Chihiro Shibayama

5 questions to Chihiro Shibayama about the MuSE Festival

Multicultural Sonic Evolution (MuSE) is holding its 2012 Sounds of Arts Festival, a 5-day multi-media extravaganza, this coming Wednesday, November 28 to Sunday, December 2 at The Secret Theatre in Queens, NY. We asked Chihiro Shibayama, a co-founder and program coordinator of MuSE, to tell us a little about the festival and MuSE. Check out the full schedule for the MuSE Sounds of the Arts Festival at

Perhaps the most striking feature of the MuSE Festival is how multi-media it is, from chamber music to dance to film to theatre and combinations thereof. What have been the challenges and successes of bringing different artists together and fostering cohesive collaborations?

I always liked the idea of producing multi-discipline shows for many reasons. 1) I can meet and collaborate with artists from all fields, not just music; 2) The more people we get involved, the easier it is to bring audiences; 3) To promote classical-contemporary music to people who only go hear popular music like bands or singer-song writers at hip venues around the city, I needed to create something more ‘visually’ interesting at concerts that anyone can relate to in some level. Hence we created a multidisciplinary show that combines elements of film, dance, fashion and music. If all of these art forms were infused with music, what would that sound like?  It was through this creative process that the “Sounds of Arts Festival” was born.

It has been very enjoyable to put together each program but I have to say that getting enough funding to pay everyone properly and communicating / coordinating schedules have been very challenging. Both Yui Kitamura (MuSE co-founder & artistic director) and I are still learning how to run a company while living as freelance musicians, so it is challenging to balance our lives. We would like to think that because we are musicians ourselves, we can understand unique needs and challenges that all artists face and provide opportunities.

Chihiro Shibayama

Chihiro Shibayama, co-founder and program coordinator of MuSE

While Queens is the best borough of New York, it is often neglected in the artistic realm. Why did you decide to hold the MuSE festival in Queens and what community support have you received?

I totally agree that Queens is underrated! Both Yui and I have been proud Queens residents for over 5 years and we personally love this borough for its diversity, great restaurants / bars, and family friendly residential atmosphere. There are two big reasons SOAF is held in Queens. 1) MuSE is officially incorporated in Queens. Because of that, we are eligible for Queens Council on the Arts (QCA) grants, from which we were fortunate to receive partial grants for SOAF2012. The purpose of the grant is to give back to the Queens community so we picked The Secret Theatre. Its owner is a theater director and very passionate about promoting arts in Queens. We are very fortunate that he supports what we do! 2)We simply love Queens! According to Wikipedia, “Queens is the most ethnically diverse urban area in the world with a population of over 2.2 million, 48% of whom are foreign-born, representing over 100 different nations and speaking over 138 different languages. ” Since both of us are foreigners (Japanese) who mostly grew up in the states, we can’t think of a better place to promote “Multicultural-ness” (MuSE = Multicultural Sonic Evolution)! We want people in Queens to explore more in their own borough instead of always going to Manhattan or Brooklyn for fun and cool things. Similarly, we want to introduce the amazing things Queens can offer to the other 4 boroughs.

What’s the idea behind the “Welcome To New Yawk!” program on Saturday and how will it artistically evoke the five boroughs?

We came up with this concept last summer of creating a program that is family-friendly, for the Queens community, fun, original, and somewhat educational. We commissioned 5 short musicals about 5 boroughs of NYC – a city packed with so many exciting things and our beloved home. With Yui being a graduate of NYU Tisch Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program after completing Juilliard’s training, we are privileged to know many talented lyricists and composers who wanted to be a part of this. Our hope is not only to show this in Queens but to take it to each borough in the future so that more people can see this and feel proud and /or learn something new about NYC.

MuSE works to provide opportunities to up-and-coming artists and the festival is full of premieres. The results of your first young composer’s competition are being performed Sunday. What was your experience like holding the competition and can you say something about the winning pieces?

It has been absolutely amazing to experience what it’s like to hold a competition. It’s not only the first competition MuSE has held, but also the first educational opportunity we’ve provided for young composers. After announcing the competition I remember getting worried if anyone would apply because it’s new. We had nothing to worry about because we had many applicants from CA, GA, FL to NY and NJ. I really enjoyed reviewing all the pieces and commenting during the judging process because every piece was different and unique. We had 8 judges and we each reviewed separately without revealing applicants’ age and musical background to keep it fair. I would say that all winning pieces showed clear knowledge of string instruments and creativity.

What’s MuSE’s plan to “better the world through music” and how do you define “multicultural sonic evolution” in relation to that?

We know that music is always evolving and it’s very hard to say good or bad about any kinds of music. So, whether the public accepts the works that the artists create and whether they become popular or not at the moment, we want to be a part of the evolution of the music making. This is where “Sonic Evolution” came from. As for “Multicultural”, as Yui and I both went through adjusting to a new culture as children and still learning about different cultures while living in this amazing multicultural city, we wanted to find a way to incorporate that into the world of evolving arts. So that’s the concept of Multicultural Sonic Evolution – MuSE.

We plan to better the world by simply bringing unique programs with high-quality performances to all types of audiences (different ages, cultural backgrounds, income brackets, previous experiences with so-called classical music or new music) AND providing talented artists opportunities to create something new. Although we are a musician-based group, our collaborators include dancers, film makers, animators, writers, fashion and hair stylists – any living artists who value a musical component in their work. If we can create more multi-disciplinary shows like SOAF, where we showcase different art forms, we believe that the public will be able to find new art forms that they like and find out what the living artists’ visions and imaginations are. Kind of like going to an all-you-can-eat buffet – you can taste a little bit of everything.

We also want to expand educational programs. A 2nd YCC (Young Composers’ Competition) is already in planning. We have talked about creating a short summer music seminar for children as well.

Check out the full schedule for the MuSE Sounds of Arts Festival at Their indiegogo campaign is here: