Talk

The Allure of the Shamisen: A Japanese Musical Tradition

 
Talk
Tuesday, March 19, 6:30 PM 

Played as accompaniment to kabuki plays and traditional puppet theater or by geisha, the three-stringed shamisen has been an integral part of traditional Japanese music for centuries. Janet Pocorobba, author of The Fourth String: A Memoir of Sensei and Me, took a more unconventional path, apprenticing under her eccentric sensei while living abroad in Japan. At this talk, Pocorobba will discuss the history and features of the shamisen, illuminate her own journey learning to play this enigmatic Japanese instrument, and give a demo performance. Moderated by Bradley Strauchen-Scherer, Associate Curator in the Department of Musical Instruments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.



Janet Pocorobba’s involvement with Japan includes two decades of performing Japanese arts on two continents. She plays shamisen, the three drums of the kabuki orchestra (kotsuzumiotsuzumi, and shimedaiko), and Japanese dance. In the United States Janet has lectured on Japanese music and taught shamisen individually, and has performed in concert halls, schools, museums, culture fairs, and backyards. In 2009, she created and toured 17 Views of a Shamisen, a spoken-word and music performance relating the paradoxes and angst of cross-cultural living that fans called “a Japanese Alice’s Restaurant!” In Tokyo Janet was a features writer and editor for Metropolis, Tokyo’s #1 English-language magazine. Her work has appeared in The RumpusThe WriterHarvard Review[Nixes Mate]Kyoto JournalIndiana Review, and others. She is currently associate professor and associate director of the Low-Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Lesley University. 

Dr. Bradley Strauchen-Scherer is a curator in the Department of Musical Instruments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she led the renovation and reinterpretation of the five music galleries. She is particularly interested in the intersections between music, instruments, art and social history and strives to create a dialogue between these elements in her exhibition work, writing and teaching. Before moving to New York, Bradley was Deputy Keeper of Musical Instruments at the Horniman Museum, London and visiting lecturer at Goldsmith’s College, University of London. She received her PhD from the University of Oxford and is an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music. Exhibitions include The Art of Music (MMA permanent galleries 2019), Celebrating Sax (MMA 2014). She has written on topics ranging from organology to timbre, collections history and opera. Publications include the book Musical Instruments: Highlights of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Bradley is a performer on both historical and modern French horns.

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