Born in Tokyo, Toa grew up surrounded by family and music. It would be perfectly normal to expect she would grow up to become a classical violinist or pianist. Every single member of her family played an instrument and, being the youngest by over a decade, music in the household was all she can remember. Her father played bassoon in the Sapporo Symphony Orchestra, her older sister, piano, her brothers violin and cello. As expected of any young Japanese girl she started piano lessons at the age of three with Masako Hoshide and Shozo Kawamura, founder of Lesson no Tomosha.
Although her teachers were very patient Toa found that she preferred ballet and painting class to her piano studies. Her teachers had quite the time trying to get through her strong will and defiance. She was very rebellious but they patiently taught her the fundamentals of piano. Her favorite memory of that time was sitting at her sisters feet singing along to the piano she played, or surprising her brother by singing, note for note, the violin concerto he was practicing. She discovered that singing was what she truly loved to do and looked forward to singing every week in church choir and in the Sunday school music plays.
She loved classical music and church hymns but it was her mothers love of folk music and folk instruments that resonated most with her. Her first encounter with Irish music came outside the home, at a small concert at an Irish-American bazaar at Sunday school.
As the years went on, all her siblings, who were gifted musicians but terrible students gave up on the idea of music as a career and went into other professions. Toa, also not seeing a logical path into a musical career outside of classical music, entered into law school. She was a good student but missed the life of a musician to the point that she had to drop out in order to continue her practice and performances.
Being a committed student of Irish traditional music she did what many wish they could and moved to Ireland. She did not have even a small grasp of English at the time and many would say it was a little bit crazy, but Toa is not one to shrink from a challenge if it is something she wants. She studied the music any way she could and eventually attended the Walton New School of Music focusing on Irish music history, singing, whistle and Bodhran with the excellent teacher, John Sweeney. She also studied Sean-Nos and English singing with Deirdre Scanlan and Cathy Jordan. Picking up fiddle along the way she had the opportunity to study with Manus McQuire of Sligo and Patrick Mangan of New York.
Back in Japan she formed the Irish traditional band Seiren and recorded and performed since 2011. The band released The First Rosebud and The New World to critical acclaim for the Guggenheim label. On her own she also recorded two solo works: Walking in the Eire and Tempest.
She continues to study, record and perform and has recently taken up the irish tenor banjo which is giving her cat running fits throughout her home…
In 2022, she won first place in the English Singing category (over 18 years old) at the Féile Tokyo Competition Japan Preliminary Round, and was the first Japanese woman to compete in the international Irish traditional music and dance competition “Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann” . She was the first Japanese woman to compete in the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann.
©Toa Sypher 2022