Sara Kono – Our Bluegrass Visitor from Kyoto

There we all were, in a tight little circle playing bluegrass music one Wednesday night at the Pirate Canoe Club when the door opened and a young woman (who looked as if she were a teenager) with a mandolin walked into the room.  She quietly took a seat on the perimeter of the circle.  When we asked her to tell us her name, she hesitatingly answered, “Sara” in an unmistakable Japanese accent.

Oh, and then when we asked further questions, it was immediately obvious that Sara did NOT speak English very well and certainly did NOT understand us well (imagine a cacaphony of voices all speaking at once in what must have sounded like complete babel).

However, Sara could certainly play her mandolin and, although she did not know even one of our songs, she adeptly and bravely played beautiful solos, smiled her winning smile when we oooohed and aaaahed, and won our hearts that night.  Her “mandarin” playing needed no translation.

The following week, Steve and I drove Sara to Grey Fox.  We had to communicate via an electronic translator at times, but the thing that stood out was that Sara was eager to learn, to take on the new, and faced life with an upbeat, positive outlook.  Maybe it’s her Buddhist upbringing but, whatever it is, she absolutely lit us up.

We arrived at Grey Fox, parked our car (we are wimps and we stayed at a nearby motel), and Sara immediately got to work.  She unpacked her tent and, within only 10 minutes, was completely set up and ready to GO.  And, go she did!  She tried new food, joined ongoing jams,  went to workshops, tried out her English skills and found bluegrass in her heart.

For three short months, the Hudson Valley shone even brighter with her presence.  Soon she will be leaving, but we fervently hope that she will return soon and stay!!!
Lynn Lipton

Q.  Have you always been musical? When did you start playing an instrument, and what instrument was it?
Yes, I’ve always loved music. About four years ago, I started to play the mandolin.

Q.  Tell us a little about yourself – where you grew up, where you live, your work, your interests, family – anything you’d like to share with us.
I was born July, 1983 and grew up in a Buddhist temple in Fukuyama city, Hiroshima, with two younger sisters.  My father is a Buddhist priest. Because I graduated from Ohtani Buddhism College in Kyoto and became a certified Buddhist priest, I worked as an assistant priest for a while.  Most of the other time I was living in Kyoto.
For the last two years, I was working for a record production company in Japan as a touring musician. The name of the band is called, “Futari-nori” which means “two-person ride”.  We’ve toured all over Japan from Hokkaido to Kyushu.   We’ve recorded six CDs.  I had to leave the production for some troubles, but it was a good opportunity for me to jump into a new world.

Q.  What has been your musical journey?
When I was in college, I was asked to join some country band, but I couldn’t play any musical instrument at that time. They needed a guitar or mandolin player. That’s why I started to play mandolin.  This band didn’t last too long.  One girl from the band and I started to play together.  We were a small two-girl band and played electric bass and mandolin. We wrote our own music in various styles; folk, rock, pop… whatever we felt like playing.  One day we got called from a record company in Tokyo and we started our professional musical career.  It was really an exciting time and I’ve learned a lot, but for some reason I was not comfortable working with them.  After leaving the company and coming to the Mid-Hudson, NY, I started to feel much better and enjoy music more than before.

Q.  Were there any musicians in your family that influenced your interest in music?
Yes, my father plays some instruments a little. My parents love music. They took me to a lot of gigs when I was a child.

Q.  When did you first hear BG music, and who were your early influences on the mandolin?
Maybe it was six years ago – I went to some music concert.  I didn’t know who was playing, but I was very impressed with a mandolin player who played on one of Ry Cooder’s albums.  I was a teenager.  That was when I discovered the mandolin.

Q.  Why did you choose to come to the Mid-Hudson Valley and what are the high points of your visit?
My aunt Satomi is Youko Yamamoto’s best friend – she introduced her to me. Because Youko lives in the Mid-Hudson Valley and she’s a Bluegrass lover, she invited me to her Bluegrass world, believing that I’ll get connected with the right kind of people and right kind of music.
I met many people in the Mid-Hudson Valley who love music and are warm hearted.  They taught me a lot of important things for my life.  This is the most precious point of my visit.

Q.  How did you discover the HVBA?
Youko is a member of the HVBA, and she hooked me up with Lynn and Steve Lipton.  Without their help and generosity, my Bluegrass journey in NY wouldn’t have become so magnificent.

Q.  Sara, use this question to discuss anything that you want to say…anything at all that we didn’t include.

I want to thank to every single person I met in the Mid-Hudson Valley.  Especially my dear band, the American Fork Bluegrass Ensemble; Jeff Anzevino, Rich Hinds, Rusty Boris, I can’t thank you enough for the most precious time you gave me.  You all gave me a lot of lessons, and a lot of fun.

I’ll keep on playing.  I’ll come back as soon as possible.

Lynn Lipton

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