We had the good fortune of connecting with Lisa Yoshida and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lisa, is there something you believe many others might not?
Growing up as a classical musician, we often experience our teachers or professors discouraging students from exploring other genres of music. We hear many reasons, such as “you’ll loose focus”, “your classical technique will suffer”, “it’s not worth your time”, or simply feeding into elitist ideologies of classical music. When I first picked up the violin at nine years old, all I ever wanted to do from that point on was play other instruments, not because I disliked the violin, but because I was so curious to see what each instrument would feel like under my fingers. I would beg my parents to buy me a cello or clarinet in 6th grade, and I asked my middle school director if I could play the timpani part in Russian Sailor’s Dance (luckily he let me!). This curiosity of other “sounds” grew into college where I joined the New Music Ensemble, the Jazz Ensembles, performed with the Percussion Ensemble, and even picked up the saxophone to join our school’s pep band. Despite my teachers’ dissatisfactions, I forced myself to dive into any opportunity within my reach. When I first tried to improvise in Jazz Ensemble, I remember my mind went completely blank and my violin suddenly became some alien wooden box despite my years of practice. The sense of defeat I felt pushed me to think about music holistically and what I want to do with my skills. These experiences helped me realize that my violin is a medium to express my voice as an artist and connect with my audience, no matter the genre or the style.
Did it take away time from my classical violin practicing? Yes. Did it make me a better classical violinist? Maybe not. Did it make me a better musician? Absolutely. I wouldn’t replace any of these experiences outside the classical curriculum that I’ve had the chance of adding onto my schedule. I wish that more classical music students could realize this too without schools pressuring them to stick to only one lane. It’s definitely time consuming to tackle different genres and instruments, but if the curiosity is there, it’s one hundred percent worth your time and energy.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Violin is so difficult. Being a musician is difficult. So my goal with music is to always keep an open mind, take as many opportunities that are available to me, and cherish connections I make in school, work, or basically any environment. It’s hard to call myself a professional because even though I’ve been playing and teaching for so many years, I’m still learning something new every day I work on my craft. But I suppose that’s just the nature of our trade as artists; to constantly be inspired and to inspire. One aspect that sets me apart from my peers is my deep adoration for contemporary classical music (Classical Music written in the 21st century). I’ve premiered many compositions mostly through my universities’ New Music Ensembles, and took part in Domaine Forget’s New Music Program in the summer of 2019 in Quebec. I recently started composing too, and it’s made me appreciate the community of composer-performers even more! Many classical musicians have a negative association with contemporary classical music, but knowing that I’m creating something new and never-heard-of with my friends is simply exciting! I feel like I’m contributing to this long timeline of classical music, and the dialogue we have from composer to performer of exploring new sounds together is really special to me. I always joke that the best contemporary music enthusiasts are my beginning 4th grade strings students, because all they want to do is explore the different and incorrect noises on their new instruments and I have to tell them “No, your bow can’t be behind the bridge Johnny. Yes, I know it’s a cool sound – believe me I know.”
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
My favorite part about being close to Los Angeles is that there’s always a cool event happening! As a contemporary music lover, small, intimate space concerts are my absolute favorite, like at the MONK SPACE. So, I would try to find a concert happening that features a lot of interesting and diverse composers and performers! For food, as an Asian-American, I appreciate the many asian cuisines I can have in LA and surrounding cities. You can’t go wrong with Yamazaki Bakery in Little Tokyo, so I would definitely take my friend there. The beaches are absolutely beautiful and all along the coast, and each beach has their own personality, so I always pick and choose based on the friend I’m taking and activities I want to do. Finally if they’re a musician, a short jam session or music listening party will do the trick!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My biggest shoutout would have to go out to my family. Now as an educator, I realize how costly and time consuming supporting a child in classical music is, and without their help I would not be here today. I also have this mindset where I cherish every encounter I have as fate. So to all of my music teachers and artist friends whom I’ve met and been inspired by, thank YOU!
still image from the short film “Ri Sa Hi” by Taso Papadakis