Michiko Morita Miyamoto

Michiko Morita Miyamoto, born in Seattle, Washington, was the second daughter of parents who had emigrated from Japan to the United States and had strong interests in music and art. Michiko’s innate talent for music became evident very early. When she was still a year too young for the age requirement of the Cornish School, today the Cornish College of the Arts, the school agreed to hear her. She was auditioned and accepted by Miss Nellie Cornish herself and entered as their youngest student, soon becoming a star at the school regularly called upon for performances. She was also known as an accompanist for her older sister who studied violin at Cornish, as a chamber music performer, and as one who excelled in music theory.

In due course, young Michiko was assigned to the renowned teacher, Madame Berthe Poncy Jacobson, and studied with her throughout her pre-college and college years. Michiko feels she owes to Mrs. Jacobson much of what she ultimately achieved at the piano, especially in her understanding of music. At age sixteen, Michiko graduated from Broadway High School as Salutatorian, left Cornish School and entered the University of Washington as a music major. The School of Music required that she take piano lessons for credit, but finding no one at the University with whom she wanted to study, she asked to continue her studies with Mrs. Jacobson, with University credit. Her request was granted, and a year later, the University astutely chose to hire Mrs. Jacobson for its own faculty. Mrs. Jacobson went on to become the legendary head of the piano department until her retirement.

Michiko graduated from the University of Washington with Magna Cum Laude honors and a Phi Beta Kappa key. But perhaps more important to her musical advancement was the honor of being named to the women's music honorary sorority, Mu Phi Epsilon, for the friends she made in Mu Phi were formative in developing her identity as a musician.

Michiko began teaching piano in the 1930's while in high school and the university, which helped pay for her own music lessons. The fifteen to twenty students she had developed before World War II were all from the local Japanese community. The outbreak of World War II came in December 1941, and she married Shotaro Frank Miyamoto late that month, without waiting for their intended February wedding date. She and Frank were evacuated to the Tule Lake Relocation Center with other West Coast residents of Japanese ancestry. There, to her amazement and delight, she discovered that one of the families had brought with them an upright piano that they offered for her use. Another family had brought a large collection of 78 rpm records. A teacher to the core, she quickly resumed teaching piano, and organized and presented weekly Saturday night concerts of the recordings, complete with explanations of the music to enrich the experience for the internees, until she and Frank moved from the “camp” to Chicago in the latter years of the war. While her husband completed his doctorate, Michiko taught Japanese language classes at the University of Chicago and taught piano to children of the University's faculty. The couple returned to Seattle at the end of the war.

Ultimately, however, it was the success her students enjoyed at the Seattle Young Artists Music Festival that led to regard for Miyamoto as an outstanding piano teacher in this area. Sometime around 1966 the idea of a music festival for pre-college students began to form among a small group of leading Seattle area pianists and piano teachers. They felt that much of the local teaching fell seriously short of the kind of musical standard that teachers such as Berthe Poncy Jacobson had tried to establish. The group included Randolph Hokanson, Helen Taverniti, Corey Celli, Willard Schultz, and Michiko Miyamoto.

They saw the Festival as a means of achieving this aim. Due to departures and other responsibilities, it was primarily Taverniti, Celli, and Miyamoto who led in establishing the SYAMFA Festival and promoting its annual functioning. Initiated in 1971, its aim was to improve the understanding of music and to downplay competition. Still, there is no gainsaying that the one competitive area in the event---namely, concerto classes and on the final day a concerto playoff to be chosen to perform with a major area orchestra---has always been a dominant interest of the teacher and student participants.

It was perhaps the consistency with which Miyamoto's students won recognition from the adjudicators, and went on to be chosen winners in the concerto competition, that led to her becoming widely known for her teaching. Fostering her students’ musical and personal growth through their numerous Festival Medal awards and performances with orchestras such as the Seattle Symphony, Seattle Philharmonic, Philharmonia Northwest and others, was her great pleasure. Lessons were always characterized by long periods of discussion and laughter, often going to the bookcase to pore together over a reference book as she discussed the interpretation of a piece of music--and this love of music was imparted to her students, nearly all of whom formed a lifelong bond with her. But it is almost certainly the generosity, openness, and honesty with which she shared her knowledge and insight with other teachers that garnered her the respect and affection of her peers. She presented numerous well-attended workshops for teachers in the Northwest, and frequently adjudicated at festivals and competitions in Vancouver, Coquitlam, Richmond, and Vancouver Island, British Columbia; and also in the state of Washington: Bainbridge Island, Mount Vernon, Grays Harbor, and other locales. 

Anecdotally, one year in Vancouver, Miyamoto had the experience of hearing an exceptional fourteen year old boy. She heard the boy's very musical performance in the concerto class, and in her adjudication gave several suggestions of how he might improve his performance. A few days later at the concerto playoffs, she was very impressed and delighted to hear the talented student incorporate every one of the changes she had suggested in his finals performance. The boy was Jon Kimura Parker---and the occasion was the beginning of a longtime friendship.

          Both studious and perennially optimistic, her love and innate abilities for music have provided Michiko Morita Miyamoto countless hours of pleasure at her instrument, with her teachers, with her students and her family, and with her colleagues. She retired from teaching at the end of 2006 at the age of ninety, but still enjoys correspondence and occasional visits from former students, thinking about and listening to music, and attending concerts when she can.