Furuya Sisters’ persistence starting to pay off

Harumi, Sakiko and Mimi Furuya are getting ready to play at the South Salem Presbyterian Church  on Friday, May 15.

Harumi, Sakiko and Mimi Furuya are getting ready to play at the South Salem Presbyterian Church on Friday, May 15.

“My sisters and I see ourselves as following the American Dream,” classical musician Harumi Furuya told The Ledger this past Sunday. “We came to this country as children, worked hard, studied our music hard, and are now beginning to see success performing as a trio.”

Harumi is one of three talented sisters separated by five years in age. Harumi plays the violin; Mimi, the cello; and Sakiko the piano.

Together they are The Furuya Sisters, three talented women who have maintained a steadfast determination to succeed as performing musicians despite the obstacles placed in their path.

The trio will perform a program of Tchaikovsky and Mozart at the South Salem Presbyterian Church, located on 111 Spring Street, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 15.

The three sat down with The Ledger at the church this past Sunday to discuss their road to the concert stage.

Starting out

The three sisters grew up in a traditional Japanese household with an engineer father and a mother with talent and interest in classical music.

She encouraged her three daughters to take up her interest in the violin and piano, starting Harumi on the violin at an early age.

Sakiko was next.

“I wanted to play the violin, too, but after studying for a while, my teacher became ill and my Mom decided I should play the piano,” she said.

Mimi, the youngest, was also interested in the violin, starting at age 4.

“But my teacher was really mean,” she said. “I didn’t like it at all and switched to the cello about the same time we came to America, in 1983.”

Once settled in the village of Ardsley in Westchester County, the girls entered high school, keeping up their music and performing as a trio.

“All of our teachers encouraged us to keep going and people seemed to like our performances,” Harumi said

Throughout high school the three sisters all studied music at the famed Juilliard School in New York City every single Saturday, without fail.

“We went there for years,” Sakiko said. “The time we put in probably added up to a degree in music.”

College was next for the Furuya sisters, with all three completing their degrees at different institutions.

Trying to break through

“After college, we were still determined to be professional, performing musicians,” said Harumi. “We were told the only way to break in to the industry was to try to get a manager. But that was much, much harder than we thought it would be.”

Sakiko agreed and remembered the difficulty of that time in their career.

“We did our research and started to contact music managers of all types,” she said. “We went to the big ones like Columbia, ICM, and IMG and to a lot of smaller ones, too. But the answer was always the same — an unqualified turndown.”

“And some of these people were not very nice,” said Harumi. “I would say ‘rude’ is a good word for the way they talked to us. It was very hard to be treated like this and still keep going. But the one thing we did learn was we needed a ‘referral’ from another established performer before they would even listen to us.”

Help from old Hollywood

With absolutely no connections to anyone of note in the music or show business world, the Furuya sisters hit upon an unusual idea.

“We were always fans of the old Hollywood movies and would watch the Turner Classic Movies station for hours on end,” said Harumi. “One of our favorite movies is Gone with the Wind, so we had the idea of writing to Olivia de Havilland, sending a tape of our music and asking for a ‘referral.’

“We also got one from her sister, Joan Fontaine, before she died. Rhonda Fleming and Alicia De Larrocha were also kind enough to pitch in, along with some other people from that acting era.”

The sisters in action last fall.

The sisters in action last fall.

But did it work?

“Well, not exactly,” Sakiko said with a smile. “But at least the phone didn’t get immediately disconnected.”

So it was back to the old grind of looking for a break.

“After 10 solid years, it was getting harder and harder to keep going,” Harumi said. “But then we had the idea of simply contacting smaller performing venues in the New York metropolitan area ourselves, describing our classical music trio and what we played, and asking for a booking.”

This time, it worked

Starting last year, the sisters begin getting a steady stream of bookings at small venues with seating from 100 to 300 in Westchester, Long Island and New Jersey.

Spaces included libraries, churches, school campuses, and recital halls.

“We finally believe we have turned the corner and are looking forward to performing at the South Salem Presbyterian Church on May 15,” Sakiko said. “And we already have eight performances booked for the fall.

“We just have to keep plugging away with getting the word out,” she added. “It is time-consuming, but we are now getting results.”

Youngest sister Mimi summed up the three sisters’ feelings about their desire to perform.

“I think all of us believe that the classical music audience is slowly dying out,” she said. “We want to try to help revive it in smaller venues with less expensive tickets and familiar music so that everyone, including children, can come and enjoy it. Our audiences love to hear the well-known classics and we want to make them happy.”

Tickets for the May 15 concert, which features Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A minor and Mozart’s Piano Trio in E major, are priced at $25 to $50, with student discounts available.

For advance tickets, visit Furuya Sisters.com, call 914-200-3622, or email [email protected]

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