Kishi Bashi shares his key to music

Athens-based musician Kishi Bashi visited David C. Barrow Elementary School on Thurs., March 26, as the school’s Cool Composer of the Month. Kishi Bashi performed several songs live, discussed music theory with Barrow students and answered questions about his experience with music.

Music video for Kishi Bashi’s single “Philosophize In It! Chemicalize With It!” from his 2014 album Lighght. Ishibashi’s wife, Keiko, and daughter and David C. Barrow Elementary School third grader, Sola, appear in the video with the musician.
Story by ETHAN CRANE – Senior Copy Editor
Photos by SOPHIE FERNANDES – Staff Photographer
Photos and video by NICHOLAS BYRNE – Broadcast Managing Editor

Local musician Kishi Bashi performed at David C. Barrow Elementary School on Thurs., March 26, as the school’s Cool Composer of the Month.

Amplifiers and microphones are not the norm for David C. Barrow Elementary School’s cafeteria stage. But the morning of Thurs., March 26, Athens-based musician and Barrow parent Kaoru Ishibashi—better known as Kishi Bashi—stood ready to perform for nearly 500 students.

“Since my daughter, Sola, goes here it was a pretty easy setup. I like to play for kids, but I don’t get a whole lot of opportunities with my schedule,” Ishibashi said. “They’re really impressionable. And it’s easy to get an honest reaction from (children), so in that way it’s really cool.”

Ishibashi’s visit to Barrow was coordinated primarily by Barrow music teacher Leslie Sokal. Since Sokal began teaching at Barrow in 2008, she has announced a “Cool Composer of the Month” to expose students to a variety of musicians.

“Since I started teaching, I thought that (a composer of the month) would be a cool way to introduce kids to classical and modern music they may not hear at home,” Sokal said. “Obviously we’ve got (Ishibashi) this month, and we’re really lucky to have an opportunity like this.”

Since January, Sokal has chosen Athens-based musicians for Barrow’ composers of the month. She says it is important—and easy—to connect her students to the cultural community around them.

“When you live in a place like Athens with such a wealth of musicians and artists in the community it would be a disservice not to tap that. We can take somebody who is a piece of paper on the wall, from a poster, and bring them into the classroom,” Sokal said. “All of a sudden, (music or art) isn’t a distant, abstract idea‚—it’s something (kids) can create and do. It becomes a place where they can go.”

Ishibashi performed two sets at Barrow: the first for grades three, four and five, and the second for Pre-K through second grade students. He performed several songs from his two studio albums, 151a and Lighght, including “Philosophize In It! Chemicalize With It!” and “Atticus, In the Desert.” Between songs, he answered questions, discussed basic music theory and spoke about his experience with music.

“I make music because I like to make people happy,” Ishibashi said. “I’ve been playing the violin since I was seven, but it’s never too late to start.”

“(Children) are really impressionable. And it’s easy to get an honest reaction from them, so in that way it’s really cool.” — Kishi Bashi, musician and Clarke County School District parent

Although Ishibashi is a musician by profession, about to embark on his second tour this year, he says he enjoys performing and talking to elementary school students, like Sola.
“Playing (for children) is really so different because kids are so honest. If they like it, they like it. If they don’t like it, well, you can’t really tell because at least they’re listening,” Ishibashi said.

Ishibashi is a vocalist and violinist who has performed with musical acts including Regina Spektor and of Montreal, and is known for his on-stage music production. Using a set of pedals, he records the multiple tracks in every song on stage and plays them back as he sings and plays the violin live. He has no need for a backing track, even when he is alone on stage.

Ishibashi performs “Manchester” at David C. Barrow Elementary School on Thurs., March 26. Video by Nicholas Byrne.

Jerry Bhardhwa is in Shelley Olin’s fifth grade class at Barrow. Bhardhwa says she enjoyed studying Ishibashi’s music and was excited to see him live.

“Since he’s our composer of the month, we’ve (studied) him and all (I like) how he plays his music with such enthusiasm. (I learned) a lot about his pedal board today and we’ve all heard two or three of his songs,” Bhardhwa said.

Ishibashi says that he believes music is an important part of education, especially at the elementary level.

“I feel like music is always alive in people, and I think it’s kind of a shame that kids might be denied that opportunity,” Ishibashi said. “Even if (music) is not your profession, just knowing music does so much for humanity and for your soul. I think it’s really, really important to cultivate that, especially in younger kids.” 

“I feel like music is always alive in people. Even if it is not your profession, just knowing music does so much for humanity and for your soul.” — Kishi Bashi

Alora Plemmons is in Melissa Wilson’s Pre-K class at Barrow. After studying and then watching Ishibashi perform, she says that she is interested in learning to make music herself.

“I like the violin, it was cool. I like to sing and dance to (Kishi Bashi),” Plemmons said. “He can sound like so many people, (I learned) about the way he did that.”

Sokal wants to integrate as many subjects into her music classes as possible to give her students a sense of continuity throughout the school day.

“I try to bring in a lot of social studies—learning about our history, finding out how blues developed in the deep South and how the Great Migration affected what type of music we’re listening to today,” Sokal said. “Music is math—we talk about fractions daily when we’re counting out rhythms. I do a unit in September about the science of music, talking about sound waves and vibrations and how sound moves. (I) try to bring in and mix all the subjects here, music is definitely a natural place for that.”

Just as Sokal aims to make her music classes interdisciplinary, Ishibashi says that the arts themselves need to incorporate each other to thrive.

“The best thing you can do if you’re playing an instrument is to play other musical instruments, learn about other arts. If you’re just doing one thing, there’s only so far you can go,” Ishibashi said. “You want to do as much as you can all the time, and that can actually help you grow into a better person.”

Ishibashi says that giving students exposure to music and the arts is important to him primarily because he thinks it makes them more open-minded to all forms of learning.

“I just want to get them excited about music. I like to get them playing and experimenting. I just hope that there’s that crowd who can get excited and can take the chance to go into music,” Ishibashi said. “It’s so amazing to just see these kids have a great time and get inspired.”

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