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Kinnara Gagaku

About this Artist

Gagaku is the world’s oldest form of orchestral music still performed. It is the collective music of ancient Asian civilization, and survives most intact in Japan, where it was adopted by the Imperial Court around the 8th century CE. It includes music and dance pieces from various parts of Asia as early as 100 BCE. In Japan, it also became part of Japanese Buddhist liturgical and processional music. It entered into the liturgical music of the Jodoshinshu Sect in Japan in the 17th century. Jodoshinshu Buddhism is the earliest and largest group of Buddhists among the Japanese American community, with its official beginning in 1899. Gagaku music was brought to temples in the U.S. as early as 1910 where it grew and spread among the west coast temples until World War II and the internment of Japanese Americans from the west coast. Since Gagaku was associated with the Japanese Court it was immediately suspect by the U.S. Government along with anyone involved with a Japanese martial or cultural art. Most of the Gagaku instruments and music notes were thus destroyed by its practitioners to avoid arrest by the FBI.

After the war, most of the Japanese and Japanese Americans returned to the west coast, resettled and rebuilt their old temples, and created new temples re-establishing Japanese and Japanese American cultural and religious customs.

In 1969, Kinnara Gagaku started at Senshin Buddhist Temple in south-central Los Angeles, founded by Rev. Masao Kodani and taught for over 35 years by former Japanese Imperial Court musician Suenobu Togi, who taught gagaku at the University of California, Los Angeles. Kinnara Gagaku is a lay group composed of temple and community members. In 2019, Kinnara celebrated its 50th anniversary and continues to practice and play for Buddhist services and cultural events.