In this video, Appalachian State University graduate Shohei Tsutsumi ’18, from Osaka, Japan, and his mentor Dr. William Schumann, associate professor and director of the university’s Center for Appalachian Studies, discuss the positive impact of Tsutsumi’s decision to attend Appalachian as an international student.
Dr. Billy Schumann: Shohei is from Osaka, Japan, and reached out with an interest in Appalachian music and culture that built on his studies back home.
And so, the first time I met Shohei was actually on my front porch with other graduate students and faculty from the Appalachian studies program.
And Shohei brought the fiddle and started to play.
He didn't know it was an audition, but it was ... and we didn't intend it as an audition, but he was so good and so interested in music, and before the end of his visit there, our faculty got together and resolved to offer him a scholarship before he left the house to try to make sure that he chose Appalachian State.
And so, Shohei has been out meeting and learning from local fiddlers and other musicians in Virginia and across Western North Carolina and into central Appalachia.
Shohei Tsutsumi ’18: And so, bluegrass music in Japan has been popular since after World War II, and through the radio station with U.S. Army, a lot of Japanese people heard a kind of different music, totally different from what they had heard before.
Listen to some banjo for the first time, the fiddle, mandolin for the first time.
So, after that, bluegrass became a kind of a subculture.
One scholar, he's an ethnomusicologist, defined the kind of this Appalachian, especially old-time music, as a participatory music.
I especially drawn to this participatory aspect of all the music, because if you go to jam session, if you do not have any tune prepared beforehand, you can kind of learn on the spot from the other musicians.
This creates a really, really tight and friendly and strong community.
I think we should preserve this kind of music traditions because each tune, each song or each style has kept the kind of a culture, history.
When we perform the tune, we have some kind of a story behind it, you know.
Who made up that tune or who learned that tune from other person.
That's why I think it's wise to preserve these kinds of traditions.
Dr. Billy Schumann: We all gain as a learning community and wider community with Shohei here.
What we get out of this is an idea about the possibilities of who we can be from another part of the world.
And how unique our place is, that someone from Osaka, Japan, would elect to move around the planet to be here and take part in that.
And so, it's not just that Shohei was absorbing that, but actually contributing to it.
And so, how we understand old-time music and Appalachian culture is part of Shohei as much as it is about me, or you or anyone else.
And that's what we can really learn at Appalachian, is about the diversity of a learning community and how that strengthens all of us.
BOONE, N.C. — An international student’s decision to study old-time music at Appalachian State University has influenced not only their life but others’ as a local community begins to see itself and its traditions from a new perspective.
Shohei Tsutsumi, who uses the singular pronoun “they,” is from Osaka, Japan, and graduated with a Master of Arts in Appalachian studies — the first student from Japan to earn the degree. Before arriving at Appalachian, Tsutsumi completed a master’s degree in American studies at Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan, with a thesis on underrepresented black contemporary old-time musicians.
Tsutsumi explained how they heard about the Appalachian studies program: “(In) 2014, in the summer, I went to Mount Airy, and that was my first visit to Appalachia,” Tsutsumi said in an episode of the podcast “Get Up in the Cool: Old Time Music with Cameron DeWitt and Friends.”
“It was so fascinating because there were many people playing, and people play all day and all night. That made me want to really learn more and also do research on the community,” Tsutsumi said.
It was there Tsutsumi met Dave Woods ’09, former academic director of the Appalachian studies program, who introduced Tsutsumi to the degree program.
Tsutsumi’s next meeting was with Dr. William Schumann, associate professor and director of the university’s Center for Appalachian Studies. On Schumann’s porch, Tsutsumi gathered alongside other graduate students and faculty from the Appalachian studies program for what turned out to be an audition.
Schumann said Tsutsumi was “so good and so interested in music” that before the end of that visit, the faculty members got together and resolved to offer Tsutsumi a scholarship.
While at Appalachian, Tsutsumi received the Anne and Alex Bernhardt Endowed Scholarship in Appalachian Music through the Appalachian studies program in 2017 and 2018 for studies on local music traditions, and won several prizes at old-time music contests.
Tsutsumi also taught old-time fiddle and banjo for the Appalachian Strings classes on campus and for Junior Appalachian Musicians at the Jones House in Boone, and has performed for various events — including the Appalachian Teaching Project Meeting in Washington, D.C., in 2017.
“Shohei has been out meeting and learning from local fiddlers and other musicians in Virginia and across Western North Carolina and into Central Appalachia,” Schumann said.
Tsutsumi also interned with former NPR journalist Paul Brown for the “Across the Blue Ridge” show, which is distributed by radio station 88.5 WFDD and focuses on the southern area of the Blue Ridge Mountains, exploring southern music and culture. Tsutsumi’s internship duties included covering Appalachian’s 10th annual Old-Time Fiddlers Convention in 2018.
On May 12 Tsutsumi performed at the College of Arts and Sciences’ commencement ceremony as the featured graduate student, filling Holmes Convocation Center with a beautiful melody that was met with resounding applause.
Tsutsumi plans to stay in the region and work at more internships to pursue a career in public folklore. “I really want to experience the life and culture more closely,” they said in the podcast.
For Schumann and the Appalachian studies program, Tsutsumi represents more than just another student. “We all gain as a learning community and wider community with Shohei here,” Schumann said.
“What we get out of this is an idea about the possibilities of who we can be from another part of the world. And how unique our place is — that someone from Osaka, Japan, would elect to move around the planet to be here. … what we can really learn at Appalachian is about the diversity of a learning community and how that strengthens all of us,” he added.
Someday, Tsutsumi plans to share their Appalachian Experience back home.
“I have a very, very vague vision: After I spend like 20 years here, I think I may go back to Japan to share my experience with Japanese folks,” Tsutsumi said later in the podcast.
“I think there is a need for this kind of cultural experience. I think someone like me would be interested in Appalachian culture, like it could change their life. Because totally, my encounter with this music and culture changed my life.”
About the Center for Appalachian Studies
The Center for Appalachian Studies promotes public programs, community collaboration, civic engagement and scholarship on the Appalachian region. The center is committed to building healthy communities and deepening knowledge of Appalachia’s past, present and future through community-based research and engagement. Learn more at https://appcenter.appstate.edu.
About the College of Arts and Sciences
The College of Arts and Sciences is home to 16 academic departments, one stand-alone academic program, two centers and one residential college. These units span the humanities and the social, mathematical and natural sciences. The College of Arts and Sciences aims to develop a distinctive identity built upon our university's strengths, traditions and unique location. The college’s values lie not only in service to the university and local community, but through inspiring, training, educating and sustaining the development of its students as global citizens. There are approximately 6,100 student majors in the college. As the college is also largely responsible for implementing Appalachian's general education curriculum, it is heavily involved in the education of all students at the university, including those pursuing majors in other colleges. Learn more at https://cas.appstate.edu.
About graduate education at Appalachian
Appalachian State University’s Cratis D. Williams School of Graduate Studies helps individuals reach the next level in their career advancement and preparedness. The graduate school offers 70 master's and certificate programs in a range of disciplines, including doctoral programs in education (Ed.D.) and psychology (Psy.D.). Classes are offered at the main campus in Boone as well as online and face-to-face at locations around northwestern North Carolina. The graduate school enrolls nearly 1,800 students. Learn more at https://graduate.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System, Appalachian enrolls more than 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.