Chattanoogan: Kayoko Dan – It’s All Or Nothing

Monday, November 11, 2013 - by Jen Jeffrey

While moderation may bring balance, Kayoko Dan, conductor of the Chattanooga Symphony and Orchestra, embraces certain obsessions to help motivate her.

Born in Japan, Kayoko was a very easy child to raise. She did not like attention and mostly wanted to go unnoticed. “I don’t think that ‘shy’ is a good word to describe me because I’m not, but I am stubborn and I am really strong-willed and I don’t always let people know what I am thinking,” she says.

 “I had no rebellious bone in my body, so if my mother told me, ‘stay here’ I would just stay there - which is completely opposite of my sister Chieko. I did everything that I was supposed to, but I never really exceeded in anything,” Kayoko admits.

When she was just eight years old, her parents Norio and Tomiko moved the two daughters to the United States as Norio’s banking job had brought them to Houston.

“The language was very different and when I came here and I couldn’t speak English. Some of the kids would make fun of my accent, so I was pretty much mute for the next three years until I learned how to speak,” Kayoko says. “I sang in the  school choir and I think I shocked my classmates when I had tried out for a solo part and, that was the first time some of them had heard my voice.”

Kayoko took piano lessons when she was three years old and was introduced to a few instruments in kindergarten such as the pianica. Music education was costly in Japan and moving to the U.S. gave Kayoko opportunities that she may not have had otherwise.

“I studied the flute too and I think that was probably my first obsession. I am one of those people to get obsessed with something - and it’s all or nothing. I exceeded in that instrument and then, when you do well, you get to be featured and I think that kind of brought me out,” Kayoko insists.

“That was good because it was something that I believed in and was confident about. I didn’t do it for the attention, but being recognized for the work that I was doing was nice.” she says.

Houston had an exceptional music education program and Kayoko was impressed with her teachers.

“I knew that I wanted to teach music and that is when the idea of becoming a conductor first formulated. I knew I wasn’t going to be a professional flute player and I had such great teachers - I wanted to be like them. I loved my flute teacher Karl Kraber, and I didn’t want to disappoint him. I knew that the better I got on my flute, I could be a better teacher,” Kayoko says.

She attended the University of Texas and was in the marching band, but she developed a love for orchestra music.

“I felt there was a much deeper history behind orchestra and I love the string sound,” Kayoko says.

Through the support of her conducting teacher, Kayoko was able to put together a recital and create her own opportunities for audition.

“As a performer you can record yourself, but when you conduct to a camera and there is no sound coming out, you don’t know if you are good or not so you need to record yourself conducting a group, and getting that opportunity is really hard,” Kayoko maintains.

Kayoko achieved her masters in music education and her doctorate in conducting. She was a teaching assistant at the college and just two weeks after she finished her degree, she was able to get on with the Phoenix Symphony as assistant conductor for three years.

“I was basically a back-up person in case the orchestra leader got sick. I had to be ready at a moment’s notice. It was always nerve racking because I never knew if I was supposed to be on the podium or not. But it was great because I got to learn so much of the music in a short amount of time and it made me more efficient in how I study music and learn music,” Kayoko says.

In 2009, she moved to Kentucky to lead the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra where she stayed until receiving the call from Chattanooga. Kayoko married Andrew Temple in 2011 - the same year that she took the offer with the CSO.

“As I was driving home, I got the call and I almost drove off the highway.  I wanted to stop the car and just cry a little bit. I had no expectations when I had come here. I had researched the city and …you can look at pictures and try to prepare yourself, but it’s not the same as being here,” Kayoko beams.

When I visit a city for the first time, if it is delightful out, I will go for a run. I had asked the concierge of the Read House which way to go and he suggested North on Broad Street and hit the pedestrian bridge. There were people everywhere, at the Aquarium, the Discovery Museum… people walking, energy buzzing and flowers blooming! I thought, ‘It’s like a paradise here…’ and going down Walnut Street was beautiful. I really wanted this job then,” she says exuberantly.

Kayoko didn’t think she would be considered as a candidate because she was a fill-in person. She didn’t have time to prepare a persona that she felt the CSO was looking for.

“I think it worked for me that I wasn’t prepared to be this ‘professional maestro type’ of person because the committee and board members here are really down to earth, and I think they would have seen right through me if I was being fake,” Kayoko says. “They were so sincere and I felt really comfortable being myself. It was one of those chemistry things you can’t really explain.”

Kayoko met Maestro Robert Bernhardt in April during the time of his last concert as conductor. “He is so sweet and he even called me during my audition week to wish me luck. Luckily, he is still supportive and he is gracious to come to the concerts that I conduct. Chattanooga didn’t have to lose him – he is still a part of the symphony,” she insists.

Kayoko’s other interests vary. She and her husband Andrew are both triathletes and have a lot of interests in common. They like to work out together in their own set up at home with their bikes in front of the television. Kayoko teaches yoga and prenatal yoga at Thrive Studio in Coolidge Park. She also likes to knit and meets with a group at the studio on Wednesdays.

“I have wished for colder climates so that I could actually wear the stuff I have made,” she teases.“I have made sweaters, hats and a pumpkin for Halloween …and I made dreadlocks for my dog… just random things. It’s my latest obsession.”

When asked if she needed obsession in her life, Kayoko nods and says, “Yes, I do it this way because it makes sense to me. Everything I do makes me whole as a person.  I have to get into something 100 percent or either zero percent - it’s all or nothing.”

Kayoko’s passion for music is obvious when conducting a performance and the energy she draws fills the air.

“I am a musician - that’s a given. It is who I was since I was three. You can’t take music out of me. It is embedded in me and it isn’t just my hobby. I am still young as a conductor and I am still evolving. I don’t yet know what I am contributing to the orchestra, but my goal is to get better at every concert and be better than the previous season - and we are, we are working really hard,” Kayoko vows.

“We want to play different genres of music with appropriate style and character and I think about this a lot. When I was teaching the youth orchestra, I felt like I was contributing a lot to the students’ education, but here I feel like I am getting more out of the exchange. I am learning a lot and I have grown a lot in the last two years - thanks to the musicians. I feel like I am getting the better end of the deal,” she confesses.

Kayoko explains what her purpose is in each performance as she recalls the insight someone had once shared with her. When asked what the term ‘conductor’ meant, she thought of the scientific definition and she heard her words as she spoke them which unveiled the true meaning.

“A conductor is something that transmits energy. I thought about it and when I look at the music, all of that energy the composer put in it is there. My job is to transmit that energy to the musicians. My teacher always said, ‘You are the only person on stage who isn’t making any sound… how are you going to make music through other people?’  So through the energy the composer put into music; I am transferring that energy to the musicians and, through the musicians, I am able to express the composer’s wish,” Kayoko says.

“And, when I put my two cents in through my gestures, whether it is hand gestures, body language or a facial expression …or the way I flick my hair, I communicate that to the musicians and they transmit that to the audience. It is like this cycle of energy, and it doesn’t end there because the audience gives back the energy,” Kayoko illuminates.

Attending a live concert is unlike listening to music from a recording. A great sound combined with the moods and vitality of the performance gives an extraordinary feeling to the audience member that cannot be matched.

“When they are excited, we feel it and we play better. You can only experience that kind of exchange through a live performance,” Kayoko insists.

Determined, as she works to achieve these thrilling quests, Kayoko’s desire is to create an environment where the audience is moved by all emotions.

“I want you to feel so electrified and so good that you are part of this experience,” she says, “Whether you are the musician or the audience member, we all create this one-time-only performance.”

jen@jenjeffrey.com


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