Although his family is not musically-oriented, Ryo Funajima, a graduating senior from Japan studying music, said his mother had “a long-cherished hope” for her children to play musical instruments.
“I think that influence might have been a big part in my life,” he said. “I felt like I was [playing] because I wanted to make my mother’s dream come true. However, as time passed, I began to like music myself.” He said he first started to play the piano when he was 8 years old and he still plays for fun occasionally.
Although Funajima had been familiar with piano most of his early life, he said he began playing the trumpet and trombone in junior high school. Funajima said one day his piano teacher counseled him, “I think you’d be better off with clarinet because of the shape of your mouth.”
Even though he still had the lingering thought of the piano teacher’s remark, Funajima said he kept playing trumpet after going to high school with the goal of getting into a music university.
Funajima said he later succumbed to his teacher’s recommendation. He said, “I was very confident in trumpet, but I had an interest in various instruments, so that remark didn’t shock me. It just naturally sank into my heart at that time.”
After one year of practicing the clarinet, Funajima said he decided to go on a mission and was called to the Japan Tokyo Mission. He said he was able to use his musical talent on the mission.
“Around the middle of my mission, the use of music became very active for proselyting purposes, and our mission had a chance to publish mission CDs. We tried to make that happen by revolving around one musically talented missionary from Las Vegas and the help of another member who was attending a university of music in Tokyo.”
Funajima said they were able to make a connection with a recording company as well. “At that time, they asked me to play the clarinet instead of playing the piano,” he said.
After his mission, Funajima said he went to Utah to study English and eventually decided to apply to BYUH. “I kind of wanted to go to BYU thinking I wanted to learn some English there instead of going to a university in Japan.”
When he first came to BYUH, he was taking marketing and business classes, but he said those classes were not the right fit for him. “I felt I should do what I’d like to do instead. That’s when I got to become acquainted with a music major friend, and I felt more strongly that I wanted to major in music,” he said.
One of the pivotal moments that helped him decide to change his major was when he said he performed with his music major friend, Koko Ohira, at a devotional shortly after his arrival at BYUH.
He recalled, “At her invitation, I was given this opportunity to play at the devotional, even though I was not a music major. I had a blast playing with her and decided to dive into my music journey.”
Funajima said the transition to a new major wasn’t easy. He said he felt like reconsidering his major “because there are many people, especially Japanese, who are majoring in business and working hard toward their clear visions for the future.” He said he was asked questions like, “What do you do in your music major?” or, “What’s your career plan with your music major?”
The feeling Funajima felt from music stayed with him, and he wanted to be true to himself. “Music really fit me. There were moments when I worried from time to time, but it didn’t go to the point where I decided to change my major.”
His involvement in music enabled him to make contributions to Heavenly Father, he said. “If I didn’t have any engagement in music, I wouldn’t have opportunities like playing during sacrament meeting, or performing as an ensemble at temples, or taking a tour to Maui to mingle with church members and local people there.”
He said he sees joy in music and is grateful for the blessing of having close connections with professors at BYU-Hawaii.
“Although BYUH is such a small campus, and it might not be as recognized as other BYUs, the music professors we have are really amazing people. There [aren’t] schools like BYUH where the professors remember your name, and we can learn from them closely,” he said.
There are different lessons Funajima has acquired through his major, he said, and he has been polishing his skills on his instruments. “I am learning every semester about the importance of making continuous effort. Through this major, I am learning directly that we obtain our success by working hard,” he said.
Funajima said after graduation he wants to start a restaurant in his hometown and look for ways to bring out the musical talent of God’s children in every aspect of his life.
NOTE: This story's online publishing was delayed because it was featured in the June 2017 print issue.