‘The balcony is a place for communication’: Japanese pianist Rie Matsushita on the Italian music movement

Photo: Rie Matsushita

TheCity.ie’s Ayumi Miyano spoke with the Puglia-based pianist about the spread of live music rippling through Italy at a crucial time in the nation’s history.

Due to the global Coronavirus crisis, many concerts and live music gigs have been cancelled or postponed. But people are still in need of music during this time, despite the lack of official events, says Japanese pianist, Rie Matsushita.

Matushita moved to Valenzano, Puglia in 2016 and began enhancing her music career from then until the present day. The culture of Italy has a special place for music, says Matsushita, and brings people together despite social distancing, quarantine and a devastating death rate.

“In Italy, most apartments, even small ones, have a balcony. Usually people lean out from their balcony and talk with their neighbours. The balcony is sort of a place for communication,” she said.

Balcony-based culture in Italy. (Photo: Rie Matsushita)

“People like to sing in Italy. In summer, there is a karaoke competition in our neighbourhood and we sing a song outside. People don’t worry whether they sing well or not. Everyone sings a song out loud naturally here,” Matsushita added.

This aspect of Italian culture surprises her, since people only do karaoke inside a building in her home country of Japan.

During the quarantine period, people have been singing and playing instruments on their balcony throughout Italy — this movement initially blossomed among music lovers, but now professional musicians have joined the boom. 

“Normally, professional musicians don’t often play their music for free because they have pride as a professional. Only when they receive money from the audience do they show their skills, which they have been training for years to master. That’s not only for Italian musicians but for everyone in the world, I guess,” she continued.

“But now their activities have suddenly stopped because of the Coronavirus. Then, gradually they started to sing and play their instruments on their balcony,” Matsushita added.

Video: Rie Matsushita

“Now, everyone who is involved in music — amateurs or professionals —play their music for someone outside of their house. I thought I would be happy to share the music with people who are coincidentally walking under my balcony, and also I can make a video of myself playing to share at Facebook or Instagram.”

The power of online music

Why are people in need of music now? According to Deborah Kelleher, Director of the Royal Irish Academy of Music, spoke to theCity.ie that listening to music allows people to “block out the stressful noise and uncertainty that surrounds us”: 

“I think a pandemic such as Covid-19 shows people how important their music is to them. Music performance enables you to concentrate on one thing – playing or singing,” Kelleher said. 

During the pandemic, the digital platform has been a favourite among musicians hoping to strike a chord with online audiences.

“As a national conservatoire for music, we have seen firsthand how keen our students and examination candidates are to keep their music lessons going, even online,” Kelleher commented. 

Professionals can stream and upload their music onto their website and social media channels. In this digital society, this may not necessarily be a recent trend. However, there is a “newer” movement involving musicians sharing their music videos on particular social media groups while in lockdown, like “Musica contro il Corona Virus”.

According to Matsushita, this movement allows professional musicians to share their music for free — which they were hesitant to do before the Coronavirus pandemic. However, it’s a “win-win” scenario for musicians and audience members alike for its entertainment value and the online engagement created for the performer’s talent.

Music — even performances streamed online rather than live concerts — enables us to heal, no matter what is happening around the world.

“Listening to music also achieves this and can add to our happiness, especially if you choose the music that you love the most and reminds you of good times,” Kelleher said.

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