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Hiroya Tsukamoto has an orchestra at his fingertips


WEDNESDAY, April 3 — Hiroya Tsukamoto is the second greatest fingerstyle guitarist in the world, according to the 2018 International Fingerstyle Guitar Championship. His guitar of choice? A Martin OM-42 he purchased from Elderly Instruments 25 years ago.

“A friend of mine who used to live in Ann Arbor bought it,” Tsukamoto said.

“He came to my show last year in Lansing and he said his muscles were getting weaker, so he couldn't play much now. He didn’t want to sell it to anybody and he asked me, ‘Do you want to use this guitar?’ I said, ‘Yes. It is a great guitar.’”

This guitar has now traveled around the U.S. and the world in the hands of Tsukamoto.

For one night only, Tsukamoto will bring his trance-like fingerstyle prowess to the Robin Theatre. His influences span American, Japanese and South American roots music. He is also an avid storyteller and incorporates poetry into his performance.

The moment that changed Tsukamoto’s life trajectory came from when his dad brought home a five-string banjo from a thrift shop in Japan. The instrument, famed for being played on porches of the American South, was a definite oddball in Tsukamoto’s hometown of Kyoto.

“I didn’t know what it was but I liked the fact that nobody had it,” Tsukamoto said. “It was hard. There was no way to find a banjo instructor, so I tried to teach myself from a record — bluegrass music is pretty fast.”

The first songs he learned came from a friend who lent him a bluegrass record. It was “Foggy Mountain Banjo,” by Earl Scruggs — a pioneer of bluegrass music.

Looking back, when he transitioned to playing guitar, the patterns of the bluegrass banjo music were ingrained in his right hand controlling the rhythm, Tsukamoto said.

His guitar pursuits later intensified when he earned a scholarship to Berklee College of Music in 2000, majoring in Spanish. While there, he was drawn to the Nueva Cancion style of South America and spent time learning how to perfect this style of playing.

Tsukamoto will continue touring throughout the U.S. until December.

“Playing gigs on the road in different places gives an artist different inspirations for composing,” Tsukamoto said. “When I play, I think of the moment when I composed the piece. I also think about the places and the people too.”

This translates to the live show when Tsukamoto can place the audience in a trance-like state.

“People sometimes say that after seeing my concert, they tell me I took them to different places.”

Tsukamoto said practicing guitar is like practicing the martial arts — you can always improve.

“Playing shows, I just have a simple concept that I wanted to be better every time. Practice and getting better every time gives me the drive to play more.”

What Tsukamoto is practicing now is being in the moment with music and not thinking about the chords.

“I want to be at the level where I don’t have to think anything when I perform. It is freedom.”

For more information, visit hiroyatsukamoto.com

Hiroya Tsukamoto: Cinematic Guitar Poetry

Thursday, April 4

7:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

$12 online and $15 at the door

The Robin Theatre

1105 S. Washington Ave., Lansing



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