Ken Totushek was playing a show inside a small club in Osaka, Japan, when a young man approached him in between sets.
It was clear to Ken that the young man, a Japanese citizen, did not have much money, but he insisted that Ken, a tall, lanky American who wears wire-framed glasses and a short-cropped goatee, accept the two 500 yen coins — worth about $12 in U.S. currency.
Mr. Totushek, a longtime Barrington resident who had traveled to Japan many times for work, hesitated. Part of his performance that night was done to raise money for the production of a Japanese movie called “Two Criminals,” which tells the story of two members of the Yakuza who find God in Jesus Christ and, against all odds, are allowed to leave Japanese crime organization.
Mr. Totushek looked at the Japanese man holding coins in his hand and considered how important that money was to him. It was a powerful moment.
“You can see the heart of Ken’s music come through when he plays,” said Kathy Totushek, Ken’s wife. She had been at the club that night watching the show and found herself struck by the encounter.
Ms. Totushek said her husband’s music has a way of touching people, connecting with individuals from different walks of life, different cultures, different backgrounds. She said it crosses lines and makes its way to people’s hearts.
“There’s an energy about it,” she said.
It could be the music, and it could be the message.
Mr. Totushek sings mostly about his faith, about Christ. He sings about trying times and life’s challenges, and the strength that faith provides to help people overcome those hard, often painful moments.
For the last couple of years, Mr. Totushek has been serving as a musical missionary, sharing songs like “Your Mighty Love For Me,” “Create In Me,” “Tsunami Prayer,” “Amazing Grace” and “Lord Over All” with people in the Middle East and Japan.
At each show, Mr. Totushek hopes the notes and lyrics find a home inside someone looking for inspiration or someone looking for relief from life’s problems. The Hampden Meadows resident has had his share of challenges, including the loss of his first wife, Jennifer, to cancer in the fall of 2009.
The two met when they were young and living in Minnesota. They eventually married and settled in Barrington; Jennifer’s father owned a company in Fall River. Mr. Totushek went to work for the company and eventually became CEO. And while life happened — children, work, responsibilities — Mr. Totushek’s love for music remained an interest, a hobby, a pursuit.
In 1994, he produced his first CD, “For The Rest of Your Life,” and released his second, “Pilgrim Song,” in 2001. He has produced six CDs, his latest “Real Life Stuff — Hope’s Alive!”, came out this year.
Shortly after Jennifer died, Mr. Totushek leaned heavily on his guitar while grieving. He contacted friends and family and others who knew his wife and invited them to his house for small, living room concerts. He would play songs and sometimes talk about Jennifer and often listen to others recall stories. He watched as people mourned her passing.
“I think it was very healthy. It really helped with the grieving process,” he said, adding that the concerts made him more comfortable with the idea of performing in front of others.
Shortly after losing Jennifer, Mr. Totushek reunited with Kathy, who had coincidentally lost her husband to the same form of cancer. She knew Ken from years earlier when her family lived in Barrington, but had since moved out of the state.
The two shared heartfelt conversations over the phone and before long had built their own relationship. They married and now spend some of their time traveling to areas of the world where Christianity can get people in trouble. The experiences in foreign lands have deeply affected the local couple.
“I think the music opens you up. It can be a comfort to people,” Ms. Totushek said.
Recently, the Totusheks traveled to Japan. Ken was one of the musicians honored at the Kansai Music Conference in Osaka. He received one of the two Kansai Music Conference 2013 “Building Bridges with Music” awards.