Hiro Takai, Rest In Peace

hiro-bms-hgThe world-wide harp guitar community and friends beyond the music world are mourning the loss of “Hiro-san” – our dear friend Hirokatsu Takai – who passed away December 18th, 2018. Hiro had suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm just after finishing a performance at his favorite club ten days prior, and never recovered. He was an all-too-young 55, at the height of his consistently amazing musical powers on the instrument he invented, the Koto Harp Guitar.

His music and performances were infused with, and inseparable from, his beautiful nature, and Hiro will be remembered most for his gentle soul and unrelentingly kind, generous and loving spirit. Every single person he met at the three Harp Guitar Gatherings he attended became his instant friend, and no performer – no human being – has ever made the impact that Hiro did at our event and through other channels in-between.

Hiro is survived by his beautiful family: wife Masami, daughter Mio and son Himuro. Please enquire to my wife Jaci if you’d like to send a card or a gift.

I’d like now to share my own cherished history with my friend.

with-SBI first learned of Hiro through Stephen Bennett. They had met in Japan in 2004 at “National Fingerpicking Day” and the guitar contest during the Morris Guitars-sponsored festival. Stephen was a judge, Hiro won the competition. Stephen was surprised that “he’d altered his guitar so it had some koto strings. I asked the other judges if this was ok, as it wouldn’t have been allowed by Winfield contest rules, but in Yokohama, it was fine.” What a first impression!

2004: And so, later that year, when Stephen, John Doan and I were putting together the seminal harp guitar compilation Beyond Six Strings, one of the submissions was by this intriguing artist on his unusual instrument (a brand new form of “harp guitar”). Our consensus was to include Hiro’s piece, but poor translating skills on both sides made the logistics too difficult at the time. You can see and hear a YouTube version of it here: “The Kano River in the Storm”

2009: Having kept in touch (and with five years to practice our communication), in 2009 we booked Hiro as our special international feature at HGG7, the 7th Harp Guitar Gathering (the first and last that we held on Halloween).

Hiro was beside himself with joy, as were we all, captivated by his music and taken in by his pure and loving heart. So many memories and adventures!

hiro-demos2011: Now producing CDs on my Harp Guitar Music label, I was  determined to create my own  meticulous method to collaborate with Hiro through his best friend Shinichi Yoshida. Throughout 2011, we undertook the inclusion of one of his pieces for the compilation Further Beyond Six Strings. HGM artists and affiliates know well my reputation of “tough love.” Hiro discovered this as well, as he went through several full iterations of his track, the final eventually occurring after he had rebuilt his original koto harp guitar to deal with its nagging intonation issues. (Pictured is just one iteration he sent – 3 new takes on a hand-illustrated CD.) For better or worse, he ultimately chose to forgo the original piece’s most haunting effect – koto harp guitar with bottleneck slide. Though I urged him to stick with the slide, Hiro made the call to rearrange it as a fretted piece. The results were of course still beautiful: his perseverance paid off and I was thrilled to see him join the “Harp Guitar Collective” (and so proud to earn my new appellation “my beautiful producer Gregg-san!”).

The piece was originally titled (per one of Hiro’s inimitable translations) “Sad eyes of separation who leave or send” – for me, a standout on the hand-crafted CD he sent Jaci and I after HGG7. Hiro and I subsequently shortened it and he embellished it further as it morphed into the demo versions. The final fretted version that appeared on Further Beyond Six Strings was then called “Prayer for You.”

UPDATE 10/25/19: Both versions now appear on our new CD, Hirokatsu Takai: Master of the Koto Harp Guitar.

 

2012: While we chose to splurge a bit on new Featured Performers for the Gathering’s 10th anniversary (we were as surprised as anyone that we made it!), we knew we had to celebrate the occasion by including Hiro. Once again, he charmed new friends and fans and left unforgettable memories.

Please listen.”
During opening dinner, Hiro reads the first of many carefully-prepared English announcements for the weekend.

Another mesmerizing performance.

His improvised duets in front of a live audience with another late great – Tom Shinness – were particularly moving.

At HGG10, we surprised Stephen with a special CD release.

When I conceived of this 2012 Tribute to Stephen Bennett album, Hiro was of course at the top of my invite list.

His “Yokohama SB” is as joyful a piece as one could wish for.

.

2017 and HGG15: Another anniversary year, and my own first time hosting. I was not to be denied!

So for the third time, Hiro – under his new stage name TakainoMoheji – made a triumphant appearance.

HGG15-Saturday-Hiro-Takai

It was also the debut of King Ghidorah, the new custom koto harp guitar built by Benoit Meulle-Stef. And it did not disappoint, nor did Hiro, with new pieces and techniques more marvelous than ever before.

HGG15-Saturday-Hiro-Takai-2

HGG15-Raffle

Two children. He always loved joining in the non-musical events. I don’t remember what was going on as we were preparing to raffle off “Hula Lula,” but we always had way too much fun.

Then of course, there was the impossible bounty of gifts that (as Stephen would say) Hiro somehow kept pulling out of his suitcase like Mary Poppins. Hand-selected and gorgeously-wrapped treasures for so many of us, even more meaningful now.

hiro-jaci-gregg

Besides the Gathering, Hiro was anxious to come to our home to finally meet our “children” and see the Miner Museum. We are so glad that he was able to visit.

Well, there is so much more I could write, and I haven’t really even said what I’m feeling – which is an unfillable void. I know just how many of you feel it too. Please feel free to include your own stories, memories, thoughts or photos in the Comments section below, as this will remain a permanent archive on Harpguitars.net. Hiro himself was a huge supporter of everything I – you – we – did…his oft-repeated exclamation was “I love the Harp Guitar Gathering!” He did, indeed. Because he loved the music, and he loved all of us.

2009 again: We were in Hiro’s room at the close of HGG7. Hiro had an early flight the next morning and we had to make our goodbyes. This, Hiro was simply unable to do, holding me in his arms sobbing. Finally, we taught him our American expression “until next time.” He remembered this always, and we would never in our lives say “goodbye” – only that. And so now, the whole world says to you, Hiro-san:

Until next time.
hiro-t

  1. Alex Kohtaro Yoshii Says:

    Thank you for the beautiful words, Gregg. I have only recently discovered Hiro’s singular musical voice and I’m shattered at his passing at such a young age. I will play in Japan next year and was hoping to maybe meet him. Heartfelt condolences to Hiro’s family.

  2. Benoit Says:

    I will deeply miss him

  3. sb Says:

    Thanks, Gregg, for this beautifully written tribute to our dear friend Hirokatsu.

    The man was a gem. A prince. One of the most beautiful souls I have ever encountered.

    Here’s a photo from HGG7. He insisted on getting this picture with my mom: http://www.harpguitars.net/images/blog/hiro/mr-stephens-great-mother.jpg

    Which reminds me of the Sunday dinner in Texas 3 years later, at HGG10, when Hiro-san came over to where Nancy and I were sitting. The meal was over and we were all just talking. He was carrying a bag and knelt down on the floor in front of us. With both hands, he reached into the bag and pulled out a gift “for Judith-san”, my mom. I promised I’d get it to her. He reached in again and pulled presents out “for Ben-san” (our dog), “for Jim-san” (one of my brothers, whom he’d never met), “for wedding” (Nancy’s and mine, 2 years earlier), “for Nancy-san” and finally, “for Stephen-san – Mr. Harp Guitar!”. There may have been something “for Will-san” too (my son), but I can’t recall for sure. At any rate, it was unbelievable and I could hardly stop laughing during this whole thing because it was so over the top. Hiro was laughing the whole time too. It’s widely known that the Japanese people are big into gifts; this was an amazing example of that. Nancy and I had brought a Milford t-shirt for him but at this point, of course, felt silly giving such a trivial thing to him. Regardless, we handed him his gift. “For me?”, he asked excitedly. “I wear!”.

    I know he brought a lot of material gifts to the friends he made in this country, but what I hope he understood in his heart – and what I truly hope that his family realizes – is that to all of us, Hiro-san – YOU were the gift. Your amazing spirit shone though your music and in every interaction I ever had with you. For that, I thank you, dear friend. And now I find myself in tears, again…

    sb

  4. Gregg Says:

    I apologize. I thought we could paste photos into comments. You CAN insert a link to a photo on the web like this: http://www.harpguitars.net/hgg/hgg10/woods-miner.jpg
    Or email to me and I can upload to the Hiro folder.

    My link is from HGG10. Frank and I had planned a visit with my nearby collector friend Matt Woods. Taking Hiro with us, he proceeded to wow us by playing every possible guitar style on all these rare guitars. With his personality and antics, I would often forget what a monster guitar player he was!

  5. Dan and Bets Says:

    We woke this gray morning in Iowa to the email from SB and are still searching for understanding of such shattering news. Our first HGG was also Hiro’s and we almost instantly adopted him into our hearts (sound familiar?). We once gave him a coffee cup with Iowa town names on it (which he always called “The Cup of Iowa”) and it was as if we’d given him the state capitol building. Of course he reciprocated with gifts, which we display and treasure, and we communicated when possible. In fact, his 2019 Christmas card went into the mail three days ago.

    We have a batch of wonderful photos of Hiro on and offstage, which we will be sending Gregg ASAP for possible uploading and sharing. Meanwhile let us not so much grieve in our loss of our Hiro, but glory in having known and loved him.

    Christmas blessings to us all

  6. Randall Sprinkle Says:

    HGG 10 was the first one for me. I remember thinking that the duet with Hiro and Tom was one of the most beautiful musical moments that I had ever witnessed. Hiro was such a gracious person. It was a privilege to have met him.

  7. Mike Doolin Says:

    I almost didn’t attend HGG7. I had hosted HGG6 and was, frankly, a little burned out. And having been to all the gatherings thus far, I guess I figured I’d pretty much seen what the instrument had to offer! But I wanted to stay in touch with all my friends, so I did go. And on that first night open mic, I got an inkling of how much more the instrument had to offer, embodied by Hirosaki Takai. I sat in the audience, dumbstruck, and mentally slapped my own forehead – I knew then that I must never, ever miss a Harp Guitar Gathering!

    And that was before I even talked to the guy. I honestly don’t remember how much I interacted with him at that first Gathering, but I came home having been deeply touched by both his musical genius and his playful, enthusiastic, yet gentle presence.

    Attached: Hiro, with Andy Wahlberg and Frank Doucette: http://www.harpguitars.net/images/blog/hiro/hiro-andy-frank-doolin.jpg

    Each year after that, I hoped Hiro would return, and he did return for HGG10. I too was a recipient of one of his gifts, a shop apron, which hangs in my shop to this day. But more significant to me was a bit of time we had together after breakfast on the Friday. I was just hanging around, and Hiro came over and sat next to me, and he really tried to talk to me. With his minimal English and my two or three Japanese phrases, we talked about music, and instruments, and the Gathering, and friendships, and feelings. It felt like we were the only two people in the room, and that language differences were a minor inconvenience, nothing that could stand in the way of our honest and sincere communication.

    Later, Hiro played his feature program. Again, I sat in the audience, dumbstruck. His compositions were like two whole cultures singing together, World Music in the finest sense, with all the power and drama of an orchestra under his hands. By the end of the set I was emotionally rung out. I went back stage to find him, tears welling in my eyes, and told him, “Hiro, you touched my heart.” We hugged, and cried together.

    It was wonderful to see him again at HGG15, especially to see his glee at playing the instrument Benoit built for him. But it was a really full Gathering with lots going on, so unfortunately for me I didn’t get much personal interaction with Hiro. Now, of course, I regret that deeply.

    A friend of mine is fond of saying, “_These_ are the times”. She’s right. Every moment we have with one another may be the last, and is inherently precious.

  8. John Riley Says:

    Dana and I first met Hiro at HGG15 and instantly came to love him. What comes to me now is the way that he constantly carried with him a framed picture of Tom Shinness, who we lost to cancer just a few months before. Now I think we will all need a picture of Hiro to carry around as well. Of course, for those of us who were privileged to meet him, the best picture of Hiro will be the one that we carry in our hearts.

    I sent him a limited edition CD of Tom and Phil Keaggy playing together a few months ago. He took a childlike delight in it. I shall always be glad I had the opportunity to give him a token of our affection while he was still with us.

  9. MASAMI TAKAI Says:

    Thank you for adding Hiro’s music to 2019 gathering.

    I’m so happy that I can’t make it into words.

    Hiro’s CD made by Gregg 、Frank, Jaci and his friends are wonderful and dreamy
    Thank you for being one of the HGG musicians’ companions.

    I hope you have a lot of blessings.

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