Meet The Family: Kyle Kihira, 20-year-old piano whiz

By True Colors Festival

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August 25, 2021

Here at True Colors Festival, we’re one big family of artists, creators and planners. This week we introduce Kyle Kihira, a 20-year-old piano whiz and composer who performed  in our True Colors Jazz event and the 2021 music video You Gotta Be. We caught up with Kyle ahead of the release of his first full album FLYING on August 25.

By True Colors Festival Team

Name: Kyle Kihira

Accolades: As a child, while tinkering with CDs, sheet music, and the electric piano at home, Kyle naturally acquired music theory and began composing music. At 16, he passed the Advanced Certificate Examination of Trinity College in UK with the highest score and was awarded the Encouragement Prize. At 17, he skipped a grade to obtain a diploma at the same college. When Kyle composes music, he starts by drawing staves on a blank sheet of paper without so much as having to touch the keyboard! Improvisation is also one of Kyle’s hallmarks — on stage, he draws from a wide repertoire that includes classical, pop and jazz to complement his original compositions. Born with developmental disabilities and sensory sensitivities, Kyle continues to challenge himself to be a musician who makes an impact. 

Today, Kyle releases his latest album FLYING which comprises 15 songs from the treasure trove of sounds captured by Kyle’s wonderful mind and memory. FLYING includes his popular compositions “Winds Send Love”, “No Tears Forever” and “Songs Over Words” which was written as a prayer for the COVID-19 disaster, and a solo piano piece by Nikolai Kapustin, a Russian composer whom Kyle loves. It retails for ¥3,300 (approximately USD 30), get your copy here.

Kyle Kihira on the cover of his latest album FLYING (2021)

Image description: Kyle Kihira on the cover of his latest album FLYING, released on August 25. Kyle looks down with a contented smile on his face. The title FLYING and his name “Kyle Kihira” are accompanied by a blue graphic of a paper aeroplane in flight.

Q: How did you first get into music? 

From the time of my birth, we had an electric organ, guitar, drums and other musical instruments at home, so I started dabbling with those instruments. My parents are music lovers, and they had lots of CDs of all genres — rock and pop music, jazz, classical, and folk music. Whenever I was at home, there was always a variety of music to listen to, and I naturally became interested in it.

Q: When and how did you realize you could be good at music?

From the time I was in preschool, I liked keyboard instruments and drums, and I was always touching them. I also liked the sheet music and chord sheets that we had at home, and I would check the notes on the keyboard instrument and copy them down. When I was in the first grade, I told my parents that I wanted to be a piano player.

Q: What were some challenges you’ve faced in pursuing music?

Due to some sensory sensitivities, there are some sounds that I can’t hear, and some that I can’t play. I’ve always enjoyed music in my own way and don’t enjoy practicing the basics. Through performing in front of people and composing music, I have learned what is essential as a musician, and I’m trying to move forward, overcoming these challenges one by one.

Image description: An embedded YouTube video of Kyle Kihira’s rehearsal before the True Colors Jazz event in 2020, where Kyle met Takashi Matsunaga, a celebrated Japanese jazz pianist. The film illustrates Kyle’s passion for playing the piano.

Q: What was your experience performing in our True Colors Jazz event in 2020?

It was my first session with drums, bass, trumpet, and vocals, and I also got to do an impromptu performance with Takashi Matsunaga (popular Japanese jazz pianist), which was a lot of fun. I had been playing music alone until then, but this was the first time I had the experience of playing with others, and that really made me enjoy the music more.

Q: And then came the COVID-19 pandemic. How has it affected your life and work? 

I was sad to hear that the concerts I was to perform in had to be cancelled or postponed one after another. At home, I composed music incessantly. Last year I composed at least 20 songs, including unfinished ones. I was overflowing with sadness, anger, and a desire to do my best, so I poured those feelings into my music. There are sorrowful ballads, but there are also cheerful songs filled with hope. I believe that my various experiences have enriched my music.

Q: Our paths crossed again this year when you featured in our music video, You Gotta Be!

When I heard the song for the first time, I was excited because it was a wonderful song. I was expecting to be able to do a session with everyone, but I was alone at home during the shooting, so I was a little bit sad. However, when I saw the finished music video, it turned out to be very cool and wonderful. I felt like I connected with people all over the world through music. Because of the pandemic, I couldn’t see the people I wanted to see and had few opportunities to perform, so I was happy to be able to participate in this project, and I realized once again that music is fun. Thank you very much.

Image description: An embedded YouTube video of the You Gotta Be music video released in July 2021 by True Colors Festival which features Kyle Kihira and other artists including Alvin Law, Mandy Harvey and Raul Midón.

Q: What has been the highlight of your career? 

I was happy to have my compositions made into an album. However, each and every performance is an unforgettable memory that I treasure. My debut concert when I was 17 years old, the first concert I played in a hall, the outdoor festival I attended, the True Colors Jazz session, You Gotta Be MV which was delivered without an audience due to a pandemic, playing live on TV and radio shows… all of them are highlights.

Q: Tell us about your goals and what you would like to do. 

I’d love to play my own music with an orchestra. I would also like to go out into the world and have sessions with various musicians. I want to listen to sounds from all over the world and let these experiences inform and inspire compositions and musical activities.

Q: The message of True Colors Festival is “One World One Family”, what does this mean to you personally?  

A world where everyone is smiling.

Featured image by Ryohei Tominaga.

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True Colors Festival

TCF is a long-running international festival of performing arts. We celebrate diversity and inclusion, and embrace the fact that we are One World, One Family. We choose the arts as our platform, for its power to move, inspire and heal.

As a festival, TCF brings people together to generate exchanges, innovation and creativity; and transform the way we relate to each other.

Presented by The Nippon Foundation, TCF brings diverse artists and audiences together through concerts, documentaries, music videos, film screenings, children's programs, musicals, workshops and other activities. Since 2006, festivals have been organized in Southeast Asia and Japan, with more than 1,200 artists from more than 30 countries connecting with a global audience in more than 80 countries.

TCF invites you to journey with us, to enjoy, experience, share and spread our consciousness of being One World, One Family.

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