Saturday, February 15, 2014

Composer revealed as a fraud!

I read last week in the National Post an article by Martin Fackler outlining Japan's collective outrage over one of their most celebrated modern-day composers has apparently been revealed as more of a fraud artist than composer.

His name might not come immediately to mind here in North America, although serious music lovers will be familiar with the work of Mamoru Samuragochi, a 50-year-old supposed musical genius who also happened to be deaf.

Well, it turns out he isn't a composer and maybe even not deaf, either.  The revelations were revealed last week by Samuragochi himself, who admitted he had hired a ghost-writer since the 1990s to write most of his music.  Faking his deafness was apparently an attempt to win public sympathy.

So, how did all this happen and why did Mr. Samuragochi finally feel the need to unburden his soul of such news?  Blame the Sochi Olympics.

You see, the real writer of such Japanese classical hits as Samuragochi's Symphony No. 1 Hiroshima and the Sonatina for Violin, which was to be used by the Olympic figure skater Daisuke Takahashi for his short program in Sochi, Mr. Takashi Niigaki, a 43-year-old unknown composer and part-time lecturer at an important musical college in Tokyo, decided enough was enough.

He had threatened to go public about the deception before, but persistent begging not to on the part of Samuragochi averted a public scandal.   Until now.  Mr. Niigaki just couldn't stomach the idea one of his songs would accompany an Olympic skater representing his country, thereby making the skater Takahashi a co-conspirator in the crime.

So he did what he considered to be the honourable thing and went public with the deception, revealing he had in fact written more than 20 songs for Mr. Samuragochi since 1996, for which he was paid about US$ 70,000.

My first thought when I saw that figure was, that doesn't sound like much money, really, considering the amount of music he produced while working under wraps and the length of time he was doing it, and considering how many of the works had become bonafide hits in Japan.  But, who knows?  Maybe he was comfortable with that amount of money to prevent the guilt from becoming too great a burden to bear all these years.

The really sad part of this story is Niigaki's claim Samuragochi was faking his deafness, saying Mr. Samuragochi was successfully pulling at the collective heartstrings of Japanese music-lovers, all the while claiming his loss of hearing at the age of 35 turned out to be "a gift from God."

As you can imagine, Japanese society is not amused by all these revelations.  The reactions have ranged from anger to disbelief to even embarrassment on the part of Japanese media for their failure to uncover the deception from the beginning.

Orchestras across Japan are cancelling concerts featuring Mr. Samuragochi's music, and one is even considering a lawsuit to recover revenue from lost ticket sales resulting from the cancellations.   This in a country where litigation is considered far more extreme a reaction than in America, for example.

So, what can we learn from all this?  Well for one thing, we should not just fall for every heartwarming story without perhaps stepping back first and questioning the validity of the story.  I know, we all want to believe the feel-good, heartstring-pulling stories; we all fall for them hoping society will indeed show their softer side and really believe the story being told.

Aside from that, I find it interesting people find it appalling a so-called gifted composer used a ghost-writer all this time, while books are routinely written by ghost-writers on behalf of celebrity and non-celebrity people, and everyone seems fine with that.  What's the difference?

I'm not absolving Mr. Samuragochi of his deception by any means.  Why he felt he had to go this route is beyond comprehension, really.  But this is not the first time this sort of deception has happened and you can be sure it won't be the last, either.  History is littered with fraudsters and those who think they can get away with it but ultimately get caught, both in classical and popular music as well as elsewhere.

We all love a good, heartwarming story about someone making good in the face of adversity.  But even if Mr. Samuragochi didn't write the music himself, the music is still valid on its own terms.

Give Mr. Niigaki his due, for sure.  Enjoy the music still, absolutely.  But forget about the public outcry over the whole deception and move on.  In the overall scheme of things, as history has shown us so many times before, it's probably better that way.

February 15th, 2014.

No comments: