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Pianist’s long and winding musical road

6 April 2022

Pianist and composer Setsu Masuda has released her debut album Rondo at the age of 60, proving it’s never too late to chase your dreams.

Setsu Masuda has released her first album of piano compositions, at the age of 60. The pianist-composer chats with Rosalind Appleby about exploring music later in life and her journey into composition.

Pianist-composer Setsu Masuda. Photo: Erica Lorimer.

Rosalind Appleby: You first began piano at the age of five in Japan and then returned to studying piano at the age of 50 to complete a Licentiate of Music Diploma in Australia. What inspired you to return to your instrument?

Setsu Masuda: When my eldest son was studying music in year 12, we found a new piano teacher for him, Dr Adam Pinto. I sat in their lessons and was so impressed by Adam’s somewhat spontaneous way of teaching and amazing playing, which inspired me to take up the piano again. When my son graduated from high school, I took his place and began lessons with Adam.

RA: What was it like studying music again as an adult? Would you recommend examinations to other mature age musicians?

SM: It was a joy returning to the piano. I loved every minute of my lessons and wanted to practice all day if I could. The first thing Adam corrected was my “high finger” technique that was taught at most famous music institutes in Japan when I was young. At first, it was a shock but soon I got used to it, and my playing started to improve.

I think mature age students have such focus and enthusiasm regardless of their discipline and can achieve a lot. For this reason, I recommend examinations to other mature age musicians — it’s never too late to explore your possibilities and pursue your dreams. 

RA: Since then you have toured Japan, Singapore, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Western Australia as a performer. How did this come about?

SM: My journey as a performer began when I met classical guitarist Dr Duncan Gardiner. We met through guitar lessons, which I started shortly after I had completed my LMusA. He was crazy enough to ask me if I wanted to perform with him live. I couldn’t believe it — he was a respected, professional guitarist who had already played a lot of live shows and released a few CDs while I didn’t have a music degree and had never performed before!

We performed together as mimi duo. Duncan organised tours across Australia and I planned tours to Japan, which were all successful. We became good friends and shared so many amazing adventures. This year marks mimi duo’s 10th anniversary.

Duncan sadly passed away on 30 January 2022. He was the most caring person. His sensitive and beautiful soul resonated through his performances, and his music has healing powers. He was my one and only guitarist for 10 years. I am forever indebted to him for his generosity and kindness. Rest in peace, Duncan.

mimi duo performing at a charity concert for the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011. Photo: supplied.

RA: You are also the artistic director of the chamber music series “Roses and Hearts” which has attracted many international, interstate and local musicians since 2012. What inspired you to form this concert series?

SM: My first “Roses and Hearts” concert with Duncan was a charity concert held in my garden studio for the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan. The guests absolutely loved the concert and Adam even said: “We should do concerts here!”

I organized a second concert with him and cellist Louis McKay. Since then, it has grown to be a proper concert series. There was demand from musicians to have more opportunities to perform in intimate spaces, and from music lovers who wanted to enjoy high-quality chamber music followed by afternoon tea in a friendly, suburban space. I feel blessed by the support I’ve received from my friends and guests, as well as participating musicians. 

RA: Your love of music-making has taken a different direction recently – why did you begin exploring composition?

SM: In Japan, turning 60 is hugely celebrated — we call it “kanreki”. When I turned 60 last March, my three boys gave me the Sibelius composition software and a full-size MIDI keyboard. I had never composed in my life but once I started, I had so many ideas.

I quickly finished two pieces — “Roses & Hearts 1” and “II” for piano, cello, and guitar — before finishing three more. I liked them all and decided to record and release an album.

It started as a very personal thing but ended up being my most self-indulgent sixtieth birthday project! Of course, I dedicated my album Rondo to my boys.

RA: Rondo features five of your compositions and includes contributions from cellist Sophie Curtis, guitarist Melissa Fitzgerald and pianist Adam Pinto. What do you hope people will experience from listening to this album of original compositions?

Setsu Masuda’s debut album ‘Rondo’ is dedicated to her three sons. Cover art:

SM: As it’s my first attempt at composing, my goal was to arrange music that was accessible and enjoyable for wider audiences, and above all for my boys. The five compositions are all so different so I hope people will fancy at least one piece.

I’m so grateful to already have several musicians in Japan who want to perform my music live after the COVID situation settles. That’s all I can hope for — that people will enjoy listening to and playing my music.

RA: How has diving deeper into music this past decade impacted your life?

SM: It’s made my life so much richer. Not only has it made me a better musician but a better person as well, thanks to all the wonderful friendships and connections I’ve made. It’s an interesting and rewarding process that will hopefully continue to evolve as I keep exploring the vast landscape of music.

I think making music gives me passion and freedom like no other. Composing gives me intuition and celestial bliss.  

Rondo is available as a digital download on Spotify and other streaming platforms.

Physical copies and musical scores are available by request.

Pictured top: pianist-composer Setsu Masuda released her debut album ‘Rondo’ on 13 January 2022. Photo: Erica Lorimer.

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Author —
Rosalind Appleby

Rosalind Appleby is an arts journalist, author and speaker. She is co-editor of Seesaw Magazine, author of Women of Note, and has written for The West Australian, The Guardian, The Australian, Limelight magazine and Opera magazine. She loves the percussion instruments which can be found in the uber cool parks.

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