• Posted February 03, 2016
    Dear friends and supporters,

    Tomorrow is the first full rehearsal of For Malala and I am very excited to hear the piece come together with everyone on board. Sectionals have been taking place, including a first rehearsal with my trio, featuring Michael Glynn on bass and Max Wood on drums and last week I also attended an orchestra rehearsal to listen but not to play.

    The process of rehearsal is always interesting and there is a lot of work still ahead, but it is really gratifying to hear the elements come together and to hear the piece being born!

    There are always so many things to learn as a composer. Every new piece composed is experiential and one gains so much from listening well and understanding what kinds of issues arise and what to do about them. I was thankful for having at least one rehearsal where I did not have to play and where I could just listen. Small things matter too, I found out for instance that there was a place where I had written an Eb in the tuba and trombone an octave below the french horn and it was fine except that the range got right in the way of the cellos in the string section and it sounded like an unintended clash. It was the cellist who brought it to my attention because initially it was not that easy for me to hear it. These kinds of details can make the difference between the sound being muddy or clear and can take away from the sonority I was aiming for. And thats just one detail among many!

    I wanted to also alert anyone in the Seattle area or anyone who thinks they can make the concert to let me know ASAP, because I can provide you with comps and VIP seating, but please let me know as soon as you can. Also please reach out and let me know if you have any questions or concerns or just to say hello. I would so love to hear from you!

    There will be a preconcert lecture starting at 6:30 with Samuel Jones, and yours truly.

    I am excited but also a little nervous as the date gets closer!

    Please help spread the word if you are local to the Seattle area by sharing the link below. We are trying to get the word out especially amongst the jazz audiences who may not ordinarily be on the radar for this concert. I would love to see you there!!! I would not have been able to write this piece without your support and you are a big part of making this happen! THANK YOU and THANKS AGAIN and AGAIN!


    You can let me know here or email me at sumi.tonooka@gmail.com

    more to come and soon!

  • Posted January 20, 2016
    Author: Sumi Tonooka
    January 19, 2016

    Dear friends and supporters,
    (special audio gift in this email)

    Happy New Year! It has been two years since my last update and For Malala is finally composed! Rehearsals are now taking place and I will be performing the premier featuring my trio with the NorthWest Symphony Orchestra under the direction of conductor Anthony Spain on February 12th at the Highline Performing Arts Center in Burien, Washington just a few miles south of Seattle, 7:30 PM. The concert will be recorded and I will share this recording with all of you ASAP. The theme of the evenings concert is love, and the many manifestations of love, For Malala, represents humanitarian love and hope.

    I had every good intention to blog and share my creative compositional life while I was creating For Malala, for which you have all contributed towards. I wish that I was able to keep you all up to date during the creation phase but I found it truly challenging to do it all at the same time. Folks, I have been so busy! And happy to say very productive. Since moving to Seattle about three and a half years ago, I have composed three symphonic works and a variety of chamber works.

    On November of 2015 I was composer in residence for the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra under the direction of conductor Delta David Geir where some of these new works were performed. I plan to write about the residency, and share more about these works in the near future. I feel that all of this composing helped prepare me and contributed greatly towards writing For Malala.

    Full Circle (for the American Composers Symphony Orchestra)
    Rust (for the group Scrape a Seattle based String Orchestra with electric guitar and harp)
    Barefoot (for the Upstate NY chamber group Madera Vox, for soprano, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, percussion)
    Driftwood a jazz chamber work for( piano, cello, flute, clarinet, bass, drums and percussion) made possible by Artist Trust
    Mingus Mood, jazz musings on an original theme for Woodwind Quintet (bassoon, oboe, bass clarinet, French Horn and flute)
    Waiting for Alchemy Project
    Joie De Vivre for Alchemy Project

    Some of you may not know that during the time I was composing this piece, Malala Yousafzai became the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize! Since the shooting, her activism has only deepened and she continues to speak and organize, working towards this hugely important cause of education for girls, women and all children.

    In composing this work I wanted to write a piece that would celebrate and honor the courage of a real life young heroine, a young girl who had the courage to stand up and speak out for the right to go to school and did so during a most tumultuous time in Pakistan. She was gunned down for her activism and miraculously lived. When I first heard about this story I was stunned. What were the forces that could lead to someone actually attempting to commit such an act and take the life of a twelve year old girl? I wanted to know more.The more I learned the more helpless I felt. I asked myself what could I possibly do? And then I realized I could write music that would celebrate her and help bring more attention to her cause.

    Compositionally I had several goals when composing the work. I wanted the music to be level appropriate for performances by high school and community orchestra’s such as the Northwestern Symphony Orchestra whom I was writing it for specifically. I was aiming for the music to successfully blend the orchestra with my jazz trio and personal jazz vocabulary. Emotionally I wanted the music to speak to Malala’s courage and bravery. I wanted the music to be honest and heartfelt.

    During the process of composing I improvise and record to inspire thematic material and to search for the right tone or mood. Normally I would not choose to share this early stage of composing the piece but I wanted to give you all a little inside look into the earlier stages of putting it together as a special thank you for your support. This improvisation was recorded using Logic and is the seed from which the orchestral work For Malala is based on.
    I hope you enjoy listening to it! More to come and soon!

    Hatchfund Supporter Audio GIft

  • Posted January 24, 2014

    Dear friends and Supporters,

    THANK YOU for helping me reach my minimum fundraising goal for my second orchestral work “For Malala”!!

    I am humbled, encouraged and strengthened by the show of support from all of you.

    This is just a reminder that the drive is not over yet and that the fundraising does not stop here. We are still $2,542.00 away from the maximum goal of 15,000.00 and only 17 days left to get there and that’s it, all over. Because the minimum goal was reached all contributions donated from this point on will go towards the project with no risk of failure.

    I am asking that you continue to share the project with your own networks, and help me get to %90 percent of the maximum goal by Wednesday of next week.

    Also a reminder that the perks will be sent out by the end of next month, as well as the first blog.

    And another question- Did anyone not receive a personal thank you from me? If not will you please let me know?? I really hate to think that I may have missed someone.

    I am sending another audio track in this email via a sound cloud link as a gift to for your listening pleasure and to share with your friends.

    It is from my latest solo CD called “NOW” and was recorded live at The Howland Cultural Center in Beacon NY. ( if you already have it because you were a supporter for “NOW” I hope you enjoy it again!)

    The title of the track is called “Mingus Mood”. It was composed originally for a film score for a film called “Crosstown” by Philadelphia film maker Miriam Camitta. Let me know what you think!!

    sending my very best and many more, THANKS!!

  • Posted January 11, 2014
    THANK YOU!!!!

    We did it!!! AND I just found out that because the campaign is successful the site gets to stay up for 30 more days so that we can try and reach the final goal.

    I want to thank each and everyone of you who donated to this project. Your generosity and support mean more then I can say. I thank you again and again.

    Your support will give me the opportunity to compose a piece that will bring more light to Malala Yousafzai and her fight for freedom of education for girls and all children and womens rights.

    Please stay tuned for future updates.

    I am honored to have you with me as I move forward in composing the work and I look forward to sharing and blogging about the process with you.

    Sending a heartfelt THANK YOU!!!!
  • Posted January 10, 2014
    7 1/2 hours countdown!!

    Dear friends,

    We have seven and half hours left!

    We are nearing the end of this fund drive “For Malala” The campaign ends at 11:59 tonight!
    So far we have raised $10,393.00 with $1,607.00 needed in order for the campaign to succeed.
    There are 103 backers! THANK YOU over and over for your show of support.

    Please continue to share the link and help spread the word.

    I am very excited about the opportunity to compose “For Malala” for the North West Symphony and I want to thank conductor Anthony Spain. I would like to thank the Jazz Composers Orchestra Intensive and the entire JCOI community including the American Composers Orchestra, all of the mentor composers and conductors and all of the selected 38 wonderful fellow jazz composers who I attended the program with. I thank all the sponsors and funding organizations who made this program happen. And I very much hope that the JCOI can continue to support and encourage jazz composers in this transformative way.

    The JCOI was an experience that not only gave me the opportunity to have my first orchestral work performed but also gave me the support and encouragement to go for my dreams as a composer. It’s all their fault that I have gotten myself into this! (just kidding but kind of true)

    I do not have words for how blown away I am for your show of support for this work. Simply put "Thank you, Thank you and thanks again.

    Sumi Tonooka
  • Posted January 08, 2014
    Dear backers.


    THANK YOU TO ALL 79 SUPPORTERS!! We have raised $7,501,00 dollars!! We still must raise $4,499.00 in order for the campaign to succeed and we have 3 days to do it. Please continue to share the link and if you really want to go the distance telephone calls are the most effective! You may also add to your donation if so inspired.

    The theme for the evening of the concert premier 'For Malala" is humanitarian love. Malala is seeking to create a country and a world where education is a basic right. She is the young girl who see's the emperors clothes and yells out "I want to go to school, I want to learn, I am not afraid, this is not a crime" and she was shot down for her activism and the strength of her voice.
    She awakens from the coma, as if reinvigorated and continues her fight for freedom of education and women's rights. She is a great humanitarian and at such a young age.

    Your support is an example of humanitarian love and there are no words for what it feels like to receive it and to know that I am not alone in composing this work.
    SO yes, still a ways to go and so little time, but I am keeping the faith that we will get there!

    with gratitude,

  • Posted December 20, 2013
    Listening to the American Composers Orchestra read my first Orchestral work "Full Circle" at the Miller Theatre in NYC, June 2013

    THANK YOU for your support and donations! I am immensely grateful and humbled! We are two weeks into a five week campaign and 30% funded! Still a ways to go and I ask that you please continue to spread the word and share with your friends.

    Presently my thoughts about composing “For Malala’ are in the form of questions. I think the process of composing is one of being in the question, which can shift and move around a lot.

    I ask myself, how will I be able to translate my inspiration into music? What are the central themes, emotionally, musically? How will I address the form? How do I use the story and the message of Malala Yousafzai to help drive the musical work forward? How do I plan to use the work and music to help her cause? How will I use the jazz rhythm section and improvisation to drive the piece? What role will the piano trio play within the context of the orchestra? What will my harmonic, melodic and rhythmic language be or sound like. Where do I start? What is the length of the piece going to be?

    Then there are the existential questions like “What the hell do I think I am doing?” “What if I fail?” “What does this matter?” “Who do I think I am? “What can I possibly bring to the orchestra that has not been done before?” I realize that these questions don’t get you very far and if given too much focus and energy can drive you very quickly away from the point, which is to create the work. I do not think I am alone in pondering such questions as I think most creatives in their struggle to bring something new into the world enter a land of not knowing, something is being born, but we do not know what. So there can be fear of the unknown just for starters. I would propose that being a jazz musician provides an advantage in that the art of improvisation requires that we learn to navigate and embrace this territory, it is our modus operandi.

    There is a lot of decision making in composing, some of them very minuscule and some huge, all of them important. Composing and completing an orchestral piece requires trust, intuition, and persistence. It requires you to face fear and doubt, to stay open and to continue learning, to listen well and be curious. You must show up day after day to do the work, being willing to edit out what you do not need or what is not serving the piece. A lot of your ideas may be good but not right for the moment or the work.

    Today I was looking at my notebook that I kept during the composing of my first symphonic work Full Circle. In this piece the central theme was circles. Circles in life, circles of connection, the image of the Yin Yang sign, a continuous flow, how things come and go and come again. I drew pictures, I experimented with musical circles, harmonically, rhythmically, melodically. I wrote and sketched out idea’s in words and in music. I drew pictures.

    I wrote things like Let chord fade slowly down to a triple pianissimo and then play floating melody like this.

    I took notes on who and what I listened to. I spent a lot of time with Mingus, Ellington, Dolphy, Monk, Ravel, Faure, Debussy, Stravinsky, Takemitsu, Messaien, Corigliano. I made frequent trips to the music library to listen with score in hand, Sometimes it was just to touch and look at the scores and feel them, these great works of these great composers here in my hands, as if somehow the inspiration could flow from the paper and seep into my being.

    The compositional process with any major work is very individual from composer to composer. For me, it is rather long,hairy and amorphous. I was taking a walk with my sister this morning and trying to explain what it is like. I found myself saying “There are so many things to consider, the process has so many sides and dimensions to it, it’s like diving into a big pie with all kinds of layers, kind of messy” and she responded “yeah, as all good pies are”.
  • Posted December 11, 2013
    Dear Supporters,


    Right now on Hatchfund there is a 1-to-1 dollar match, to projects with funding between 10% and 50% of the minimum goal, up to $500 per project. If you can give now, your support will go twice as far towards my second symphonic work “For Malala”

    I wanted to share a letter I received from my friend Steve Rowland about why he supports this project. I know Steve from my early days in Philadelphia. We were in the same musical circles and we share many connections. But first a little more about Steve.

    Steve Rowland has worked in public broadcasting for nearly 25 years. He has worked as a jazz club manager, a late night jazz radio host, a radio station music director and oral historian. He is one of the most accomplished music documentarians in the United States.

    He has won nearly every award in radio including a Peabody, a Prix Italia,and a Pew Fellowship in the Arts.

    I am humbled and honored to share this letter from Steve.

    Sumi Tonooka is one of our generation’s great musicians. Her talents are so broad they can hardly be contained. She can, and does, play jazz of all styles - swing, bop, post bop, free. Mary Lou Williams, Kenny Barron, Bud Powell, Sun Ra. And for years she has been writing her own music: gorgeous ballads, complex layered and rhythmic pieces, scoring films and more.

    Now, she has turned to orchestral writing. And part of her great talent here is combining her fierce knowledge of so many musical forces, musical traditions, and musical voices into pieces that sound as if they had always been there - or that at least were inevitably coming our way.

    We have the chance now to help Sumi achieve her next musical milestone: “For Malala”.

    We know Malala as a teenage beacon of the truth. A leader. And we know how important it is to join her in speaking up to educate girls all across the world. It is time for humanity to take this simple but difficult step: Educate Girls. Malala has spoken, and nearly paid with her life, and we are lucky to have her guidance.

    Sumi Tonooka will help crystalize this moment, this historic time — in music.

    And Sumi needs our our help in writing this musical testament to Malala. It will be music that will do what music does best - distill elements of this moment in human history, drawing on sources of inspiration (and disgust) - and using tools, access to musical forms and other sources to create something that is wholly contemporary - of this moment, - and will distill these elements into something that will last for ages. One of the great things about composed music, written music, is that it lasts.

    This new work will be played and heard 100 years from now, and will be a reflection of who we are as a people — our struggles, concerns, over gender, religion, nationality, education - and music - what we hear, what we listen to, and how we hear it all.

    Steve Rowland
    Peabody Award Winning Producer
    The Miles Davis Radio Project
    Leonard Bernstein: An American Life
    Tell Me How Long Trane’s Been Gone

The creation and recording of my second symphonic work to be premiered in Seattle WA, by the NorthWest Symphony Orchestra in 2015.