But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong.
– Paul the apostle, I Cor 1:27 (NASB)
When I started watching La Corda D’Oro or Kin’iro no Corda (“The Golden String”) at the suggestion of none other than our gracious host, I didn’t know whether this show would offer me anything redeeming in its plot. Admittedly, a masterpiece it isn’t, but this show does drive home one important point, if sometimes awkwardly. It is that the most gifted musician whose devotion to his art is incomplete, can yet be somehow upstaged by a lackluster but heartfelt performance. Perhaps the most intriguing part of the show, apart from its surprising and commendable restraint (there is almost no fanservice), is the effect the heroine, whose musical ability is minimal, has on each of her much more talented co-stars.
From the start, we must suspend disbelief when a musical fairy or “fata” appears at Hino Kahoko’s private high school. Seisou Academy is known for its music program, but also enrolls futsuuka or general studies students such as Hino. Lili the fata gives Hino a magic violin with a prominent golden E-string, on the condition that she enter the school’s musical competition and compete alongside talented music majors. That Hino has never touched a violin in her life is no obstacle, because this one magically grants basic violin skills to whoever plays it. Before long, the school is abuzz with the rumors of the futsuuka violinist who dares to take on the academy’s finest musicians.
Tsukimori Len’s entry into the competition was a foregone conclusion. Coming from musically gifted parents, and having played the violin from early childhood, Tsukimori’s skills are formidable. He of all people would be most insulted by having to compete against Hino. As the show progresses, we learn that although his violin playing lacks nothing in grace and power, his heart isn’t entirely in it. How could he devote himself wholeheartedly to the violin, with the expectations everyone must have of him, to say nothing of the expectations he has of himself? What if he fails? It reminds me of what a saxophonist acquaintance once said to me as he struggled to describe another saxophonist’s recent performance, but finally settled on these words: “Everything was correct.” Enter Hino, whose playing is far from “correct,” but filled with an ever-growing love for the violin that she now wishes she could play of her own accord. Through her influence, Tsukimori gradually learns that he too can dig deep and offer a performance at his next level, one that is not only correct, but also from the heart.
When we get to know Tsuchiura Ryoutarou, it is as a talented soccer player, not as a musician. In fact he has also been a musician from childhood, although he has put the piano aside to focus on soccer. But I have been a musician all my life, and I know that you can’t just stop being a musician so easily. Before long, Tsuchiura also rises to the challenge, and becomes the second futsuuka to enter the competition. But when the captain of his soccer team issues an ultimatum, what will Tsuchiura choose in the end, piano or soccer? As he laments his half-heartedness, he watches Hino, who has little to offer, but offers all of it in service to her newfound love of violin playing. And Tsuchiura realizes that his half-heartedness has been in trying to choose between soccer and piano in the first place. He cannot be fully himself and deny either of the two: he must choose both. When in the end even his soccer friends must also accept Tsuchiura as he really is, it is because of the humbling he received from interacting with Hino. Tsuchiura realizes that if Hino will not live half-heartedly, neither must he. Once again, the weak has shamed the strong; and having accepted it graciously, the strong becomes even stronger.
Shimizu Keiichi spends as much time playing the cello as his constitution will allow, in his soundproof practice room – until he collapses from exhaustion. When he awakens, he plays again. Surely there is no lack of devotion to practicing his art in this young man. Yet for all his studying of scores, all his listening to CDs, and all his hours of practice, Shimizu is tormented by the awareness of something missing in his sound. He can sense it only through hearing Hino play her imperfect songs, filled with an authenticity springing from someone whose love of playing is unalloyed. As a result of experiencing “Hino’s sound” as he calls it, Shimizu somehow finds his own sound in a new way.
With this survey, we have considered only half of the cast of six co-stars surrounding Hino Kahoko. Hino’s response to an accident rendering her beloved violin unmagical and unplayable, and the influence she nonetheless has on the other three students in her orbit, will have to wait for another essay.