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Yumiko Matsuoka, originally from Tokyo, Japan, is a graduate of Berklee College of Music and a professor in the college’s Ear Training Department. She also has taught vocal writing in the Contemporary Writing and Production Department. Matsuoka is the founder of the Boston-based a cappella quintet Vox One, whose albums Vox One (1993), Out There (1995), Chameleon (1997), and Pure Imagination (2005) have won multiple awards from the Contemporary A Cappella Society of America (CASA). Her arrangements and compositions also can be heard on her anthology To Every Thing There Is a Season (2008), Vox One’s Say You Love Me (1995), and on recordings by other a cappella groups around the world. Vox One has performed locally as well as nationally, and has toured in Japan several times.
Matsuoka also has written for television commercials in Japan, including Toyota, Sharp, Meiji Seika, and Japan Energy Corporation. Some of her arrangements have been published by the University of Northern Colorado Jazz Press and by Edition Kawai in Japan. She is active as a coach and adjudicator, and gives workshops throughout the U.S. and Japan. Since 1998, she has served as an adjunct faculty member for ensemble singing workshops hosted by a New York-based ensemble, the Western Wind.
"I was a high school senior in Japan when I heard the Christmas album of Singers Unlimited. It blew my mind. I thought, 'Wow, how do you do that?' It was one of those moments—it was the reason I came to Berklee. By then I knew I wanted to write for a cappella."
"I entered Berklee as a piano principal, but I'd had so little exposure to jazz that I knew I wasn't going to flourish as a jazz pianist. I also knew that my heart was more in writing and singing in a small a cappella ensemble. And that's how I met some of the members for what would become Vox One. I gathered them to sing an arrangement I'd made for a class. Afterward, I contacted them again and asked them, 'Hey, do you want to get back together again to keep singing?' And they said yes."
"If people want to continue as professional musicians in any way, ear training will be essential for their growth. People who write have to be able to express what they hear in their heads in an efficient way. Sometimes it takes time for students to find out what ear training can do for them and their career. But once they do, they go, 'Oh, wow—this is what I have to do to achieve my goals.' It might be a long road, but I'm hoping that it's a fascinating discovery. I'm still learning myself. I learn as I teach. And I love it."
"I'm one of the toughest teachers around. I try to impress upon students how important it is to take charge of your own actions—not only for ear training, but for life in general. Also, I want them to understand that what ultimately matters is how they learn and solve problems, and not necessarily the content of what I'm teaching."
"I tell students to try to find their weaknesses and work on them five, 10 minutes a day, every day, rather than one day a week for an hour. When they do that, students are often surprised by their progress even after a week, and it inspires them to keep trying. The sparkle I see in their eyes when that happens—that's the biggest reward I get from teaching."