Sophians Talk about Japan and the World

Ten Seconds to Shine: Bringing Personality and Skill to Station Jingle Composition

Hiroshi Shiozuka
(Composer, arranger and guitarist)

Sophia Set Me on the Path to Becoming a Musician

Hiroshi Shiozuka Composer, arranger and guitarist

My father liked classical music and played it to me before I was born. Maybe that's why, at the age of four, I suddenly said I wanted to learn the piano. Unfortunately I didn't improve much, but even at that age I showed an outstanding talent for improvising by ear.

At elementary school I loved the Japanese band The Spiders, and they led me to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. At junior high I started playing guitar in a rock band. In high school I mastered performing in various genres, started writing original tunes, and naturally thought that music was the life for me. However, times being what they were, my teachers and parents were fiercely opposed to this idea when it came to deciding on further study. I decided to stay conservative choice of enrolling in the Faculty of Economics at Sophia.

Having said that, the Sophia campus was of course a sophisticated place with lots of girls and a strong international flavor, so I found myself in seventh heaven [laughs]. But needless to say the first place I headed for was the music club room. There I fell in with drummer Michael Kawai, who would later play with bands like T-Square, and we soon started playing together. Such friendships with musicians extended to other universities, and I was able to meet and play sessions with students who later became great musicians and big names in the music industry. This provided me with huge stimulus, and my experiences became a valuable asset.

Around that time musical interests were rapidly turning to the booming fusion and jazz scenes, and I took lessons at a vocational school with leading jazz guitarist Shungo Sawada, but after 18 months he said there was no more he could teach me and suddenly made me an instructor. Combined with doing nightclub gigs alongside veteran performers, teaching people was a great learning experience.

Under these circumstances I can hardly say I was a serious student, but studying distribution economics at university later came in very handy, and mathematics, which forms the basis of economics, also runs through fundamental thinking about composition and arrangement. So I have used my studies at Sophia in unexpected ways in my life as a musician.

Life Begins at 30

Hiroshi Shiozuka Composer, arranger and guitarist

After graduation I again made a sensible choice and went to work for a department store. My motives were not entirely honorable, since the opportunity to sleep in more than you would in a regular company and the fairly flexible work schedule made it easy to keep on playing live gigs [laughs].

However, daily contact with customers and particularly with suppliers' sales reps taught to me first-hand about business and sales, and this knowledge came in useful later.

I had put music on the back burner, but when I was 28 I had an experience that inflamed my passion for it again. I entered an essay competition at work and was sent to New York for training. During the day I visited department stores and so on, but in my free time at night I naturally did the rounds of music clubs and theaters, which gave me the chance to attend world-class live performances and musicals. I even had the goosebump-inducing experience of chancing upon instantly recognizable star musicians playing one-off late-night sessions in clubs.

Just after that, I had my first breakthrough when one of the many tapes I had sent off won an original song contest. At the age of 29 I decided to change careers, and started by taking a job at a company that produced music for commercials.

There I learned about music production, and the following year I finally went freelance. In other words, I took my demo tapes and went out to sell myself as a self-proclaimed musician. In these "marketing activities" I used everything I had learned in the Faculty of Economics and all my experiences at the department store that seemed at first glance to have nothing to do with music. Fortunately I managed to get reasonably steady work right from the first year.

Since then I have been constantly involved in a wide range of musical activities, including writing music for Hiromi Go and Junichi Inagaki, composing and arranging music in a variety of other genres, and playing guitar.

In the course of such work I became skilled at writing music for commercials and jingles, and in 1993 I was approached about writing train station jingles?the melodies played when trains arrive at or depart from a station.

Injecting Personality into Station Jingles

Hiroshi Shiozuka Composer, arranger and guitarist

In accepting the job, I was profoundly aware that station jingles get played hundreds of times a day, inevitably reaching ears of not only station users, but also people in the neighborhood. So I started by selecting fresh, melodious tones with enough depth to ensure that people didn't get sick of them.

Moreover, I wanted to make my own contribution by creating something different from what others had done. So I introduced logical storylines for the 10-second melodies, something which previous station jingles had lacked.

For the tunes, I went right back to my formative experiences with classical music, and pleaded with my favorite musical maestro Mozart, who wrote so many bright melodies, to inspire me [laughs]. Then I tried some versions with a taste of the jazz and fusion music I mastered in my university days. Finishing the tune with a deceptive cadence not using regular chords is characteristic of the music of those times.

I am happy to say that all of the nine melodies I submitted are still in use. By the way, they didn't originally have titles, but later I used my initials to name them "SH Series 1-9." When ring tones for mobile phones started to become fashionable, I suggested adding station jingles to the lineup, and titles were needed so that users could search for them. My latest jingles have been given titles from the start, such as Komorebi no Sanpomichi (Sunshine-dappled path), which is used at JR Higashi-Kanagawa Station.

After the original nine tunes, I didn't produce any new ones for a long time because the production company that had been using them stopped handling train station jingles. But since 2007 I've had one request after another, and including existing tunes that I rearranged as station jingles, I have provided more than 150 melodies so far. That makes me the most prolific composer of station jingles, and I've been called things like the leading expert in the field and "the rail music king."

However, my name is not all that well-known as a composer, so I'd like to keep writing station jingles for railways all over Japan and become a bit more famous. I understand that Paris and Seoul are introducing Japanese-style station jingles, and I would be delighted if my melodies could be heard all over the world.

Of course my work as a musician is not limited to station jingles. As I mentioned earlier, I compose and arrange a wide variety of material and regularly give live performances as a guitarist.

As a composer, I would like to create orchestra music, if possible a symphony. This might be my finale as a musician [laughs].

Hiroshi Shiozuka Composer, arranger and guitarist
Hiroshi Shiozuka
Composer, arranger and guitarist

Graduated from the Sophia University Faculty of Economics in 1979.
Born in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture in 1956. Childhood enthusiasm for the Japanese band The Spiders set his sights on a career in music. Initially took a regular job after graduating from Sophia and continued composing and playing live gigs while working. Won the Category B grand prize in the 1985 Original Tape Contest run by Rittor Music. Joined a company producing music for commercials in 1986 and worked for a year as a director. Became a freelance composer, arranger and performer in 1987. Since then, has composed and arranged music for recording artists (including Hiromi Go and Junichi Inagaki), commercials, TV and radio shows, and station jingles. Best known for station jingles used by JR East from 1994 to the present day. Released Tetsunopop (Rail-pop), an album containing his own arrangements of JR tunes, in 2011 and Eki Mero! THE BEST (Best Station Jingles), the first-ever book with accompanying CD to feature station jingles, in 2013. Makes frequent TV and radio appearances. Continues to give dynamic live performances as a guitarist.

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