Japanese troubadour to perform in Arizona as part of music and art series

September 4, 2018

Japanese performer Tsutomu Arao will present a musical program of "The Tale of the Heike" at Arizona State University’s Katzin Concert Hall on Sept. 24. His performance of musical storytelling with the accompaniment of the biwa (lute) is part of a larger program of events that includes a display of Japanese prints relating to "The Tale of the Heike" from the Frank Lloyd Wright Collection at Taliesin West together with prints from the ASU Art Museum collection. These will be available for viewing by appointment in the Jules Heller Print Study Room of the ASU Art Museum. These prints, all from the 19th century, illustrate characters and episodes from "The Tale of the Heike" and related literature and theater, and many feature verses by famous poets alluding to related stories.

"The Tale of the Heike" is the greatest of all Japanese warrior tales and one of the seminal works that have shaped Japanese literature, theater, art and film down to the present day. The Heike were the most powerful clan in the late 12th century and had close ties to the Imperial Court. The story is about the battle between the Heike and another powerful clan, the Genji, and it ends with the total defeat of the Heike in the tragic sea battle at Dan-no-ura. Wandering troubadours, blind musicians, chanted the tale, and later poets and playwrights took inspiration from it. Tsutomu Arao Tsutomu Arao performs Gion Shōja from "The Tale of the Heike" on Feb. 24, 2013, at Rokkakudō, Izura, Kita-Ibaraki City. Download Full Image

Tsutomu Arao plays the biwa (a lute that originated in Persia or Central Asia, much like the Chinese pipa) while singing"The Tale of the Heike." He is one of the very few people who can recite the whole story in the original style from the 13th century, and he has established a school to preserve this style for the future.

He is also a special lecturer at Keio University, one of the oldest and most prestigious private universities in Tokyo. By the end of 2016, he had performed Heikyoku more than 900 times. His most recent performance outside of Japan was at the Tchaikovsky State Conservatory in 2016, when he was one of the invitees from many countries around the world. This will be the first performance in the United States of this style of Heikyoku. In modern Japan, many biwa performers rely on rapid, dramatic strumming of chords. Arao, however, preserves the original heikyoku emphasis on vocal performance, which relies on a variety of traditional modes of narration and song, often punctuated by short, single-string phrases from the biwa, to express the changing drama of the tale. While in Arizona, Arao will also perform at the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University.

The American architect Frank Lloyd Wright became interested in Japanese art in the 1890s, and in 1905 he traveled to Japan. From that time to his late years spent at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, he maintained his collecting and studying of Japanese prints. Prints that he once owned are in major art museums around the United States. Taliesin West holds his collection of surimono, the privately printed Japanese prints commissioned by poetry societies in the early 19th century. A selection of surimono relating to "The Tale of the Heike" will be lent to ASU Art Museum for several weeks so that ASU students and faculty and members of the community can view them. ASU Art Museum will make its collection of ukiyo-e prints relating to "The Tale of the Heike" vailable for viewing as well. One of Arao’s Arizona performances will be held at Taliesin West.

Colin Pearson, curator for Asia, Oceania and the Middle East at the Musical Instrument Museum, will speak on the origin and development of the biwa in the Recital Hall of the ASU School of Music on Sept. 21. Pearson holds a master of arts degree in ethnomusicology from the University of California, Riverside, specializing in the music of Thailand, Cambodia and immigrant communities. One of his current projects involves the musical instruments of Japan.

 Toyohara Chikanobu, Chronicle of the Dan-no-ura Helmet: Torturing a captive courtesan, Akoya, by making her play the koto (a Japanese musical instrument), dated 1898, woodblock print, ASU Art Museum, gift of Drs. Thomas and Martha Carter.

Toyohara Chikanobu, "Chronicle of the Dan-no-ura Helmet: Torturing a captive courtesan, Akoya, by making her play the koto" (a Japanese musical instrument), dated 1898, woodblock print, ASU Art Museum, gift of Thomas and Martha Carter.

The series is organized by ASU’s Center for Asian Research and supported by several other units at ASU, including the Emeritus College; the Office of Vice President Christine Wilkinson; ASU Art Museum; ASU Library; the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies; the School of Music, Barrett, The Honors College; and the art history faculty of the School of Art. Additional sponsorship is provided by the Department of East Asian Studies, University of Arizona, and the Asian Studies program, Northern Arizona University. Funding has also come from the Japanese Culture Club of Arizona and more than 10 individual donors.

All events are free and open to the public.

'Eight Hundred Years of Tradition: "The Tale of the Heike" in Music and Woodblock Prints'
Fall 2018, Japanese surimono prints from the Frank Lloyd Wright Collection at Taliesin West, viewing available by appointment in the Jules Heller Print Study Room of the ASU Art Museum. Japanese ukiyo-e prints from the ASU Art Museum collection will also be shown. Contact Claudia Brown (claudia.brown@asu.edu) for more information.

'Popular Heroes: An Album of Japanese Print Triptychs'
Sept. 14, 10:45-11:30 a.m.; ASU Design and the Arts Library 
Collector Darlene Goto, connoisseur Laurie Petrie-Rogers and scholar Sarah Gossett

'Silk Strings and Crescent Moons: The Story of the Japanese Biwa'
Sept. 21, 10:45-11:30 a.m.; Recital Hall, School of Music
Colin Pearson, curator for Asia, Oceania and the Middle East, Musical Instrument Museum

Tsutomu Arao, performing 'The Tale of the Heike'
Sept. 24, 7:30 p.m.; Katzin Concert Hall, ASU School of Music
Sept. 25, 7 p.m.; Cabaret, Taliesin West, Scottsdale
Sept. 26; time and specific location at the University of Arizona in Tucson to be announced
Sept. 27, 4:30 p.m.; Liberal Arts Building, Room 120, Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff 

Other fall programs on Japanese art:

  • "Contemporary Japanese Prints," collector Mary Way. Oct. 5, 2-3 p.m.; ASU Design and the Arts Library.
  • "Japan’s Living National Treasure Ceramic Artists," scholar Sarah Gossett. Oct. 19, 10:45-11:30 a.m.; ASU Art Museum Ceramic Research Center.
  • "Contemporary Japanese Ceramics," Collectors Elaine and Sidney CohenNov. 16, time to be announced; ASU Art Museum Ceramic Research Center.
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ASU unveils iconic pitchfork statue at newly renovated Sun Devil Stadium

Going to a football game? Make sure to get your photo in front of the 'fork.
September 4, 2018

The bronze statue donated, created by ASU alums is a perfect place for fan photos

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. Read more top stories from 2018 here.

The pitchfork symbol is ubiquitous around Arizona State University, and now there is finally a sculpture of the iconic representation of the Sun Devils, unveiled last week.

The 6-foot, 3-inch-tall bronze pitchfork sits at the southeast entrance of the newly renovated Sun Devil Stadium, a symbol of school spirit and the perfect place for fan photos.

“We didn’t have anything like this, and we needed our emblem,” said Arthur Pearce II, a Mesa businessman and third-generation Sun Devil, who donated the statue.

Four years ago, Pearce came up with the idea of donating a statue to the stadium, and he had the perfect artist — Jeff Carol Davenport, an ASU alumna. Davenport had created the 2014 sculpture of Pearce’s grandfather, Zebulon Pearce, that sits in downtown Mesa. Zebulon Pearce The Zebulon Pearce Distinguished Teaching Award, named for him and established in 1971, honors teaching excellence in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at ASU. played football at the Tempe Normal School — now ASU — in 1899, graduating with teaching credentials.

But when Pearce pitched the idea, Todd Graham, then the football coach at ASU, asked him if he would consider donating a statue of Pat Tillman instead, and Pearce agreed. Tillman was a student-athlete at ASU from 1994 to 1998, earning a degree in marketing, and then played football professionally with the Arizona Cardinals. Reacting to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Tillman enlisted in the Army in May 2002. He died in Afghanistan in 2004.

Tillman’s legacy is a powerful influence on the ASU football team, whose members wear No. 42 on their uniforms every year.

So Davenport created the 7-and-half-foot-tall statue of Pat Tillman that stands in front of the Tillman Tunnel at the north end of Frank Kush Field at Sun Devil Stadium.

The Tillman statue was unveiled a year ago.

“It’s so inspiring,” Pearce said on Friday of the Tillman statue, which the players touch as they run onto the field. Pearce, who earned a degree in business from ASU in 1975, watched Tillman play in the 1990s.

“It’s great seeing not only the players but also people walking down from the stadium to look at it and take photos. It’s of worldwide importance because of what Tillman stood for and his character.

“The pitchfork is a little more specific for Sun Devil fans and also for future generations, who can stand by it and get their pictures taken after graduation.”

Davenport created the pitchfork at the same time as she was working on the Tillman statue, both at Bollinger Atelier foundry in Tempe. While she has seen the ASU pitchfork everywhere, it was a challenge for her to envision it as a three-dimensional figure.

“I had the pitchfork cut in foam and it was sort of a block shape, but then I realized it needed to be more sculptural so I sculpted it into the shape you see today,” said Davenport, who earned her master’s of elementary education in 2008 from the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. She is an art teacher at Sandra Day O’Connor High School and also has her own studio in New River.

After Davenport finished the 3-foot-wide bronze pitchfork, it stayed in the foundry for more than a year before the maroon and gold patina was applied last week. On Friday, it was hoisted and dropped onto its base between two sets of steps at the stadium, just to the east of the ticket windows.

Pearce said that he goes to a lot of away football games and has seen many beloved mascot statues, including the husky at the University of Washington.

“People go up to the husky and hug it so much that the patina is worn off,” he said.

“Now we’ll finally have ours.”

Before the football game on Saturday, Pearce stood by the new statue, offering to take people's photos with it.

Pearce’s daughter, Jessica Pearce, an ASU alumna and current master’s degree student, attended the installation of the pitchfork on Friday.

“My dad has always been a huge ASU fan and supporter, so it’s nice that he can give back in a way that will stick around long after we’re all gone.”

Top photo: Ashwini Dhas (left) and Casey Clowes, both alumni of the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at ASU, pose for photos at the new pitchfork statue at Sun Devil Stadium before the ASU football game on Saturday. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now