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Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto

Koto (Japanese harp), Vocals

Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto, a native of Oakland, California, continues a long tradition of Japanese koto music in America. This tradition began when her mother was encouraged to learn the koto as a young girl in the American relocation camps of World War II.

Given a koto with no strings, Muramoto's grandfather, Yasuki Hori, fashioned strings by tying reeds together. He made ji (tuning bridges) by carving wood scraps and toothbrush handles. Yasuki learned the shakuhachi (bamboo flute) to play songs with his two daughters and encouraged their practicing.

From childhood, Muramoto was fortunate to receive training on various styles of koto music from such masters as Kazue Kudo, Tomoko Sunazaki, Yoko Gates and from her mother, Madame Kazuko Muramoto.

In 1976, Muramoto received her Shihan degree (Instructor's license) with Yushusho (highest ranking honors) at the Chikushi School in Fukuoka, Japan.

Her ability to perform on the koto from traditional to contemporary to jazz gives her the distinction of being one of the few koto musicians to be able to perform in a variety of styles.

She has performed at various universities, concerts and events in the U.S., Canada and Japan, including performances with cinematic composer Maurice Jarre, the Sacramento Symphony, the Marin Symphony and with shakuhachi master John Kaizan Neptune.

Muramoto has performed for dignitaries such as San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, former Secretary of State George Schultz, Vice President Al Gore and Mikhael Gorbachev.

As director of the Murasaki Ensemble, Muramoto's objective is to express creative collaborations with other artists and with the Ensemble in expression of the "World Beat."

"I have a strong desire to keep the legacy of the koto alive in America and perhaps in Japan as well," says Muramoto. "It's an irony that it's becoming rare in its place of origin due to changing attitudes and changing ways. The koto is not only versatile but a highly adaptive musical instrument -- only continuing its study will keep the art alive."