The Gustavus artist series continues with composer Karen Tanaka

Kaitlyn DoolittleStaff Writer

On Saturday, Oct.15, the work of composer and pianist Karen Tanaka will be showcased for the Gustavus community. Students and the general public will be able to listen to Tanaka’s “Our Planet Earth” at 7:30 p.m. in Bjorling Recital Hall. 

The showcase is focusing on the beauty of nature and the importance of caring for the planet. Songs titled “Green,” “Ozone,” and “Bio Energy” will embody their meaning and value to Earth. 

Tanaka is an esteemed composer who is well-known for her film scores, concert music, and electronic media. Tanaka’s score for the animated film Sister featured in prestigious film festivals like Sundance, Annecy, Ottawa and was nominated for the 92nd Academy Awards for Best Animated Short Film. 

Tanaka’s work reached global notoriety when she orchestrated for the BBC’s TV series Planet Earth II. 

When it comes to understanding the world, Tanaka is very familiar with global matters. Born and raised in Tokyo, Japan, studied in Paris, France and currently residing in Los Angeles, California, Tanaka’s history makes her music more meaningful. 

The upcoming showcase will feature student pianists and compositions. The students will work directly with Tanaka leading up to their performances. Junior Anna Marie Riner will be playing Tanaka’s “Water of Life.” 

“[The song is] very flowing and shimmery, [it emphasizes] the power, beauty and value of water,” Riner said. 

Other students that will be performing include First-Years Lainey Hearne and Kasimir Emery, Sophomores Isaac Hartman and Kailyn Walukas, Junior Trevor Kempen and Seniors Curtis Kim and Jenna Kavouras. Faculty members Yumiko Oshima-Ryan and Dave Ryan will join these students in the showcase. 

The whole program will be focused on the extreme necessities of caring for the planet. “It features songs inspired by parts of the natural world, in the hopes of inspiring future generations to respect and take care of the planet and the life on it,” Riner said. 

Riner is eager to perform an impressive piece while also sharing an important message. “I’m hoping that a greater awareness of the natural world will inspire people to be more connected with that world, and therefore more motivated to protect it.” Riner said. 

The music is equally as powerful as its message. “ [Tanaka is a] very gifted composer in that she really captures the essence of whatever the subject of her song is,” Riner said.

The process leading up to the showcase will consist of private lessons and receiving direct feedback from Tanaka. “I’m also excited about this showcase because for once we will all be playing music by the same composer, a composer who is actually there to hear it and give us feedback. This is a little nerve-wracking honestly because you want to execute the song exactly as she envisioned it, but I also think it will be a great learning opportunity,” Riner said.

Riner is also excited to support her fellow piano players. “The piano studios typically only do one showcase at the end of each semester, so this is also a cool additional opportunity for the piano students to hear each other play and cheer each other on,” Riner said. 

The act of using music to describe the beauty of nature and woes of climate change can be incredibly powerful. “I think that hearing something explored through music can give you a new perspective on it, and I’m hoping that is something that people will get out of the showcase. You might not have considered light or ozone or the chemistry of life very much, but Karen Tanaka’s songs about such aspects of the natural world provide a new lens through which to conceptualize them,” Riner said. 

Outside of helping student pianists and composers, Tanaka will be hosting other major events. Tanaka will be giving a lecture titled “Music for Film and Electronic Media” on Oct. 14, from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in Bjorling Recital Hall. Tanaka will provide a composition workshop for highschool students on Oct. 15, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., also in the Bjorling Recital Hall. 



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