Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Little Hoarse at the Zoo

CA in the Recording Studio
The laryngitis I was suffering from a few days ago had subsided, but my voice was far from normal. Nevertheless, the show, or in this case, the narration must go on. As a result, anyone buying the English version of the DVD of Asahiyama Zoo (Japan's #1 zoo, located in Asahikawa, Hokkaido) is going to hear a very sexy female narrator.

I couldn't control the huskiness of my voice, which was much deeper than normal. A number of times, I had to take a break to clear my throat in such a way that probably drove the producer up the wall. However, having performed for a number of years as a teacher as well as amateur singer, I managed to make it through the whole recording, which took at least 3-4 hours in order to make a 45-minute DVD.

Now the only problem is that if someone hears the narration and wants to hire the woman with that wonderfully sexy voice, I'll never be able to replicate it!

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Husky Narrator

Flying Penguins at Asahiyama ZooActually, I didn't do any narrating today, although I was supposed to. After having a cold for 3 days, I woke up this morning barely able to whisper, much less talk. The timing couldn't have been worse. This was the day to record the English narration for a DVD about Asahiyama Zoo. It was to start at 5 p.m. at Hokkaido Broadcasting Company. By that time my voice was audible but more suited to a narration about a frog pond than to flying penguins.

Polar Bear at Asahiyama Zoo
What we ended up doing was checking the captions, which consisted of putting spaces after all the commas more than anything. It could have been a real drag, but the footage of the animals in the zoo is so delightful that I really enjoyed the experience. Besides, it appealed to the "editor genes" that seem to run in my family.

If all goes well, on Monday I'll be narrating in my natural voice about polar bears, seals, spider monkeys, capybaras, penguins, orangutans, and other animals in the unique exhibits at Hokkaido's #1 Zoo.

(You can see the photos here and others at Macky's Flickr Site.)

Monday, August 21, 2006

Creating DVD Labels

DVD Cover for Mac 'n' TippyWould you believe I spent the whole day, one entire day, creating labels for DVDs? I'd never done it before (actually, I'd never made a DVD until I got my new iBook G4 nearly a year ago), and it was really challenging getting the sizing right. The biggest problem was that the best part of whatever photo I used always managed to be right where the hole in the center punched it out. Anyway, have a look at a couple of my creations.
DVD Cover for Kyoto & Nara
The first DVD I made was , naturally, of my cats, including a slide show to the tune of "It's a Wonderful Life," and several home movies of them playing and fighting. I still have to develop a slide show for the trip I took to Nara and Kyoto during New Year's with my friend, Kazuko Otsu. That will take more time since I have a number of historical facts I want to add from the brochures I collected. Anyone interested, simply send me your address!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Just a Whiff

Tonight was LNO (lady's night out) with my international women's group. Besides 3 Americans, there were women from France, Belgium, the Philippines, and Canada. So of course we went to an Italian restaurant!

Only 2 of the women ordered wine. One was sitting right next to me, with the glass of red wine practically under my nose. The smell was really strong. I couldn't believe what started happening to me with just one whiff. I got transported back to a time when I was heavily into red wine, and I could sense urges beginning to surface.

It got so bad that I had to change seats with one of the other women. I did *not* want to sit there all evening thinking about *not* drinking!

When the woman with the glass of wine asked what was happening, I explained that the smell was too much for me. I also said, casually, that I'd be happy to give a presentation to the group sometime [about alcoholism], if there was enough interest. Even though I've known her for quite some time, she remarked, "Oh, right, I had forgotten," and it was said in a very supportive way.

It was to this group of women that I first "came out" over 3 years ago, and from time to time I make it clear that I can't drink. In fact, I purposely avoided going to last year's Christmas party because it was an all-you-can-drink affair at a restaurant, and I let them know the reason I wasn't going. For me, it was a big deal to make that decision and tell them about it.

However, as I discovered this evening, my not drinking is not a big deal to most in the group. "Oh, that's right, CA doesn't drink." About the same as remembering that a couple of the women are vegetarians, when we choose a restaurant. Just that simple, hardly worth batting an eyelash over.

So the surprise at what just a whiff of red wine could elicit, in addition to the surprise that my alcoholism is something these women are mildly aware of but it's no big deal to them.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

On Air

TakushokukanIn the photo above is a building in Nakajima Park that I've never seen. It played a prominent part, though, in today's TV broadcast by HBC (Hokkaido Broadcasting Company) that "starred" one of my private students, Haruhisa Shirahama, and an American vet, Pat Olski.

The whole program started when Pat first came across photos of Nakajima Park on my website. He had been looking for information on the park because he was stationed there right at the end of World War II. He emailed me with a photo of the building in which the engineers had stayed, asking if it still existed. Because Haru, only 3 or 4 years younger than Pat, was a teenager at the time, I showed it to him. He not only recognized it but also knew what had become of it. Thus began a long and rewarding correspondence between our class and Pat, as well as many private emails between Haru and Pat.

The broadcast was scheduled today, August 15th, in order to coincide with shusen kinenbi, or the ending of World War II. Since the 6-minute segment followed a report on Prime Minister Koizumi's controversial visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, it might have been watched by a large number of people in Hokkaidoi (in addition to my friends, that is).

Because of the TV broadcast, I learned that the building, called Takushoku-kan, was in the park from 1918 to 1979. Below is a view of almost the same place in the park taken this spring. It's hard to believe such a large building stood there for so many years and now no longer exists. The rowboats are still around, though.

Rowboats on Nakajima Lake in the Spring

Sunday, August 13, 2006

TV Crew Films at Nakajima Park

How is HBC (Hokkaido Broadcasting Company) ever going to make only a 3 to 4-minute segment out of all the material they've gathered from us? Today they interviewed my student, Haru Shirahama. After saying, "I'm a shy guy," he talked to them for nearly 30 minutes, pointing out places in Nakajima Park that have changed and where buildings used to stand, particularly the one in photo sent to us by Pat Olski, the American veteran.

HBC must have at least an hour and half of footage altogether. Once edited, it will show on August 15th, the day of the end of the war in Japan. I'm hoping that there's so much, they'll want to use it for a longer program, perhaps even bringing Pat to join us. It would be great to have Pat and Haru meet in person, and have them share their different impressions of Sapporo as it was when Pat was stationed here, from November, 1945, to April, 1946.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The TV Crew Comes

Although the segment on TV is only going to be 3-4 minutes long, the HBC (Hokkaido Broadcasting Company) TV crew spent a good hour filming my private English conversation class and interviewing me. The topic will be how we began a correspondence with an American vet, Pat, who was stationed in Sapporo for a few months just after World War II. Since one of the men in my class is only 3 years younger than Pat, a comparison of their views of Sapporo at that time is fascinating. (See my blog, Letters from Pat, posted June 8th, 2006). Sunday, there'll be more filming in Nakajima Park where Pat was stationed, and where my student, Haru Shirahama, and I first met while doing "radio exercises." Keep tuned!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Seals and Spider Monkeys

For the past two days I've been to the zoo, not literally but vicariously, through a DVD. The reason is that, at the end of the month, I'm going to be doing the English narration for the DVD, made by HBC (Hokkaido Broading Company). I've spent hours and hours going over both the narration and the subtitles, doing much more than proofreading them. The style used by the translator would have earned an "A" in my Academic Writing course. However, it was far too formal for the conversations in the video.

As I watched the DVD and edited the narration,
I developed a tremendous respect for the Vice Zoo Director, Gen Bando, who had the vision for the development of the creative exhibits that have made the zoo #1 in Japan. What he wants most is that the animals be allowed to play freely in as natural an environment as possible, without cages or bars. Also, he has come up with some fascinating juxapositions of animals, such as spider monkeys and capybaras (the world's largest rodent, with webbed feet that allow them to swim).

Working on the translation of the narration and the subtitles presented a challenge. I ended up shortening many of the sentences, adding a lot of contractions and exclamations - the opposite of what I do with my writing students.

I also felt that the use of the historical present would be more vivid and fit the action occurring in the video. For example, "Asako, the elephant, plays with snowballs," is better than using "played," since the scene is of the elephant actually throwing the snowballs.

A greater challenge will come at the end of the month when I record the narration, particularly the sections where there is too much text to fit the visuals, no matter how quickly I speak.

The biggest result of doing this work is that now I simply have to visit Asahiyama Zoo. Wouldn't it be nice if, as extra compensation for all my effort, they gave me a season pass!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Big Audition

Going to a big audition is ranks right up there being at an airport in England - hours and hours of sitting or standing around waiting. In this case, it was over 4 hours of waiting for about 5 minutes of singing. At least I didn't have to lug around any heavy baggage, only the score for Beethoven's 9th. (Of course, anyone boarding a plane to or from the British Isles doesn't have to carry around much else these days, either.)

The day of the big audition for the Sapporo Symphony Chorus arrived. I spent all morning getting my body into good physical shape, first doing half an hour of yoga. Then I warmed up with a CD by Claude Stein, whose workshop on The Natural Singer I had taken at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. Finally, I listened to a hypnosis tape by my sister entitled "Standing Ovation for Actors".

When I arrived at the site at noon, I was delighted to see 5 other women from my chorus, 1 alto and 4 sopranos, also in the classroom filled with one-arm desks where we had to wait. There were 2 basses as well, with number of women, perhaps around 60, far outnumbering the men. In some ways, it relieved the tension to be with people I knew because we were all in the same boat and had a chance to compare notes [pun intended].

At 12:30, we were ushered up to another room with long tables. It got much quieter, many of the applicants intent on studying their scores or listening to music through headphones.
As each person's number was called, we had to proceed to the outside of one of the two audition rooms. There were 5 chairs lined up, and, after sitting in the farthest one from the door, we did a kind of musical chairs each time one of the singers came out of the audition.

When we got to the chair closest to the door, we were handed a one-page score which we had exactly one minute to examine, without making any sound. The one I got was in the key of C, not too challenging, with only one sharp and one flat thrown in for flavor. It would have been a lot easier, though, had I been able to hum through it and had there not been a young man standing in front of me with a stop watch.

It came time to enter the audition room, and I was surprised to find only one judge. I introduced myself, as instructed, by number (#89), name, and part (I emphasized that I was a Mezzo). The accompanist played a chord on the piano and the first note. I started sight reading the piece, which we were to do unaccompanied. In a couple places, I got a little lost, but the pianist was extremely kind in playing just a note or two in order to help me out. Under any other conditions, and with accompaniment, I'm sure I could have done it perfectly. As it was, I stayed pretty much on key.

Then came the bars I was to sing from Beethoven's 9th, a section of the quartet done by the soloists. That I got through with only one flub. In fact, I was surprised at my own confidence and lack of nervousness. Of course, I had sung the piece more times than I can count, although not that particular solo section. What's more, I knew that my pronunciation was superb, in that I had asked a German friend to help me out the week before.

Everyone in my chorus seemed relatively at ease as we went back to the first classroom to wait. We put our chairs in a circle, and some people had brought food to share (such a Japanese thing to do). I felt a bit sorry for those who had come alone, although I also had my computer with me to do some work while waiting. When the last bass to audition joined us, we thought the wait wouldn't be much longer, but we were wrong. An hour passed, and then another half hour. Our conversation died down. I got out my computer, and another soprano got out a book to read.

Finally someone came in to put up the numbers of those who had made the first cut. People rushed over, so I just took my time packing up my computer. After about 2 hours of waiting, 2 more minutes were not going to make much of a difference. The other women came back saying, "CA, what's your number?" "89," I told them. "Are you sure?" "Yes." I looked over, and the numbers were large enough that I could see the 89 on the board. Everyone in my chorus had made the first cut!

Again, we went up to the room with the long tables, this time fewer people, but still a considerable number of women, most of them sopranos. This time we were to audition in a quartet, so people were called out in fours. Since there were so many more women than men, they sometimes called only one or two numbers, always one of a soprano and sometimes an alto, whereas most of the men had to sing the section over and over again.

As each person in our group returned, we peppered her with questions, such as how fast the conductor was having them sing, and if they took a "cunning breath" on "welt," which goes for several measures. By the time my number was called, much more quickly than for the first round, the same tenor had been singing nearly the whole time, and the poor guy's shirt was soaked with sweat.

The alto and bass that I auditioned with had also sung with others before me, and their voices were all very strong. Mine, on the other hand, seemed weak, by contrast, since a high A is near the top of my range. (I keep saying that Beethoven never would have had the Sopranos sustaining those high notes had he been able to hear at the time when he wrote the Symphony.)

To my chagrin, I botched my entrance. In the section used for the audition, the alto starts, and then the soprano comes in. I didn't have the timing right because it was so sudden to start in the middle of the piece. We started again and, this time, I kept my eyes glued on the conductor.

My self-assessment, which I gave to the other sopranos, as that my notes were fine (I have a good ear and no problem staying on key), my timing was good, except for the initial entrance, and my pronunciation was great. However, my voice was so weak in comparison to the other three that it was then that I knew I probably didn't pass the audition. The others weren't as forthcoming about how they had done, but I knew at least one of them was a bit discouraged. We walked back to the subway station together, wondering how long we'd have to wait before we'd find out the results.

[Thursday, 4 days later]

I was teaching my intermediate English conversation class and telling them all about the audition. It was one of the women in that class who had first found the information about the formation of the Sapporo Symphony Chorus on the Internet and printed it out for me. I told them I'd let them know.

I went back to my apartment, across the hall from my office/classroom, and a letter from the chorus had arrived. I opened it, rather hesitantly, but couldn't understand it completely, so took it back to my classroom to ask my students what it meant. "You passed!" they exclaimed.

I really thought I hadn't made it, so I was stunned. Then I began jumping up and down, shouting, "I'm in! I'm in!" We all hugged each other, and I was so glad I had the chance to share the good news with them.

Later I learned that two of the four other sopranos in Sapporo Academy Chorus had also gotten in, one of whom has studied in England for a year, so I'll already have some acquaintances. The only sad part is that it means quitting my dance class, which I've been taking for over two years now. I'll keep taking private lessons from time to time, but I'll miss the other three women in the class.

I can still hardly believe it.
I'm a member of the Sapporo Symphony Chorus!!