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Nikki Torchon talks to budding composer Shaun Kono-Peck ’23
Until this year, a student composition had never been performed by the Kanto Plains Association of Secondary Schools (KPASS) honor band, an audition-only group of student-musicians from twelve Tokyo-area schools. Shaun Kono-Peck ’23 wrote a piece entitled “Kingfisher” for the ASIJ wind ensemble last spring. He submitted it to the inaugural KPASS Composition Festival and the piece was performed by the KPASS Honor Band in March.
With piano as his main instrument, Shaun also plays percussion, explores composition and digital production, and plays in ASIJ’s audition-only wind ensemble, jazz band and pit orchestra. He has supported ASIJ’s eighth-grade band as a teaching intern, has composed for the Pokémon Kids TV YouTube Channel and the Shimajiro Channel, among others, and has earned numerous accolades for his work.
“He’s unbelievably talented and equally humble,” explained ASIJ music teacher Julia Clipper. “He always comes with a sense of curiosity and puts so much effort into his passion. That’s what’s unique — he dives into this passion and commits so much to it.”
Intended to take listeners on the journey of a hunting kingfisher, the piece delights with dancing marimba, a graceful flute line and trumpet and saxophone harmonies. Its changing tempos and cymbal crashes are as emotive as the bird’s journey.
When asked what it was like to hear his peers learn to play “Kingfisher,” Shaun replied, “Music is such a vulnerable form of art. You’re putting your heart and soul into these pieces. So especially when people are learning it, and aren’t playing it perfectly, the way I envisioned it, I sort of doubt myself. ‘Did I mess up? Did I write something wrong? Oh my gosh, why is everyone looking at me?! I hate this.’ But the amount of pride, gratitude and humility that I felt when I was onstage receiving applause from everyone, and people congratulating me after and saying they enjoyed playing it, those things warm my heart and I think those moments of vulnerability are all worth it.”
Shaun put what he learned from composing “Kingfisher” towards a new composition which Clipper describes as “a beautiful, gorgeous piece of music.” It will be performed by ASIJ’s wind ensemble, with Shaun on piano, this May.
“This piece, called ‘Portrait of a Mustang,’ is the culmination of my years at ASIJ and a way to express my gratitude to the school because I’ve been offered so many opportunities. I wanted to make a piece about the four years as a high school student — the hills and valleys. I wanted to encapsulate the plethora of emotions into one piece.” Appropriately, this piece shares its name with a current ASIJ project to capture student growth.
Shaun has left his mark on ASIJ. “He is an integral part of the music department in every way,” Clipper remarked. “We’ll miss him a lot but are very excited to see everything that he does in New York. I have a feeling we’ll be hearing his name.”
This fall, Shaun will be studying music composition and theory with a concentration in film scoring at New York University. “The synergy between visual media and music fascinates me and that’s why I decided to major in film scoring. So what’s next for me is to explore that passion. If NYU is anything like the opportunity that ASIJ has been, I think I’ll be pretty successful in finding my path.”
Shaun’s speech and the KPASS performance are available to view online on YouTube @ASIJTV.
Life at school is full of stories and the narrative of where our vision will take us is told each day through the learning our students experience in the classroom and beyond.