By ELLEN ENDO, Rafu Shimpo
SALT LAKE CITY — While most music professionals dream of holding a Grammy one day, Masafumi “Masa” Fukuda has bigger goals that include inspiring the world through the power of music. It appears that he may be succeeding.
Born in Takatsuki, Osaka, Fukuda is the founder and choir director of Utah’s nonsectarian One Voice Children’s Choir, whose videos have become an Internet phenomenon.
The intricate, layered arrangements of popular songs have consistently generated anywhere from 50 million to over 120 million views per song on Facebook and YouTube.
“Nowadays, I guess our generation is getting so spoiled (that) audio isn’t good enough,” Fukuda says. “It needs to match with the visual so you can connect better with the facial expressions, body language, and spirit that comes out of these kids. You see it. With the visual, it even makes it stronger.
The choir’s viral videos have included renditions of “Believer” by Imagine Dragons (123 million views), “Diamond” by Rihanna (114 million), and “Let It Go” from Disney’s “Frozen” (103 million), “Brave” by Sara Bareilles, and “See You Again” by Charlie Puth.
Fukuda says that the numbers don’t mean a whole lot, but when he reads stories of how the lives of those who have seen the videos have changed, “how they were inspired because of our music, then all of a sudden it hits us so hard, like ‘Wow, this is real!’”
He attributes the popularity of the choir’s videos, in part, to the current technology. “That we’re able to reach that many people in the world at once. We owe so much to technology because we used to burn CDs one at a time, and we used to burn 300 CDs at most to sell at our events.
“Now that the world is operating in such a way that information gets around instantly to anybody in the world, it’s a blessing to us…if you use it for good. In this case, we’re fortunate to have the platform and accessibility for people to get a hold of our music … and not just the audio.”
Since its beginnings in 2002, the choir, which is composed of about 100 children ranging from elementary school age to high school, has sung at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, competed on “America’s Got Talent,” performed for President Obama, sung the national anthem at major events, and traveled to New York, Washington, D.C., and France.
They have also made multiple trips to Japan, where they performed in Japanese and English, including an original song, “Kokoro o Komete” (With All My Heart), written by Fukuda with Cristi Adachi.
A few months ago, Fukuda, 44, wanted the choir to record something to counter the heartbreak that had come to define 2020. The pandemic prevented the choir members from gathering in one place, so colleague Nick Sales used a Zoom platform to create a virtual performance. Each of the students was asked to record the same song at home alone. The song Fukuda selected was “Memories,” written by Maroon 5 lead singer Adam Levine about the death of a close friend.
Fukuda began as a music prodigy and composed his first song at age four. At age eight, he was accepted into Japan’s Yamaha Music School. “I was a different kind of a child, and I always wanted to be different from everyone else,” he recalls. His mother enrolled him in the international school.
“She felt that, especially in the arts and entertainment, Japan was fairly limited as to the diversity and experience that we get. I was always exploring new types of music, and she thought it would be good to send me abroad.”
Choirs in Japan are primarily about “technique and preciseness,” Fukuda points out. Although he feels those qualities are important, he also wants the children to find the choir enjoyable.
In 2005, a group of parents, recognizing that many of the children wanted to continue working together, helped establish a nonprofit to coordinate the choir’s creative direction and inspirational mission, www.onevoicechildrenschoir.com.
On the horizon for Fukuda is an album featuring the choir singing original songs. Perhaps that Grammy isn’t far off.