Seeing violinist Narimichi Kawabata in the spotlight at a concert, people often believe him to be one of the lucky few who have made a career out of what they love.
The 29-year-old, however, says that it was by sheer chance that he became a violinist and that it took nearly 20 years of practice, day in and day out.
“I never thought to pursue it as an occupation. For me, playing the violin is more like going through a difficult time than being happy.”
Kawabata lost his sight when he was 8 years old, probably as a side effect of medication he took after suffering a bout of fever during a trip to Los Angeles.
With his parents concerned about his future, he began to study the violin as a 10 year old because it was something he was able to do without needing to see.
“Becoming a violinist is something that never would have happened had the accident not occurred,” Kawabata said.
After graduating from Toho Gakuen School of Music, Kawabata won a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music in Britain, from where he graduated in 1997 with the highest mark in his class.
The scores of aspiring musicians gathered at the academy from around the world obviously heightened competition at the academy, but Kawabata said the environment did not tickle his competitive spirit as he never compared himself or his own abilities to others.
“I feel more embarrassed when I fail to satisfy myself” rather than being ranked below others, he said.
According to Kawabata, winning or losing means nothing in the field of music. “The (important) thing is how you express yourself when you play and it is impossible to rank that,” he said.
Kawabata pointed out that coming out on top in a contest does not necessarily reflect whether a musician will definitely succeed, adding that a candidate who places second or even someone deemed unqualified to compete in that contest might become better later.
He added, however, that the current trend in Japan of “classifying” people or companies into winners and losers — “kachigumi” or “makegumi” — can cause a sense of depression.
“Music can never be assessed objectively, whether it is good or not. To play with good technique is important, but that is not what it is all about,” he said.
This also holds true in the business arena, he said. “Always being pressured to win is psychologically unhealthy. Where there is a winner, there will always be a loser, but I can still win at heart when I find myself satisfied that I did my best,” he stressed.
“Actually, losing can even be better than winning, because it makes you think about what went wrong and how it can be improved, thus making you stronger,” Kawabata said.
He admitted that he has gone through some difficult times after first picking up the violin, but he never gave it up — simply because he has been too stubborn.
Thanks to this unyielding character and after years of playing without thinking why, he has finally come to realize that the instrument is a tool through which he is able to express himself.
“Actually, I never had the time to think whether playing the violin is what I really wanted. I just kept doing it because it was there,” he said.
As for the recent trend among young Japanese to roam from one part-time job to the next in the hope of finding something they really want to do, Kawabata said, “If someone is not sure about what he wants to do, simply wandering may not always be a good solution.”
“Appreciating what is given to you in your surroundings and trying to get something out of it is also important because judging a job as not worth doing after only a short period means you never get to know where the interest in it lays,” he pointed out.
“As for me, (what was given to me) happened to be the violin and pursuing it for about 20 years has finally enabled me to find fun in it,” Kawabata said. “And I still have a long way to go.”
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