Performing on the national stage with the Nagoya University Piano Club

From up on the hill on the Higashiyama Campus, you might hear the sound of pianos echoing on the wind. If you do, it's probably the members of the Nagoya University Piano Club practicing in the music room. At the end of March, Nagoya University's Riko Kawamoto (Engineering, 2nd year), joined by Aiko Mori and Rino Shimoya of Kinjo University, performed at the National University Piano Competition. The three students overcame competition from around the country to make it to the finals of the contest.


A competition for non-specialists


The appeal of the National University Piano Competition, first held in 2023, is that it is open to students who do not study music as their major. It is a team event, in which the students compete in teams of 3. Students on one team do not all have to be from the same university.


22 teams from across Japan submitted entries for the qualifying round, which consisted of the three members of each team creating a ten minute video of them performing piano solos in a relay format. The competition judges' scores were combined with views and likes garnered by the teams' videos on the competition's YouTube channel, and the eleven teams with the highest aggregate scores proceeded to the final. Two teams entered from Nagoya University, with the team of Riko, Aiko and Rino being selected to go through to the final round.


"I met Aiko and Rino at the mixer for new members, and they invited me to join them for the competition," says Riko. "I was kind of scared about competing, but submitting a video meant we could re-take it, so it wasn't so bad! I didn't even think we'd make it through to the finals, and I actually found out about it several days after the results came out," she laughs.



The team's entry for the qualifiying round 


Performing on the national stage


The finals were held at the Kanagawa Prefectural Music Hall, which seats a thousand people. With judges, supporters and members of the public in attendance, the teams once again had to perform a three-person piano solo relay, but this time with a longer time limit of 25 minutes, and only one chance to get it right. The three girls chose pieces of music with a different feel - fast and lively for Riko, slow for Aiko and calming for Rino - to best display their range of skills.


Riko had taken piano lessons up until she graduated from high school. Upon getting through to the finals of the competition, she decided to go back to brush up her skills. "Even when you think you've got the hang of the piece, there are finer points of tone, melody and performance that the teacher can pick up on and help you improve," she explains.

Performing is not for the faint-hearted. "My part of the performance was nearly ten minutes long, and I had to put in long hours practicing every day to build up enough strength to not get tired by the end," adds Rino. "I would go back into the music and re-analyse it, trying to find the right way to get the feeling into my performance."


Although the girls didn't win the finals, they enjoyed the event and felt that it had been a valuable experience. "It was fun!" says Aiko. "Before we went in, we said to each other 'Let's just enjoy it', and I feel like we really did. I'm very satisfied."



The team's final performance


 Aiko Mori, Riko Kawamoto and Rino Shimoya (L-R) at the National University Piano Competition


An inter-collegiate society


What makes Nagoya University Piano Club special is the diversity of its members' backgrounds. Although it is based at Nagoya University, it is open to students from any university in the region, and around half of its members are from outside the university. It is also open to pianists of any experience level, and includes several members who only began to learn as university students.


"If you just take piano lessons, you may never talk to anyone but your teacher about the piano," says Riko. "I'm happy to have the opportunity to connect with other pianists here."


 Nagoya University Piano Club (above) and with other universities' piano clubs at another inter-university event (below)


The club members practice in the music rooms at the top of the hill on Higashiyama Campus. The atmosphere is relaxed, with members being free to set their own schedule and learn at their own pace, popping in between lessons or after their day is done. A few times a year, the club puts on concerts, which members are also free to join. 


 Piano Club members after one of their regular concerts


"Anyone can find their place here. It's great to hear the other members of the group perform, to practice together - it keeps me inspired," she adds. "I still want to get better! The competition was a great experience, and I would like to go back and give it another try next year!"


Riko Kawamoto at the piano. Majoring in materials engineering at the School of Engineering, she is particularly interested in crystalline structures and particles.


Translated by Edmund Rhind-Tutt, original Japanese article by Tatsuyuki Fukui. Thanks to the Nagoya University Piano Club.