Miki Sawada is a classically-trained pianist. Since 2017, she’s been traveling with a piano, in a van, to community spaces throughout the country, to perform classical music for free. Called the Gather Hear Tour, Miki’s project has traveled from Alaska to West Virginia to an upcoming tour in Massachusetts.
We asked Miki about the tour, her work, and her life as an artist committed to the power of music.
Where did the Gather Hear Tour, in which you tour with a piano to different areas of the country to perform classical music, start for you?
Not where, but when: it started the day after Trump was elected in 2016. The immediate question I had for myself – especially as an immigrant – was, “Do I still want to stay in this country?” and the answer was yes. The next question was, “What is my role as a classical musician in this moment? How do I make my time here worthwhile?” I almost immediately came up with the idea to use classical music as a reason for me to travel far and wide across this country, which I had realized through the election that I knew so much less about than I thought I did. Through music, I could meet and connect with people I never would have otherwise.
I’ve always struggled with the status quo in classical music – its rigidity in format, the formalities around it, the way it oftentimes isolates itself from the real world and the masses. Gather Hear is a way for me to challenge that status quo, to show that there are other ways to present classical music.
You have received funding support for the project, including from New Music USA, Alaska Humanities Forum, Mass Cultural Council’s Local Cultural Council Program. What forms of support have been most impactful to you, as an artist?
Artist grants have given me a safety net for the project, for which I am very grateful. My project budget comes about 30% from grants and 70% from individual contributions.
Individual contributions, either in-person from concert audiences or from project fans around the world, are so crucial to the project, not just in the numbers. All Gather Hear concerts are free to the audience, and I love that people who have the means pay-it-forward to cover the costs of those who can’t afford to pay. These concerts are for the people, not art for art’s sake, so it makes sense for them to be supported by the people as well. I dream of the day that I have 2000 dedicated fans who commit to contributing $10 for every tour – then I’d never have to fundraise again!
Spring, Summer, Winter or Fall?
Winter! I love the cold, the snow, how the air sounds. It makes me feel the most alive.
Do you live with any animals?
My husband and I have a German Shepherd mix named Shakira. She has the most delightful ears. She insists on putting her head in between my lap and my laptop while I work, and on the piano pedals while I practice.
I’ve been training for the San Juan Solstice 50 mile ultramarathon in Colorado in June, which has 10,000+ feet of elevation gain and is at altitude. Massachusetts trails have been very good to me during the pandemic, but I’m ready to get out west!
Miki Sawada’s Gather Hear has its Massachusetts tour this month:
5/6, 6PM Co-Creative Center, New Bedford
5/8, 3PM Brockton Main Library, Brockton
5/9, 3PM West Medford Community Center, Medford (Limited capacity)
5/11, 2PM The Point After Club, Lawrence (Limited to guests of the Point After Club, a mental illness support group.)
5/13, 6PM Chelsea Square (Winnisimmet Park), Chelsea, presented by Chelsea Prospers
5/15, 3PM Mill Street, Fitchburg, presented by ReImagine North of Main
5/18, 6:30PM Dewey Hall, Sheffield (Limited capacity)
5/22, 4PM The Spot Lot, Easthampton, presented by Easthampton City Arts
5/23, 1PM TOURISTS, North Adams (Reservation Required)
5/25, 6PM Orange Peel Bakery, Martha’s Vineyard
5/27, 5:30PM UU Urban Ministry, Roxbury, Boston
5/28, 2PM The Boston Home, Dorchester, Boston (Limited to residents of the Boston Home, a care facility for adults with advanced multiple sclerosis.)
5/30, 3PM Ames Free Library, Easton
More info/attend events. All concerts are free and will take place outdoors and socially distanced.
Miki Sawada is a classically-trained musician and the creator of the Gather Hear Tour. Learn more about her at mikisawada.com.
Image: Miki Sawada performing at The Grove, a DIY music venue in Fayetteville, West Virginia, 2018, photo by Chris Jackson; Miki Sawada traveling on the Denali Highway with piano, 2017, photo by Andrew Rizzardi.