Silk Road Journey with a Kugo Harp

... the ancient harp that once was heard from one end of the Silk Road to the other, but which had fallen into disuse until Ms. Sugawara undertook to reintroduce it to the contemporary world.  Not only her research, but the quality of her performances is impressive and is very much appreciated.

She has generously shared her knowledge and her musical talents with others, including the Historical Harp Society, and as the editor of the publication for that organization, I look forward to further contributions on her part.   Samuel Milligan, October 30, 2017.   Sam Milligan was an outstanding American harpist and harp technician. He received the medal ....  (1932 - 2019)

Tomoko Sugawara was a sheer delight, becoming both the instrument and the music as she played, and it was a privilege to hear her.    — Irene Winter, Professor emerita of History of Art and Architecture at Harvard University.  June 2009 at Boston Early Music Festival

The Kugo

The Kugo (Angular harp). With an L-shaped body, it arose in Mesopotamia around 1900 B.C.  It soon spread to other regions of the Near East, eventually becoming a favorite instrument in local Islamic cultures where it survived until 1700 A.D.  Meanwhile, it entered the Silk Road and reached China around 500 CE.  Korea and Japan came next, but it disappeared from the Far East by 1100.  Egypt adopted it 1400 B.C.  Wherever it went, artists, poets, and musicians loved its beautiful shape and admired its complex sound.  But angular harps hardly penetrated into Europe, which instead launched its own harp –the Frame harp– although at a very late date, 800 A.D.  Slowly Frame harps took over the world.  


  — Bo Lawergren, Professor emeritus, Department of Physics & Astronomy, Hunter College of CUNY, New York.

[Guided by the] pioneering artistry of the harpist Tomoko Sugawara, you will witness the resurrection of music for the ancient kugo harp. This is a musical instrument that has been widely loved over thousands of years from the furthest corners of the Mediterranean, through the Near East, Central Asia, through China, the Korean peninsula, and ultimately captured in the cul-de-sac of Japan at the very end of the continent. 

— Professor Barbara Ruch, Director –  Institute for Medieval Japanese Studies at Columbia University

Kugo performances

Eurasia Consort 2015

Three examples of Silk Road Music

East: Etenraku (China & Japan, 8th century)
Middle East: Taksin (Turkey, Improvisation)
West: Amor in houm gentil (Francesco Landini, 1325 – 1397)


Eurasia Consort 2016

Kalavinka (China & Japan, 8th century)

In 2005 Tomoko started to perform Chinese Tang dynasty music.  The pieces were based on transcriptions of ancient manuscripts that survived in Japan.  She arranged it for the solo kugo.


World Music Institute 2012

Cantiga de Santa Maria

The kugo disappeared from the world stage 300 years ago.  Tomoko plays a modern rendition that honors this ancient instrument that was popular along the Silk Road and revered for centuries in Near and Far Eastern regions. Sugawara's music is deeply emotional and expressive. 

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