By KENICHI SHINDO/ Staff Writer
March 21, 2021 at 08:00 JST
Consider the saxophone player's pandemic dilemma: How to play at home in a Japanese apartment, notorious for paper-thin walls, without making your neighbors want to kill you.
In a pre-COVID-19 world, musicians in Japan had the luxury of rehearsing at one of the multitude of studios spread all over the country.
Many studios are still open, but for some musicians, fear of catching the novel coronavirus is enough to stop them from going there.
Those stuck at home are thus turning to digital wind instruments that they can play while listening to the results through headphones.
Sales of the wind synthesizer, one such instrument, have skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic last year, with both beginning musicians and senior citizens making up many of the buyers.
"With fewer face-to-face lessons available, the wind synthesizer has drawn attention because you can play it at home any time," said saxophone player Mana Arakawa, who has lauded the wind synthesizer on her YouTube channel.
In mid-February, Arakawa was giving an online music lesson to Takumi Ito, 38, a company employee, from her home studio in a residential area in Tokyo.
"I can hardly ever go to a studio (because of the pandemic)," Ito lamented over the computer screen, speaking from his home in Kawasaki.
"Let's work on what we can do for now," Arakawa said, before starting the lesson.
Ito was holding a YDS-150 digital saxophone, newly released in November 2020 by leading musical instrument manufacturer Yamaha Corp.
Available for around 100,000 yen ($924), the instrument made by the Hamamatsu-based company has become popular for its fingering, which is similar to the saxophone.
The first batch of several thousands sold out immediately and the company is now accepting reservations for the next, which will arrive this summer, it said.
"It's great for me, because I feel free to play it without having to worry about my neighbors as long as I use headphones," Ito said of the digital sax.
The YDS-150, which is known as an electronic or digital wind instrument, is shaped like a recorder, which has made it popular with beginners, and played by breathing into it and covering its finger holes.
Musicians playing it can easily re-create sounds of instruments including the saxophone, piano and synthesizer.
Wind synthesizers, available in many varieties, are widely used for creating computer music and other compositions, live performances and practicing wind instruments at home.
The EWI electronic wind instrument series that looks similar to woodwind instruments is offered by inMusic Japan K.K. based in Tokyo's Minato Ward.
The instrument has been short in supply since spring last year when Japan declared a state of emergency over the pandemic.
Its overall sales saw a double-digit increase in 2020, the company said.
The Akai EWI Solo model, released in August last year for beginners and selling for 60,000 yen or so, features 200 onboard sounds for the player to experiment with.
The first shipment of several hundreds sold out immediately and Akai has received two and a half times more order reservations than it has stock to fill. Customers placing new orders can receive the product in or after June, inMusic Japan said.
Roland Corp.'s Aerophone series is easy to play like a recorder and allows the player to produce a variety of sounds with breath control. A hot seller is the Aerophone mini AE-01, which the leading electronic instrument manufacturer, based in Hamamatsu, released in fall 2019. The instrument, made for beginners, sells for about 36,000 yen.
"Many elderly people start playing the (digital) instruments after getting stuck in stay-at-home lifestyles, saying that they can enjoy playing even though they have a low lung capacity," a Roland representative said.
"An increasing number of people seem to be enjoying playing electronic instruments at home in a relaxed manner because they don't have to worry about the sounds echoing through the neighborhood when they use headphones," said an official at the Tokyo-based Japan Musical Instruments Association, which comprises about 500 manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers.
caption 1: "With a fingering arrangement similar to the saxophone, it's easy to play," Mana Arakawa said of the Aerophone AE-10, a digital wind instrument, which sells for around 86,000 yen ($794). (Provided by Roland Corp.)
caption 2: Mana Arakawa, head of the Favori Musique music class, gives an online lesson with the Akai EWI Solo electronic wind instrument in Tokyo on Feb. 18. (Kenichi Shindo)
caption 3: "You can customize the settings to enjoy the instrument in your own way. It's also user-friendly, with a built-in speaker," Arakawa said of the Akai EWI Solo. (Provided by inMusic Japan K.K.)
caption 4: The YDS-150 digital saxophone "offers an extensive range of 56 saxophone sounds, while the fingering is quite the same as the saxophone. It's recommended as a 'gateway' for those who want to start playing the sax," Arakawa said. (Provided by Yamaha Corp.)
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