Sustained by Music Through Hard Times, a Davis Family Gives Back

Photo: 1924 photo of the Imamoto family
Grace Imamoto Noda is shown in this 1924 picture as a 2-year-old on the right as her mother, Yoshiko, standing at left, holds baby Lily, and father Zenichi Imamoto poses behind Grace.

A Davis family with a long history of supporting music, science, Japanese-American civil rights and other humanitarian causes has donated $1 million to the UC Davis Department of Music to help build a major new music recital hall. The gift, the largest in the music department's history, will support construction of a modern, 400-seat performing arts facility on the edge of campus near downtown Davis.

Due to open in 2011, the new recital hall near the corner of First and A streets is expected to become one of the most active concert venues in the Sacramento region.

The gift from Grace and Grant Noda and their adult daughters, Kathy Miura and Tanya Yan, was announced Sunday at the annual performance of the combined UC Davis Symphony Orchestra, Chorus and Alumni Chorus. In appreciation, the campus plans to name a courtyard on the west side of the new recital hall in honor of the Nodas. The Noda Family Courtyard will be an outdoor site for lectures, informal performances and artist receptions.

"We are tremendously grateful to the Noda family," said Jessie Ann Owens, dean of the Division of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies. "In musical performances, space is a true partner in the performance. It is impossible to make music of the highest quality without having a performance space with good acoustics. What a well-equipped lab is to science, a superb recital hall is to music. We have excellent students: They need a good space in order to reach their potential."

In addition to the recital hall, the new facility will include four new teaching studios, recording controls, an ethnomusicology studio, artist and audience amenities, and production and teaching offices. The Noda Family Courtyard will connect the recital hall to the existing music building.

The $21.6 million project will be financed by a combination of public and private support: $16.1 million from a bond issue proposed for the November 2008 ballot and $5.5 million in private contributions. With the Noda's gift and others, $4.4 million in private funding remains to be raised.

The recital hall is expected to accommodate more than 100 concerts annually, including such music department presentations as chamber festivals, the free noon concert series and performances by student and professional resident ensembles and artists in residence. The new space will also provide additional programming options for the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts.

The new facility will represent a critical addition to teaching space for the Department of Music. For example, enrollment in Music 10, a large basic survey course that will be taught in the new recital hall, has grown from 50 to 750 since 1966, when the present Music Building was constructed. The number of undergraduate music majors has increased more than 13-fold during the same period, from 11 to 150, and the number of faculty has ballooned from six to 39.

The Nodas are both second-generation Japanese-Americans. Grace Imamoto was born in 1920 in Berkeley and raised in Orange County. Grant Noda was born in 1922 in Turlock. Neither family had much money -- Grant's father, a farmer, often struggled to feed nine children, while Grace's father earned a modest living as secretary of the Farmers Association of Norwalk and principal of the local Japanese language school, where her mother also worked as a teacher. Nevertheless, Grace and Grant both grew up with pianos in their homes. Grace studied piano and cello as a child and went to Los Angeles with her father to hear performances by Rachmaninoff and other world-class musicians. Her youngest sister, Alice, referred to as a "musical genius" in a 1935 Los Angeles Times story and photo, played piano for Polish Prime Minister Ignacy Paderewski and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas. Grace's other two sisters also learned instruments as children.

"Nisei Memories: My Parents Talk About the War Years," a 2006 book written by Grace's nephew, Paul Takemoto, tells the story of her family's separation, internment and loss in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Given time to grab only a toothbrush and her Bible, Grace's mother was arrested and jailed at Terminal Island for three months. Her father was imprisoned first in Tujunga then in Santa Fe, N.M.

It fell to Grace, then a senior at UC Berkeley, to return home to care for her younger sisters until "relocation" orders arrived, instructing the rest of the family to report to an "assembly center" at the Santa Anita racetrack. The Imamoto girls, joined by their mother after her release from Terminal Island, shared a stable there for 10 months. The next stop was an internment camp in Jerome, Ark. After 11 months in prison, Grace's father was reunited with his family at the camp. Grace was able to leave after his return, when Quaker benefactors arranged a live-in job for her with a family in Minnesota. Her parents remained at the camp until it closed, in March 1946. The couple had $41 between them when they were released. Because Grace's father now had a criminal record, the only work he could find was as a housecleaner. Her mother took a job as a cook.

Grant's story was similar. He was detained with his mother (his father had died) and siblings, first at an "assembly center" in Merced, then at a relocation camp in Amache, Colo.

Grant and Grace met after the war when he was working as a research scientist at UC Berkeley and she was teaching elementary school in Richmond. The couple moved to Davis in 1958 when Grant accepted a position in the UC Davis Department of Botany (now the Department of Plant Sciences). While Grant managed the department's laboratory by day and studied real estate at night, Grace raised the couple's two daughters, volunteered for many community organizations and was active in the peace movement, from protesting nuclear weapons (she was arrested at a Nevada test site in the early 1990s) to marching against the Vietnam War. She has also been engaged in local politics, recently working to name the Davis Joint Unified School District's newest elementary school after Fred Korematsu, a San Leandro man whose arrest and conviction for refusing to report to a relocation camp during World War II was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. The court's decision was explored in a 2001 documentary, "Of Civil Wrongs and Rights."

After his 1985 retirement from the university, Grant devoted himself full time to the real estate business he had been building for more than two decades.

"That guy works as hard as any human being I've ever known," said Takemoto, the nephew. "He's done very well, and they've basically devoted their lives to helping other people."

The family supported the creation of a mural at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind. -- Grant's alma mater -- that memorializes the Japanese American internment experience. The Nodas have also given to an opera program for young people in San Francisco, donated to the Hurricane Katrina relief effort, contributed to local Democratic candidates and, before their gift to the recital hall, had donated more than $100,000 to UC Davis over the years in support of the arts, ethical studies and the sciences.

Music has been central to their lives. For Grace, it was a bright spot during the war years, when she taught rote singing to children in the internment camp. Since the war, she has been a loyal patron of the San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Symphony and local performing arts.

"Music has been my life," she said in a recent interview, "so I wanted to leave something when I am gone."

Tanya says her mother sees "something very generous about music. Rich or poor, everyone has access to it. It transcends race, social status. It is apolitical. It has been a constant in my mother's life, through everything."

Although the Nodas make philanthropic decisions as a family, the latest major gift to the music department was especially important to Grace, Tanya added.

Anna Maria Busse Berger, professor and chair of the Department of Music, said the Noda Family Courtyard "will be a wonderful place for student and patron gatherings, and will long honor the Noda family's generosity."

Berger also said she hopes that the Nodas' gift will inspire others to contribute to the recital hall. "A music performance building is the primary need for the continued success of the music program," she said. "It is very much needed to accommodate the expansive growth in the quality and size of the program."

The University of California Regents approved the project last November and authorized the plan to seek $16.1 million in bond financing for its construction. The regents are expected to approve the plan for supplemental private funding when they vote later this year on the final design.

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