copyright on the original Japanese text of these articles belongs to CHOPIN Magazine. Reproduction electronically or in print of the English translations that appear here is not permitted. Thank you!
January 2011: The series is launched with an interview by the magazine’s editor
An interview with Aimi Kobayashi. She is preparing for her second CD.
By Kyoko Abe, Editor of CHOPIN Magazine
AIMI KOBAYASHI has a contract with EMI Classics in London and debuted on the worldwide music scene with the release of her CD “Aimi Kobayashi Debut” at the age of 14. Now 15 and in ninth grade, she is already playing as a professional pianist. Because she was going to record her second CD in December , she played at a trial concert at the end of November  to prepare for the recording of the CD. She played Beethoven and Schumann with enthusiasm.
Our interests in Aimi are, for example: What is her life like now that she is so busy? How does she strike a balance between school and her life as a pianist? We have decided to publish her essays about her life [under the title] Aimi Kobayashi, Always Happy Music, An Essay Written by a 15-Year-Old Pianist in this magazine, starting from the next issue. In this issue we are posting an interview with Aimi, who is about to write the essays.
Interviewer: For us it is still a recent memory that you made your CD debut and appeared on the cover of the February 2010 issue of Chopin Magazine.
Aimi: A year has gone by already. To me it seems like a long time ago!
Interviewer: You are going to record a second CD. Have you finished the semester exams?
Aimi: Yes. I’m preparing hard for the recording so that I can make a good CD. As for the semester exams at school, I’ve had my answer sheets back for music, social studies and home economics. I thought the results were pretty good. I got 96 [out of 100] for music and 93 for social studies.
Interviewer: Those are very high scores!
Aimi: Yes, they are. I studied hard because I didn’t have a concert just before the exams. I made one mistake in checking the marks on notes for tonguing in the music exam. All my friends are working hard for the coming entrance exams. I also worked hard by copying my friends’ notebooks when I was absent from school because of concerts.
Mrs Ninomiya, her piano teacher, joined in here, saying: She worked hard for the exams, and didn’t practise piano.
Interviewer: You are very good at studying as well as playing the piano.
Aimi: I am good at social studies. I find it easy to memorize them. But I forget them easily afterwards.
Mrs Ninomiya (laughing): Yes, and in piano lessons I’m always having to remind you of advice I’ve been trying to give you many times before!
Interviewer: You will be writing essays [for us] from next month. Are you also good at writing? Do you study writing at your school?
Aimi: No, no, no . . . When I write an article at school, I am told [by the teacher] to keep it short, within 400 [kanji] characters. I have never written an essay as long as 1200 characters, so I’m a little nervous about it. But I will try to write something enjoyable!
Interviewer: Will you write them by hand or do you use a PC?
Aimi: I’ll write them by hand. I’ve never used a PC for writing. When I see people typing quickly on a PC, I think they are splendid. I wonder why they can’t play the piano if they can type so quickly.
Interviewer: I think piano is more difficult . . .
Aimi: But look at touch typing — isn’t that clever too?
Interviewer: You’ll be taking an entrance exam to high school [Toho Gakuen music school] in February.
Aimi: Yes. The piece one is required to play has already been announced, and I am studying it. For the piece one chooses oneself, I have decided to play “Appassionata”.
Interviewer: It’s getting more difficult for you to practise piano. How are you managing to practise every day?
Aimi: I practise after school from five in the evening until nine. When I’m feeling good I find it enjoyable. When I don’t feel so good, I eat sweets and relax by enjoying reading and writing mails. (2)
Interviewer: You have a schedule for concerts beginning in March. Then there is your recital at Carnegie Hall in April.
Aimi: Yes. It will be tough for me because Carnegie Hall is a solo recital. But it will be fun and I will try my best.
Some of Aimi’s likes are listed in the gray bar at the bottom of the page:
Composers: “Chopin and Beethoven. They might change in the future.”
Colors: “Deep pink. I like small things that are a deep pink colour.” (3)
Food: “I like citrus fruits very much, especially Dekopon. (4) It has a thin skin and just the right balance of sweet and sour. I like sushi, too.”
School subjects: “Social studies, especially history and sociology. I’ve studied a lot about the cabinet and local government.”
Entertainers: “Micky Yuchun of TVXQ. My friends say, let’s go to Korea after the entrance exams. We want to go to the ice cream shop run by Micky Yuchun’s mother . . . ” (5)
The caption for the picture at bottom left reads:
After the trial concert, an evaluation meeting was held, with the score(s). In the photo are, from left to right, a producer from EMI, Mrs Ninomiya, Aimi, and a manager.
1. Unidentified concert. She first played the pieces on her second CD at Kitakyushu on 17 October 2010.
2. Probably on her mobile. Apparently it’s very typical for Japanese high school students to use mobile phones rather than their PCs to exchange mail messages.
3. We’re not completely sure what she’s saying here. 濃いピンク is “rose berry”, the fruit of the rose, so probably she means the colour of rose hips, or maybe rose-hip syrup. Then she says, 小物とかね , which is not very clear and we’ve translated it as small deep-pink coloured things. Japanese is not simple!
4. For the Dekopon fruit, developed in Japan and very popular there, see Wikipedia on Dekopon
February 2011: Aimi’s first solo essay for CHOPIN
Recording my second CD
At 15 my playing has matured in many ways
❝ HELLO, THIS IS AIMI KOBAYASHI. I will be writing essays for one year from now. As I have not written a long piece since my elementary school graduation essay (1) — in fact I have never written a very long article — I’m a little nervous about writing. I will try to make the essays enjoyable. Please take a little time to read them.
For my memorable first essay I’d like to write about the recordings I have just finished. They were done at Poporo Hall in Mihara City, Hiroshima Prefecture, at the beginning of December. It was a beautiful hall with a warm, clean sound. Playing the piano there gave me very good feeling.
Recording took four days. The first day was used entirely for setting up the recording equipment, which takes a long time to do. We had asked for the same engineers who did my first recording to come and record the CD; they were Mr Uri [Ulrich Katzenberger] and Mr Philippe [Philippe Petit], who are German and French recording engineers. They fine-tuned the positions of the microphones and the piano, adjusting their positions again and again, inch by inch, to ensure that we got the best sound. They really did go to great lengths to do this. They could hear slight differences in the sound that were indistinguishable to us. Excellent! They were professional and really made a difference. They studied recording for five years at a music college in Vienna.
It was my second recording. My only impression from the first recording, when I was 12 years old, was that it’s very hard to record a CD. This time I felt it was more fun because I could hear how I was playing by listening to the playback, and the advice that the engineers gave enabled me to challenge my performances from a variety of points of view. (2) On top of that, I was able to appreciate the depth of the music by looking at the scores again.
Although I had thought Appassionata the most difficult piece before the recording — it is difficult technically — as it turned out the Schumann was, unexpectedly, the most difficult. I had to express a range of children’s emotions in the music of Kinderszenen, and also express Schumann’s own unique depth while at the same time controlling my own emotions. So it was very difficult for me, and sometimes during the recording I became really quite upset. (3) Of course it was also difficult to play Appassionata, both technically and mentally.
Now I have come to the end of my memorable first essay. I will write about unknown sides of me little by little from the next issue. Enjoy! ❞
1. On graduating from elementary school it is usual for students to be asked to write an essay about what kind of person they want to be. The essays by each year’s graduating pupils are collected and made into a book by the teachers.
2. The second part of this sentence is a little tricky to translate. The word “challenge” can also be translated as “try”. What Aimi seems to be saying here is that the engineers’ suggestions spurred her on to both raising her game and trying out different ways of playing a passage. For more on what seems to have been a fairly challenging (!) recording session for Aimi, see the interview with Hisae Odashima in CD Journal (translation on this site).
3. Again, Aimi seems to be referring to the circumstances of the recording sessions rather than to some effect of playing Schumann!
Recording her second CD. In the caption Aimi writes “I recorded Beethoven’s Pathétique and Appassionata sonatas and Schumann’s Kinderszenen. I am very grateful to my piano teacher, Mrs Ninomiya, and all of the staff for making the CD.”
— Just look at those contraptions on her ears!! (Click for a bigger version of the pics)
Experiences with competitions
I never forget to bring something essential with me, even in summer
❝ HOW ARE YOU DOING? It has been very cold this winter. I ate a lot over New Year and I got fat again. I’m still at the growing age!
My fingers don’t move as I want at concerts and competitions when it is so cold. So I always bring hand warmers (1) with me. Are there any people who play piano and bring hand warmers even in summer? I am one of them.
I entered a competition this winter. I kept my fingers warm by using hand warmers in my red gloves, which I have been using since I was a child. I think that among the readers there must be people who have entered piano competitions. Competitions are really bad for our bodies, aren’t they? Though I had practised piano twice as much as usual, I was twice as nervous. I could really feel my legs shaking with tension. However, I got a good result and I was happy with it. (2) Now I am going to talk about episodes from competitions.
Last year I entered a competition in Korea [in fact November 2009]. It was my first foreign competition. The day before we left I realized that I’d caught a newly spreading flu. Although I almost decided not to go, in the end I took the plane though it was really hard to do so. Somehow on the day before the competition I got over the illness — it’s my amazing powers of recovery! Anyway, at least I could play the piano. Maybe it’s because Korean meals taste pretty good. I like Jjigae (3) especially. But I found it very difficult to get through the memorial concerts after the competition because the schedule was very demanding and I’d only just recovered from the flu. The schedule was, for example, like this. Even if a party continued until late into the night, we gathered at 7.30 the next morning and were then on a bus for seven hours. I had little idea where we were going. Immediately after the bus trip we had a concert. We haven’t experienced anything like this in Japan.
Although I couldn’t speak English well, through music I became good friends with the Korean and Chinese candidates. These were happy experiences for me. The power of music is wonderful. But I felt that I needed English. I will study English.
My dream is to enter the International Chopin Piano Competition held in Warsaw. (4) My objectives in the coming five years are to add to my playing what I lack now and to play with emotional control. Even if I should come up against a big wall — something I’ve never yet experienced — I will try to overcome it, and my hope is that I will be able to arrive at the essence of music which I think ideal for me. Until then wait for me. I will surely bring hand warmers with me at the time. ❞
1. Ichiro thinks she is referring to the air-activated disposable hand warmers described on this Wikipedia page.
2. In this paragraph Aimi doesn’t tell us that she is referring to the 12th International Chopin Piano Competition in ASIA, where she gained a brilliant result. For more, see my Competitions page. Also see photo below.
3. A stew-like dish with meat, seafood or vegetables in a seasoned broth. Jjigae entry on Wikipedia.
4. A prestigious competition held every five years, with the next in 2015. Past winners include Pollini, Argerich, Ohlsson, Zimerman, Yundi Li, Blechacz, and, in 2010, Avdeeva. Competition entry in Wikipedia.
A rather indistinct newsprint photo of Aimi and Mrs Ninomiya with Piotr Paleczny, a jury member, at the 12th International Chopin Piano Competition in ASIA, which was held between October 2010 and January 2011. The photo is probably from the finals stage in January 2011.
Piotr Paleczny teaches piano at the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music in Warsaw, where he has been professor since 1998. Although Aimi says little about the competition here, I am told by a reliable source that jury members thought very highly of her winning performance of the Chopin concerto no. 2 and that an invitation was extended for her to play once again in Poland. Aimi is thought of so highly in Poland that she has been awarded a special cultural passport.
April 2011:To come
May 2011: Getting a visa for the United States
Report on how I got a visa at the US Consulate
I went for an interview for the visa at the end of March
I got my visa just before a four-day series of concerts,
with some suspense at the US Consulate ♪
❝ GOOD MORNING, readers of Chopin. In this issue I am going to report on my concerts and travels.
Right now I’m in front of the US Consulate in Akasaka [Tokyo]. I will have an interview to get the visa I need to go to my Carnegie Hall recital held during the Japan NYC Festival in April. If I didn’t have an interview today, I could not be in time for the departure [to the US]. Something must have gone wrong with the preparations for the visa, and I got the documents from the US very late. Now, even though it’s before 8 a.m., there is already a queue of more than 10 people at the entrance to the Consulate.
Starting today, I have three concerts in quick succession—in Tottori, Yamaguchi and Osaka. This is my first experience of having three concerts in four days. I could have arrived in Tottori yesterday and had enough time today to prepare for the concert. [But I had to] change my schedule suddenly so that I could do the interview for the visa. So now I have to catch the plane to Tottori, which leaves at 11 a.m., to be in time for the concert.
My father has come with me—he’s feeling restless and has been saying “dangerous, dangerous” (1) again and again for some time. At last the queue has began to move. Security guards are checking people’s bags, one by one. This looks like the first gate. Our electronic equipment, like cellular phones, and food and drink are taken away for a while. They will be returned after the interviews, though I have managed to drink a sip of hot cocoa I bought just before.
Next comes an infrared inspection of our bags. This is like the inspections at airports. When I applied for a visa to go to Brazil I never experienced anything like this. The policy of the US Consulate is very strict. Now at last I am inside the Consulate. I will have to go through another bag check, and another document check, before I am allowed to enter the place where they do the interviews. There is a heavy door, and beyond the door are many benches, like in a general hospital. Counting them, I see that there are 10 reception windows. It’s now 8:15. For the moment that looks OK, because we need to leave here by at least 9:30.
However, the curtains on the reception windows don’t open even at 8:30. My father is getting nervous with tension. At last, at 8:45, one of the windows opens. It is only no. 10 window, at the end. More than 100 people are now waiting in the waiting room. My father says “dangerous, dangerous” again, and he looks pale now. At last my number is called. It is 8:50. They take my fingerprints first. Then, at another reception window, I will have the interview for which I have been waiting for so long.
I am asked just two questions: “Since when have you been playing the piano?” and “What is your grade now?” I would be willing to answer more questions . . . (smile). The interview is over so quickly! Now it is 9:10. We are still in good time. It makes my father more relaxed than it makes me, as I am now a little nervous thinking about today’s concert.
In concerts I think that the most important thing is to keep up the tension. I will try to keep up a good level of tension during the four days from today. I will talk more about this in the next essay. Right now I am setting off for Tottori.
Now, me, Aimi Kobayashi, is going . . . . (2) ❞
Aimi wrote parts of this piece as if she was there and other parts in the past tense. In translating, we have kept to the present tense, as if she was writing up her experience as it happened.
1. In Japanese, her dad was saying:やばい、やばい , “yabai, yabai,” literally “dangerous, dangerous.”やばい means "dangerous, risky, awful, terrible". I guess that the equivalent English-speaking dad would be saying something like “bloody heck”, “this looks bad” or “this is awful”.
2. This is a nice touch. Ichiro says that here Aimi is adopting the exaggeratedly humorous tone of a male actor in a Japanese historical play when he is about to leave the stage — in her case, to set off for her big project of three concerts in a row. He says too that the expression “I am going to . . .” functions as a farewell greeting that carries the implied meaning “Good bye. See you again.”
Aimi with her US visa. The caption reads: “I was able to get my visa with no problem.” You will see that this was not quite true!
June, July 2011:To come
August 2011: Thoughts about summer and the upcoming Yasuko Fukuda competition
Thoughts on summer vacations . . . It will be hot this summer
❝ MY CHILDHOOD MEMORIES of summer vacations are of swimming in the sea, fireworks, and many other experiences I enjoyed only in the summer. I saw fireflies flying in the evening at the beginning of summer when I was an elementary school student in Ube city, Yamaguchi Prefecture. The old name of the town is Asa-Gun Kusunoki-machi Magura. The green of the farms would gradually get deeper in this season. At night, the frog calls and insect song were too noisy to sleep. I wasn’t yet old enough to have to go to summer school to prepare for the entrance exam to junior high school. I used to play in the hills with my friends, boys and girls, and go swimming in a pool at a school which was open to students. These are the things I did during the summer break.
There are other memories, too. I used to practise the piano for long periods in the summer (though my mother says that I played a lot without actually practising . . ). I went in for piano competitions that were held in the summer. When I entered a competition for the first time, my parents said that when I reached the national round of the competition we could go to Disneyland [in Tokyo]. I think that for me this became the main purpose rather than the piano! Luckily I got through to the national round. We went to Disneyland at the end of the summer vacation, but it was very crowded and we got very tired of the long queues for almost all the attractions there. I remember that I enjoyed just being there anyway, on my first visit to Disneyland.
My parents say that it was very difficult to find a place where I could practise when we went to Tokyo for the national round of a piano competition. It was very difficult for people from the provinces, people not familiar with Tokyo, to find a place near to the venue. Because I was little, I needed heavy pedal assists. It was difficult to bring my brother, who was a baby then, and the pedals with us, I hear [from my parents].
Candidates going in for piano competitions this summer, especially those from outside Tokyo, should take care. I think it will be hard.
I’m going in for a competition this summer, and I am practising new pieces so that I can enter it. The pieces are Prokofiev Piano Sonata no. 3 and Chopin Piano Sonata no. 2. They are difficult to play. I’m playing Prokofiev for the first time. I found it difficult to get used to his harmonies at first. [But] after practising I gradually became able to appreciate Prokofiev’s beautiful harmonies, and now I think the sonata is very cool [kakkoii]. Although I have played Chopin so many times, I find playing his sonata [no. 2] difficult. It’s difficult in a technical sense, because I have to use my hands all along the keyboard [she says “widely”], and it’s also difficult in terms of musical expression — to find a way of conveying the depth of the music. I can’t play the piece smoothly yet. However, I like Chopin very much, and I will adjust myself to play it in my own style of playing before the competition. I think I will need to practise all through the summer — and this summer it’s going to be hot! ❞
Click on the thumb to see the page in Japanese. The pic at bottom left of the article is of her in the pool when she was around 5th grade. Japanese summers are not just hot, they are very humid, so no one feels like doing very much, let alone sweat in a small room practising piano while your friends are at the beach! Details of the competition Aimi mentions are given on the Competitions page.
Here is the link for the contents of the August 2011 issue.
September 2011: Aimi’s three “challenges”
The three challenges I face
❝ HOW ARE YOU DOING? I think the days will still be hot when you read this essay. It is especially hot today. Though we need to save electricity this summer, I cannot bear this heat and I lowered the setting of the air conditioner temperature while writing this.
In this essay I’m going to write about the challenges I face now. 
The first is diet. I’ve been getting terribly fat recently. “Summer lethargy” usually makes people lose weight during a hot summer.  However, this doesn’t always apply in my case, and I ended up being called a “pig” by my family.  I have to be slim before school begins…
The second challenge is language. I would like to study in the US, but schools there won’t accept you if you can’t speak English. Getting into the college I want to go to depends on my passing TOEFL.  So at last I started to study [English seriously] recently. The test is said to be very difficult. I have begun to learn 3,000 words, which is a minimum requirement for the test. This makes me anxious because there are many words I don’t know. I want to speak [English] at a minimum level soon. I will try hard.
The last challenge, currently my top priority, is to change the way I play piano. I am taking this seriously now. When I play, I move around a lot. The harder I try to play as I want, the more I move my body. However, I was the only one who was happy with the way I played. If I move my body more than necessary, I can’t hear the sounds I’m making properly and I can’t make deep sounds [“深い音色 ” — she explains this a bit more below].
So, why do I move my body? Actually it’s supposed to be because I don’t have strong finger joints.  Since I can’t play with just the strength of my fingers, I depend completely on my body. Although I’ve been advised for a long time now about how to play piano, I thought that as long as I could play [well], it was all right. However, after I entered high school I had lessons with many teachers and they all gave me the same advice about how I should play. Since all of them were saying the same thing, I began to think that the way I played was not such a good idea. It’s not easy for me to correct what I do, though. I’m always conscious of my finger joints, I listen to the sounds I make, and when I practise I study how I can make deep sounds — sounds that are not superficial but deep. By doing this I can stop making unnecessary movements with my body. It’s a really difficult challenge, and I have to battle with it every day. I will work hard on this as long as it helps me lose weight! ❞
And there’s a comment under an accompanying photo: “English is important for my future. I am studying it using these texts.”
1. Aimi uses the word “課題 ”, meaning variously theme, matter, problem or target. We think the best translation is probably “challenge” or “issue”, meaning some obstacle she feels she has to overcome. So, the challenges she’s writing about here are her weight, moving too much when she plays, and learning English. She continues on these themes in the next essay (October).
2. “Summer lethargy”: In Japan it’s believed that people, especially their stomachs, get weak during the hot summer months, so they lose their appetite and get thinner.
3. Very impolite — only Aimi’s family could call her a pig and get away with it!
4. TOEFL is the Test of English as a Foreign Language, an internationally recognised qualification and set as an admission requirement for non-native speakers by many colleges and universities. What Aimi is saying here is noteworthy because it may be the first time she has openly talked of her plans to continue her piano studies abroad. She has in fact been trying, somewhat unenthusiastically, to learn English since at least late 2009, and by all accounts she hasn’t got very far with it!
5. The way Aimi says this in Japanese suggests that this rather strange idea (that why she moves so much is related to weak finger joints) isn’t in fact her own idea and was originally said by someone else. Literally she writes: “Actually, it was said that it’s because I didn’t have strong finger joints.”
October 2011: The Yasuko Fukuda auditions — and more on Aimi’s three challenges 
About the Yasuko Fukuda Scholarship Auditions . . .
Here I will report about my progress on the three challenges I face
❝ HELLO EVERYONE, how did you spend the summer? In my previous essay I mentioned the three issues I am currently facing, and this time I will report on the progress I have made. Over the summer I have been trying to deal with these problems.
The first one I mentioned was diet. Although my appetite has been as good as ever, the competition and practising for it towards the end of the summer put me under a lot of pressure, and I’m now a little bit lighter. What a pity no one noticed!
The next challenge I face is the most important — how I should play. I have been working on this very hard, and I have written about it before.  I won the competition this summer because of this effort. Thank you, all of you. I still have lots to do to correct the way I play.
I’d like to write more about the competition. This competition was a little different from other competitions. During the first two days we took lessons given by well-known professors from abroad, and after a one-day break we went into the final play-off on the last day of the competition. They evaluated not only if our piano playing was good, but also if we had made progress during the short period of the competition. There were three professors from abroad.
On the first day, Professor Katarzyna Popowa-Zydron from Poland taught me in detail about depth of harmony, the importance of the left hand [“bass”], and suggested that I shorten the breaks between the movements of the Chopin piano sonata no. 2.  Professor Alexander Braginsky from the USA taught me about pedaling in Prokofiev’s piano sonata no. 3. “Although there are 250 levels of pedaling,  most people know only two,” he told me, “so we have to study not just about the hands but also how to use the feet.” He said “Play it more simply and strongly than you are now.” Because I was playing it with too much emotion, it didn’t sound like Prokofiev should sound.  It was difficult for me . . .
On the second day, Professor William Grant Naboré from Italy gave me a lesson on Beethoven’s Appassionata sonata. Right from the start he pointed out my biggest problem, one that I have tried to overcome — the way I move my body when I play. He taught me a lot about how to make trills, tempos,  and balancing the sound, which were new to me. I found all this quite difficult [too] . . .
After the one-day break we had the finals. I was very nervous because I was the first in the order of play.  I told myself that I must believe in myself and feel positive, and then I went on to the stage. I thought carefully about my posture and the balance of the sound, and I listened with more attention than I usually do to how my playing sounded in the hall.
Since I played first, I was able to relax during the other competitors’ performances. Although in the end I won, I couldn’t believe that I would get the prize because they all played very well. I learned a lot from this competition.
In fact, to get the scholarship money I need a further qualification (sob!) — Eiken Grade 3 English or higher.  So this is another challenge for me! I must study English hard. ❞
1. See Note 1 under the September essay for an explanation of the Japanese term we have translated as “challenge”.
2. “. . . how I should play.” In the September issue she wrote that she was trying to correct her habit of moving excessively when she plays, so this is what she seems to be referring to.
3. Ichiro (who was there) says that Prof. Zydron suggested she play more strongly with her left hand, and that she should not pause so long between movements because long silences could detract from an audience’s enjoyment. Aimi did indeed observe this last advice in her performance on the third day.
4. Prof. Braginsky was talking about the 256 levels of pressure registered by the pedal on certain Yamaha electronic pianos, not, of course, on the pianos he and Aimi were using! He was illustrating the point that most pianists only use two levels — on and off. Ichiro says that he gave her advice on pedaling throughout his session with her.
5. Apparently Braginsky, commenting on the emotionally expressive nature of Aimi’s playing, advised her to play the sonata more simply — especially the slow second theme — or it would not sound like Prokofiev. Others have made similar observations about this performance.
6. Ichiro says this advice concerned when to maintain tempo and when to change it.
7. In Japan it is not considered lucky to be the first to do anything. Mrs Ninomiya has also commented on how nervous going first made Aimi!
8. Eiken — the Eiken Test in Practical English Proficiency— is a widely used test in Japan. There are 5 grades. Grade 3 is a benchmark proficiency level for junior high school graduates. Aimi has to pass this to collect her prize money. Eiken is a different test from the TOEFL test she mentioned in the September essay.
November 2011: Ensemble (trio) playing
I have turned sixteen years old and I am learning a new piano concerto and a trio
❝ It’s getting cold, especially in the morning and evening. Have you caught a cold? When I go to school I feel the chill strongly in the morning and evening, because since moving in October I have been walking there.  If I go by bicycle it’s very near. But I walk there, which takes about 20 minutes, to help my dieting. Since there are still many unpacked cardboard boxes at home, I practice piano at school at night. By the time I go back home it’s really cold outside, so I have a touch of a cold now. Readers, take care of yourselves, because it’s getting colder day by day.
Things have changed around me other than moving and the season. “Aimi Kobayashi turned sixteen years old on September 23rd.” Birthday presents are still being accepted. Don’t hesitate to give me one! (Smile)
“You cannot study abroad if you can’t put aside thoughts of yourself now you are 16,” people around me are saying. I don’t have any sense of being 16, and I am spending my days much as before. However, because I would at least like to hear people saying “Your playing is maturing year by year,” I will continue to study piano every day.
At the end of October I will play the Greig piano concerto with the Japan Philhamonic Orchestra, and in November a Mendelssohn piano trio.  I have always played concertos, but this is the first time I will be playing a trio. The opportunities for me to play chamber music have increased recently. I’m beginning to understand the enjoyment of playing chamber music, something that I didn’t appreciate while I was playing solo pieces. 
When we started to play the trio together, the ensemble wasn’t harmonized at all. I think this was because every player has their own way expressing themselves. We received a lot of advice from the professor --- for example, while the cello is playing a melody, the piano plays bass and should support the music. Then again, when the cello is playing bass, the piano should not play the melody too strongly so that there’s a balance between the two instruments. When the piano and violin sing a melody together, the piano shouldn’t sing it by itself but should sing the melody with the violin, with the pianist listening to how the violin is playing. I learned a lot from playing chamber music. By the end of the lesson we were more able to listen to the sound we were making and how we balanced with each other. Our playing was better harmonized and the music sounded more as it should!
I was able to find many ways to sing [the melodies] and to make sounds through the experience with the trio. The enjoyment of solo playing is that I can make music freely by myself. When we play chamber music, it is important to collaborate with one another to make a consensus in the music, and that is the enjoyment that chamber music gives. I’d like to play a lot of chamber music and find a variety of ways of singing and making sounds.
So, readers, please come to our concerts. We will play solos, concertos and trios. ❞
1. Aimi and her family have moved to a new apartment. It’s in the same ward as the Ninomiya’s apartment block where they lived previously and is near Toho Gakuen school, where she studies as a scholarship student.
2. I'’m afraid we still don’t know which of the two trios it is. I’ll try to find out. It was performed at a private function of the Industry Club of Japan on 1 November 2011. Aimi’s partners were two students from her school — see the photo below.
3. Aimi has in fact played chamber music before — Beethoven’s Spring sonata with Anastasia Chebotareva, which they performed in Tokyo in February 2009. It was a very nice performance and Aimi was certainly listening carefully to how Anastasia was playing!
Aimi with her trio partners during rehearsal of the Mendelssohn trio for a private performance at the Industry Club of Japan on 1 November 2011. The violinist is Kazuhito Yamane, a fine player in his own right. The cellist is Michiaki Ueno. All three study at Toho Gakuen.
I recommend having a listen to the sheer class of Kazuhito Yamane’s playing in this unidentified trio piece (piano + 2 violins) on YouTube. If this is the quality of students at Toho Gakuen it is truly outstanding. YouTube link (7:23).
December 2011: More on ensemble playing
Always looking forward to meeting new people!
Thank you for reading my essays this year.
❝ Hello everyone. It’s already a year since I started writing these essays. After all this time I should be able to write this final essay in the series “Aimi Kobayashi Always Happy Music” very quickly. I wrote and sent all my essays to Abe-san [her editor at CHOPIN Magazine] at the last possible moment for each issue. I’m very sorry for always being late! I am writing this on the plane to Ube, my home town, while drinking apple juice. I’m going there to give a concert.
When I started to play piano I would never have imagined that I would be doing things like this. There’s no way I could have foreseen what I would be doing in the future. Although I have to admit that life is sometimes tough these days, there are always new things happening, which actually makes me feel excited every day.
In the previous issue I wrote a little about a piano trio I was playing in. We gave the concert the day before yesterday. We had very little time to prepare and we practised even during lunch breaks. Sometimes we got a bite to eat, other times we didn’t.  I even had a go on the violin. We were very busy. After all this hard work we performed the piece at the concert and it was really enjoyable. We collaborated with one another—that is, we were able to express ourselves while thinking about the other players. Although it is difficult to put into words, we got a lot of satisfaction from this sense of collaboration during the concert. I understood the enjoyment of ensemble for the first time, as it was the first time I have done it. My dream, my ambition now is to get to know not just piano music but also other types of music, like symphonies and chamber music, and to get to know about the music not just superficially but deeply.
Since I used not to like what I had never tried, I feel that I have improved a lot as a result of this experience. Now I must work hard to try things that I have not done before. I’ll probably find that they are most enjoyable when I remember them afterwards.
The plane is now landing at Yamaguchi Ube Airport . . . I am looking forward to new encounters tomorrow. Readers, thank you for reading my essays for a whole year. See you later, and best wishes to you! ❞
1. What Aimi actually wrote here translates literally as “with eating (without eating?)” and is a jokey way of expressing yourself for which there doesn’t seem to be a precise equivalent in English.
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