Virgil Thomson at the East-West Music Encounter

Virgil Thomson
Thomson in Japan, 1961 (photo #577)

The East-West Music Encounter took place in Tokyo, in 1961. East Asian, Indian, Indonesian and West European musical performances were showcased; papers were read and discussions were held. Various reports of the conference were given in the July 1961 issue of Musical America, including an editorial by American composer Virgil Thomson entitled “Toward Improving the Musical Race”. The editorial begins,

Yes, Buddha loves me,

Yes, Buddha loves me,

Yes, Buddha loves me;

The sutras tell me so.

So sing the Japanese children in their Sunday Schools. And though the fine old pentatonic tune, which we know as “Yes, Jesus loves me”, sounds to us so plainly Scottish, it might just as well for them be ancient Chinese. Even its harmonization in Western style shocks none, since for some 90 years now Western music, and only Western music, has been taught in their public schools.

(A draft of Thomson’s editorial can be found in the Virgil Thomson Papers, MSS 29A)


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