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!