Japanese Otsuki Award
"I can see 'smiles' in their applause"
Taro Masuda (40, male, violinist)
Photo: Taro Masuda
photo by M-pro

"It might sound a little off-the-cuff, but I'd like to find out who's here today. Let's begin with the ratio of men to women. Gentlemen, please clap your hands." After I say this to the audience, there's general applause throughout the room. "Thank you. And now ladies, please!"
"Aha, men's clapping and women's clapping sound different, don't they? The men's clapping makes a sound like 'pan, pan, pan', whereas the women's sounds like 'pachi, pachi, pachi'." At that, everyone laughs.
"OK, how many people are hearing the violin for the first time?" Along with concerts where I sing and play violin, I give concerts where I entertain by both chatting and playing music. In these concerts, I have a routine of doing "applause research" after finishing my opening piece.
There are other aspects of the audience I research, apart from the ratio of men to women. Depending on the situation, I might find out how many students from a school are in each grade, or, if it's a municipal arts festival, I might find out how many people are locals and how many are visitors.
After starting my applause research, the most interesting thing I've noticed is that there are different ways of clapping. Women's applause is high-toned and quick, and often more cheerful than men's applause. The organizers' applause sounds hearty and has a generous rhythm.
As I talk to second-grade junior high school students, after having spoken to the first-graders, there's a burst of applause from a group sitting further away. When I hear one child's applause standing out from the others', I imagine that the loud clapper must be the joker in his class and that he's really been looking forward to his turn to clap. Thoughts like this help me to get closer to the people in front of me and perform with more feeling.
The audience doesn't just listen to the chat-and-play concerts, they also take an active role. It's never simply a one-way communication process; rather, there is a meeting of minds in the performance space.
There is one memory I have of applause that I will never forget. It happened the day I gave a live performance in Chiba prefecture. The audience numbered 250, all of whom were municipal staff. While I had played for audiences from many regions and of all ages -- from kindergartens to elderly nursing homes -- this was my first experience of performing for an audience made up completely of municipal staff.
I wondered what I should say and what songs I should sing to the officials. As the day drew near, I grew more and more nervous. Still anxious two days before the concert, I remembered a bibliography of audio books I'd received from the city office after I became blind.
I felt that receiving a physical disability certificate was like declaring my blindness to the whole world. But as I heard my mother read the titles of the books on the list, I was greatly encouraged. It was like receiving a message from people working in the city office saying, "You're still a citizen of this city, even if you're blind. So feel free to use these audio books". Since that day, I've kept up a reading pace of one book every three days. I actually have a richer literary life now than when I could see.
I then realized that I'd been given a chance to thank the city office staff directly. My anxiety melted and I felt a burst of joy.
On the day of the performance, the atmosphere in the audience was a little tense to begin with, but it gradually warmed up as I talked and played. Finally, when I finished singing the last number with a feeling of gratitude towards the audience, the venue filled with applause very different from any I'd heard before. It seemed that the applause itself was smiling.
I could virtually see the smiles of the people who were clapping, and felt a lump in my throat. The applause was so loud it drowned out the last curtain call, and it continued for a long time, even after I'd gone backstage.
These days, I often hear that more and more people are having difficulty expressing themselves, or that different generations are having trouble communicating with one another. But I don't agree. I believe everybody has warmth in their heart and wants to connect with other people.
Having heard a lot of applause over the years, I realize there are certain moments when we can communicate through music, even if we don't exchange words. I hope I can continue to sing and connect with as many people as possible, so I can feel the smiles in their applause.

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