Conducting student wins composition competitions

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Music has always been a part of Kentaro Sato’s life, a musical composer now starting his graduate study in conducting at CSUN, who recently won two competitions.

“My family is rather musical, all of them,” Sato said. “Music is always there in my house. It was a natural thing for me to do.”

His two latest pieces, “How Do I Love You?” premiered on Nov. 12 2005 at Ithaca College Charale Festival and won the 26th Annual Choral Composition Contest. “Kyrie,” premiered in February 2005 in the American Chorale Directors Association National Convention, and won the 2005 Raymond W. Brock Memorial Student Composition Competition, pushed Sato as a composer, he said.

“Those two choral pieces, one in secular, one in sacred, I think I did use most of ability as a composer to write that piece,” Sato said.

The result of his efforts is shown with the work Sato has done, as he has already amassed numerous awards.

“It’s kind of nice to know that (people) are interested in my piece, and find beauty in my piece and want to perform it,” Sato said. “Knowing the people there to do my piece and find beauty is the important part. The competition helps to provide that type of thing.”

Sato was born in Hamamatsu, Japan, which is known for its music and instruments, as the city is home to several music manufacturers such as Yamaha.

At the age of five, Sato started playing the organ, and by the age of 15, he began to seriously study music.

Because Sato is a musical composer, he knows how to play many instruments himself.

He owns several orchestral instruments and plays most woodwind and brass instruments.

“My voice is my primary instrument,” he said.

When Sato first decided to come to Los Angeles, he did not come because of the city’s musical opportunities. Instead, he came to Los Angeles because of his interest in filmmaking.

He earned a degree in cinema from Santa Monica College. The music faculty at SMC, however, convinced him to switch his career focus to music because of his musical background and his skills with synthesizers and composition.

When Sato narrowed his list of transfer schools, he said he picked CSUN because it was cheaper than the colleges he was interested in. He also knew Professor Elizabeth Sellers who teaches media composition in the Music Department.

“We share the same experience, the dreams,” he said.

Sellers, said Sato has a unique style that is reminiscent of the older styles seen in the 1940s, 50s and 60s.

“Some of those textures and colors he’s taken and used in his choral composition are gorgeous,” she said.

When it comes to describing Sato’s music, Sellers said she can look only at how Sato is as a person.

“He’s an optimistic person, so he voices things kind of like how composer John Williams does in an optimistic fashion,” Sellers said. “Kentaro is such a warm human being that it’s reflected in the music he writes. He tends to write in major keys, and he tends to write in music that flows and that’s sweet and warm just how he is.”

While also being optimistic, Sato said he sees beauty in his music.

“I think for me music is hope or beauty, beauty is another word for music for me,” Sato said. “I want to hear a certain piece that for me is beautiful and that happens to be optimistic. I just don’t want to hear any depressing for depressing sake or for difficult for difficult sake. I want to hear something that has life.”

Sellers said she believes that Sato has the talent to write darker pieces.

Sato, however, said he feels that it is important to give his audience something hopeful to look for.

“Something that will give people more positive feeling towards life because its already difficult enough, so why would you want to get depressed?” he said.

Sato, who has been at CSUN for three years, acknowledges the help that the music faculty have provided for him in those years.

Sato said the CSUN music faculty is very inspirational.

“The teachers in this Music Department gave me lots of performance opportunities,” Sato said.

“Kentaro Sato, is an emerging choral composer,” said Katherine Ramos Baker, director of women’s chorale. “He writes expressive, beautiful lines.”

Baker said some of the best work that she has heard from Sato is the work he wrote for the women’s chorale.

“He wrote an Ave Maria that was particularly beautiful,” Baker said.

Sato’s interest in composing ties back to filmmaking.

“Specifically studying script writing,” he said. “I think you can create more worlds with writing.”

Even though Sato is a composer, he has played the role of educator, working as a music technology adviser for commercial composers, music production companies and universities around the United States. He is also an educator in music theory and technology.

Teaching for Sato comes natural, just like music.

“I like to teach,” Sato said. “It’s nice to see the people grow. My parents are elementary school teachers, so I know the job of teaching, so it’s nice to know certain knowledge and share those things if it helps someone.”

Kentaro’s effect on music has also been felt on a global scale. His music has been broadcast, performed and recorded in North America, Japan and Europe by such orchestras as the Philharmonic Orchestra of London and the Moravian Philharmonic in the Czech Republic.

While he thinks such things are natural and a continuous thing, he is still surprised by all the attention that his music has received.

“First off, I’m from Japan ,and in (the) United States I don’t know anyone, and eventually I get to know some of the people in some other countries,” he said.

The sky is the limit for Sato’s future, Sellers said.

“I think that Kentaro has created a path for himself,” Sellers said. “He managed to convince people to like his music and they do. People naturally warm up to his stuff.

John Barundia can be reached at jcb44123@csun.edu.