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January 13, 2020 - Voyage LA Article

JANUARY 13, 2020

Meet Akira Nakano of Los Angeles Inception Orchestra

Today we’d like to introduce you to Akira Nakano.

Akira, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.

I grew up a classical pianist and percussionist at the Colburn School of Performing Arts. I got into UCLA on a full-ride piano performance scholarship, left the music major after six weeks and graduated with a BA in Film & Television Production.

While in college, I went through the UCLA Extension film scoring program, and frankly always knew I had much love for composition and anything creative.

In 2009, I had the opportunity to return seriously to piano with the musical “Closer Than Ever” which was being performed by the Lodestone Theatre Ensemble. I had seen this show in college and knew if I ever had the opportunity, I wanted to play it. The pianist was on stage with four singers and a bass player, and the piano part was complicated and the numbers extremely moving.

From there, I tiptoed my way back to classical piano with first a small opportunity to perform a concerto, “Totentanz” by LIszt, then doing a full solo recital with my accompanist, followed by a concert with a full orchestra where I performed two concerti and wrote three originals.

The conductor of the orchestra was convinced that everyone in the audience would go out singing the 18th Variation of Rachmaninov’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini”, but instead I had written a piece for my nephew entitled “Concerto in Crayon” which was the showcase piece of the concert.

In 2017, we formed the “Los Angeles Inception Orchestra”, a nonprofit organization, largely as a vehicle to more easily fundraise for another concert. But at the first Board meeting, it was suggested we would do music education somehow. And when it becomes about NOT yourself, it becomes important.

When you want to do a music nonprofit in LA, people ask you why? What will you do that isn’t already being done really well by organizations like YOLA and Harmony Project. Our answer was that many of them focus only on instruments, and they were successfully graduating students from under-represented communities to college, but they were behind in composition and theory.

Even today, the LA Phil has developed a great program for composition, and the LA Chamber Orchestra has announced a new program for female composers. However, how are under-represented composers who have the potential supposed to put together a portfolio to even be considered for those programs?

We ran a brief pilot program with most of our kids coming from the Ramon Cortines VAPA school. And we had a goal of mentoring them all to write for full orchestra. However, we realized that these kids also did not have all the music training that I just assumed all kids who were into music had. They were extremely talented with lots of potential. They just needed some foundation.

So we did an abbreviated version of the program. And by abbreviated, I mean a robust seven-month program where professional mentors came in every other Saturday and taught them about their instruments, improvised with them and worked on their compositions. And on the off weeks, each kid got individual online instruction on their compositions. It all culminated in a concert in September.

Where do we go for 2020? Making sure we incorporate college prep, job training and more music theory and fundamentals so that these kids do write for full orchestra and have their work performed with full orchestra.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?

There was a long road to get started… Besides raising money, people involved have their ideas about what they want to see.

Another aspect of what we are doing is filming all our kid’s journeys in Virtual Reality, so we can release an introduction to the symphony orchestra on a mobile app featuring our composers’ original music.

This all sounds great, but it was very important that we were a music education program first — rooted in composition and creativity.

Not everyone saw it that way. We are not a VR company. Nor were we going to get anywhere by just having a lot of meetings.

The other problem was we were having some great meetings but had not done anything yet. So I finally informed the Board that we were going to empty out the accounts, do the pilot program and film everything so we could show people what we were doing.

That changed a lot in terms of convincing friends and family to invest so we could run the program in 2019.

We had to find our rhythm with mentoring as well once we got to the full program. We didn’t realize that our instrumentalists who were coming into mentor also had to be composers. And once we got that down after a couple of sessions, it was smooth sailing.

Please tell us about Los Angeles Inception Orchestra.

There are a great many composition teachers in LA. From the standpoint of how we approach teaching composition, it is really important that we instead of teaching from a book, we are basing everything in creativity. Our first few weeks are simply about getting out of the box creatively.

I know I lost one kid because when kids start out especially on piano, they play it safe — they play what they know. Often their hands are caught in these two octaves with chords in the left hand and a melody in the right. And I’ll come along and just bang on the piano — or tell them to switch hands. I was doing this when a new students’ mother walked in, and everyone is sure that’s when I lost him.

However, kids who stuck with that are now great, confident improvisors and composers. One student at the beginning solely wanted to be a rockabilly guitarist, but after a year, she has applied for college in music composition.

I know that we are building toward the Virtual Reality mobile app that we will distribute to schools. Studies show that kid’s retention in VR is 90 percent as opposed to 40 percent when you just present and 20 percent out of a book. It’s probably because there are no distractions. They are fully immersed in a world — on stage with a symphony orchestra or in a recording studio. And how great it is that our composers become role models as our app will be featuring their original works.

What sets us apart VR wise? VR for us is a tool We hope that kids looking at this on a mobile phone are inspired to pursue music — or at least inspired creatively. But we are also working to have partnerships with scholarshipped music programs… so that if a student wants to pursue an instrument, we know we can get them into programs.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?

Figured out the money better. Money is daunting. A lot of people don’t like doing it. We did family and friends this past program, to make it work. And hopefully, now that we have things to look at and music to hear, we can qualify for some grants and foundation funding.

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