Sunday, August 16, 2009

2nd Place Melon

As soon as they gently pushed me into the middle of the street where we had been dancing, I knew it was going to happen again. I was dismayed but pleased at the same time.

Four years ago, when I had joined in the neighborhood bon odori [dancing] for a short time, I had been urged by some members of the neighborhood group to dance during the last 5 minutes or so. Then I learned that there were prizes, and I was surprised to be awarded with the 3rd prize, which included a carton of shoyu [soy sauce] and a pineapple. I was never quite sure what the criteria were for winning, although a lot of people dressed in costume, generally as simple as a wig or a mask, although the girl who won first place was simply wearing a pretty dress but a noticeably good dancer.

Anyway, I accepted the prizes, and a neighbor's husband graciously carried the carton of 6 large bottles of shoyu for 4 blocks to my apartment. Since one of those bottles would last me almost a year, I gave the others to friends. I later learned that the president of the company that made the shoyu is also a neighbor!

This year I was able to join in the dancing again and, in fact, since the weather was cooler than usual, danced continuously for some 45 minutes. The dance is fairly simple with movements so repetitious that I was soon doing them automatically. After dancing like that for quite some time, one can go into a kind of trance-like state, although meditative might be a better word. What I enjoyed about it the most was young and old all engaged in an activity together. I felt so connected with all the people dancing. For some reason, little kids kept joining the line in front of me (for only a short time), and that was especially delightful.

In the end, I won again! This time it was 2nd prize, a Hokkaido muskmelon. I still have no idea why I won - except that I was one of the few NJs (non-Japanese) participating.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

You Gotta Music

My head is still reeling two days after one of the most delightful performances I’ve had during the three years I’ve been singing with Sapporo Symphony Chorus. Akira-san is an absolute delight with his enthusiastic conducting - so dynamic compared with most of the staid conductors we work with - and his love of music, especially when performing for children.

His songs, too, convey so many messages for children, including that “sayonara” is not an end but a beginning. One, entitled “Yugata [Evening] Quintet,” is used for his theme song on public TV. “You gotta music” is not actually poor English but a pun on “yugata,” so it means “evening music.”

Since it took me nearly 25 hours to learn the meaning of and memorize the 5 songs we performed, while listening to them every day on my iPod while I was walking and riding the subway or bus, the tunes are firmly imbedded in my brain. Because of that, and the help of numbers of friends who helped me understand not just the words but the underlying meaning of what we were singing, I thoroughly enjoyed the two performances.

We were encouraged to move naturally with the music, and I’ve never seen the chorus loosen up so much. Of course, standing just a few feet away from the audience (although we’re usually behind the orchestra on risers or even up in the balcony near the organ, this time we were right at the front of the stage) and having the accompaniment of children running around and crying or shouting made the atmosphere extraordinarily different from what we’re used to when we perform classical music.

The program was oriented towards children as well, opening up to an cartoon illustration of

an orchestra with all the instruments labeled. I heard that, after the concert, members of the Sapporo Symphony were in the lobby with their instruments, allowing children to touch and explore them - sticking their heads inside the tuba or watching in awe at how far a trombone could slide.

However, it was Akira-san himself who made it so much fun for everyone. His love of music was so apparent and so contagious that everyone felt like singing and playing! (I’m sure this is true even of the members of the orchestra, although their faces were so solemn compared with those of the young people in the Pacific Music Festival Orchestra with whom we performed last month.)

During rehearsal, Akira-san really helped us to get a feel of the music with his gestures and expressions as well as his words. In one song, for example, he wanted the suspense sustained throughout the piece until it reached the conclusion, and he illustrated with Tony’s song from West Side Story: “Could be . . . who knows? . . .”

On the day of the concert, we had about 2 hours between the 1:30 and 4:30 performances, and I was feeling so tired around 3:30 that I thought I’d never make it through the second time without forgetting the words. However, once on stage, I was totally energized by the music, the enthusiastic audience, and, of course, Akira-san himself.

By the time we performed the encore, Matsuken Samba II, a unique piece with Japanese words by Ken Mastudaira, all the singers were totally into it, as can be seen in the photo. OLÉ!

During his speech, Akira-san told us that he feels a true affinity with us and, for me, the feeling is mutual. I truly hope to have the opportunity to perform with him again. The world needs more musicians like him who have such a positive effect on all those around him.

Postlude: One of my private students took her nephew to the concert and, of course, enjoyed it. Since I had told her that I wasn't able to memorize the first encore and was only going to mouth the words, she told me that her nephew was checking my mouth closely with opera glasses during the encore and couldn't tell that I wasn't actually singing the words. Guess I'm pretty good at faking it!