Gagaku player learnt ancient music at 18

Hideki Togi, who will be performing at Singapore-Japan (SG-JP) Music Mix 2016 this month, comes from a long line of Japanese musicians in gagaku, a type of classical music played in his country's ancient imperial courts that dates back 1,300 years.

But as a young man, he harboured dreams of being a rock musician. It was only in his late teenage years that he developed an interest in gagaku.

"I started to learn gagaku at 18 years old, which is a very late age," he says through a translator in an interview conducted via Skype.

His late entry to learning gagaku turned out to be a good thing, he adds. "By the time I learnt gagaku, I had already been exposed to many other types of music. That gave me a different perspective in approaching the music. There are so many possibilities."

Gagaku player Hideki Togi with a sho, a Japanese reed music instrument.
Gagaku player Hideki Togi with a sho, a Japanese reed music instrument. PHOTO: SG-JP MUSIC MIX COMMITTEE

  • BOOK IT / SG-JP MUSIC MIX 2016 - SJ50 SPECIAL EDITION

  • WHERE: Victoria Concert Hall, 9 Empress Place

    WHEN: Nov 30, 7.30pm

    ADMISSION: $38, $58 and $78 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

His father was a travelling businessman, so Togi grew up overseas and listened to all kinds of music, including classical, rock and jazz, as well as taught himself to play several instruments.

Before taking gagaku seriously, he played the guitar and piano in several bands.

Togi, 57, was speaking to The Straits Times ahead of his first performance in Singapore at the Victoria Concert Hall on Nov 30. The show also features Tokyo-born, Singapore-raised singer Sachiyo Nakagaki, better known as Sachiyo, and home-grown acts Dick Lee, Shabir and Olivia Ong.

The SG-JP Music Mix 2016 concert, previously known as the Singapore Meets Japan Music Project, has been held annually since 2014.

This year's performance is held in conjunction with SJ50, a series of events to mark the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Singapore and Japan.

The Singapore and Japanese artists will be putting a new twist to some familiar tunes.

Nakagaki, who is also the concert's producer, says: "The first set of the concert will comprise signature songs with a twist by the individual artists. The second set will be a unique collaboration where audiences can expect the extraordinary.

"For example, a xinyao medley done in bossa nova and in various styles as well as Malay songs performed in the style of swing jazz."

This will suit Togi just fine.

While he had joined Japan's Imperial Household Agency - where he played the hichiriki, a type of flute, and other instruments such as biwa, a lute, as well as performed in ceremonies at the Imperial Palace - he also built up his name by fusing gagaku with contemporary genres.

He often added instruments such as the piano and synthesizers.

Now a producer, composer and arranger with more than 20 albums to his name, Togi hopes that his performance in Singapore and a gagaku workshop he is conducting after the show will lead to more interest in the Japanese genre in Singapore.

"It does not matter if the audience does not speak the same language, I communicate through music. I want them to enjoy themselves."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2016, with the headline 'Gagaku player learnt ancient music at 18'. Print Edition | Subscribe