Music speaks louder than the words

Maiko Tanabe – The Aquinian –
Kiyoka Kunishima (Alex Solak/AQ)
Kiyoka Kunishima (Alex Solak/AQ)

Kiyoka Kunishima’s hands were cold and shaking before she played the piano at STU Revue. She took a deep breath and looked at the audience.

That’s all she remembers.

“I’m always nervous when someone is listening to me,” Kunishima said.

“But when I looked at the audience at STU Revue, they seemed like enjoying the show and I felt that they supported me, so I got much confidence and relaxed a little bit.”

Kunishima is an exchange student from Japan. If you see her on campus, you may notice her by her looks – her eyes with her glittering blue eye shadows, her long black curly hair and her colourful clothes.

And if you see her play the piano, the image of Kunishima – sitting in front of the piano will be stuck in somewhere on your mind.

Music has always been a part of her life. It is just as natural as things like eating, sleeping and breathing for her, says Kunishima.

“Music is one of communication tools for me. I made friends through playing music with other students.”

She started to play the piano when she was in elementary school and she practiced every day since then because she wanted to be a pianist or a piano teacher. But in junior high, reality sunk in.

“I noticed that I can’t be a professional because they need to work hard and they have to be talented to be a professional. And I wasn’t talented enough,” she said. “So I didn’t practice as much as before when I was in junior high.”

Kiyoka Kunishima at the STU Revue (Alex Solak/AQ)
Kiyoka Kunishima at the STU Revue (Alex Solak/AQ)

Then, when she came to St. Thomas last September, the first thing she asked was if there was somewhere she could play.

“When I came here, playing the piano was one of the ways to relax and now I practice every day again.”

Kunishima decided to come to St. Thomas because she wanted to be in an environment that forces her to speak English.

Her university in Japan has an exchange program with STU. She attended a presentation by students who studied at STU last year and made up her mind immediately.

“I’m interested in languages and people from other countries,” she said.

“And I want to communicate with them and share cultures and understand each other. So I thought it was a good opportunity and I applied.”

Since then, Kunishima’s made friends with other students and other community members through music, even though she still struggles with English sometimes.

Kunishima likes to play the baby grand upstairs at the Atlantic Superstore on Smythe. Sometimes people stop to listen during she plays and talk to her afterwards.

“I walked to Superstore every day during the winter break and still go there whenever I can. I like the piano there and many strangers come to talk to me,” she said.

“I also like playing music with others. I always make friends through music.”

Kiyoka Kunishima at the STU gate. (Courtesy Kiyoka Kunishima)
Kiyoka Kunishima at the STU gate. (Courtesy Kiyoka Kunishima)

The first time Kunishima played in front of an audience at STU was in November at a charity event at James Dunn Hall. She played along with two friends.

“We played a Japanese song. My friend sang and the other friend played a guitar. I was nervous because many people watched us perform, but that was when I met one of my friends here. She came to talk to me afterwards and asked me to play together next time.”

Since then, Kunishima has played at several STU events, including the Multicultural Fair, T-Ring ceremony and STU Revue. She says she’s happy that many people enjoyed her performance at STU Revue but wasn’t satisfied with her performances.

“I always enjoy playing music and I’m really glad to have an opportunity to share my music with others, but I think I could have played better.”

Kunishima says she feels that way because she doesn’t have much confidence in herself.

But she adds that she likes to meet new people and wants to communicate with them. And that’s one of the reasons she plays the piano – she needs something to communicate with others.

“I’m shy, so I have to do something to express myself,” she said. “And when I was in Japan, how I dress and how I wear my make-up was the only way to express myself. Sometimes, when I was working in Japan, a customer talked to me and asked me how to put a make-up and how to dress, so we can have a conversation about it. I really liked it when that happened.

“I want to be unique. I can’t talk a lot when I meet people for the first time even though I want to,” she said.

“But if I play the piano, music speaks for me, and clothes, too.”

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