Blind musician Kikuchi readies for more concerts after Paralympics glory

by William Hollingworth

Kyodo

Blind musician Takashi Kikuchi is on a high after playing in front of a global audience at the Paralympic Games and is now preparing for more performances with the prestigious British Paraorchestra.

The 43-year-old Kikuchi is one of several elite disabled musicians chosen earlier this year to form the Paraorchestra, which performed alongside Coldplay during the Paralympics closing ceremony in London in September.

Kikuchi describes the experience as a career high and is now in discussions with the Paraorchestra and the London-based Inner Vision Orchestra on further concerts and recitals.

As well as his orchestral work, the viola player, who has been blind from birth, teaches visually impaired students at the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal National Institute of Blind People. He is also researching ways to simplify the Braille used by visually impaired people when reading music.

“It was a tremendously special and unique experience,” Kikuchi said of the Paralympics. “I felt grateful to be able to share my emotions with a TV audience of millions.”

Kikuchi started creating music at an early age. At 3 he was playing the piano and at 4 the violin.

But, as with many blind musicians, he found the learning process arduous.

This is because he can’t see the instructor’s physical movements and has to learn all the musical theory — keys or rhythms — by Braille.

Kikuchi, originally from Tokyo, also has to either learn the tunes by ear or read the music using Braille and memorize it in advance of each performance.

“It’s a painful process because it takes time . . . but I keep on doing it because playing music is a wonderful process,” he said.

Kikuchi first went to London in 1999 as part of his studies at Tokyo University of the Arts and later moved there permanently. He was drawn by the British capital’s cultural heritage and cosmopolitan makeup.

In 2010, Kikuchi joined the Inner Vision Orchestra, a group of visually impaired musicians, many of whom have international backgrounds.

Kikuchi also composes, finding inspiration in the great composers such as Mozart, Elgar, Schubert and Bach, as well as Japanese folk music.

He says London’s Paralympics were extremely positive for the disabled. “They highlighted the realities and difficulties around disabled people and people are now motivated to look into the needs around disabled people.”