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July 02, 2005

Rehearsing with Discipline

Dear Doug,

I spent today rehearsing with the Tama Youth Orchestra in preparation for the concert tomorrow afternoon. We are playing Summer from Vivaldi's Four Seasons. The Tama Youth Orchestra is one of four youth orchestras selected by lottery from a pool of applicants to participate in the Music Sharing Special Concert in Tokyo. Other works being performed this year include Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto (with Koji Oikawa, my pianist-partner for all the Music Sharing concerts in Japan), Eval'd's Sinfonia for Five Parts Brass Choir, and Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 1. Each of the works will be performed by a different orchestra and each orchestra has participated in the past in the Music Sharing Orchestra Visiting Program. Besides Tama orchestra and Shirayuri orchestra, which plays the Beethoven, the other two groups are Matsudo Youth Orchestra Brass Ensemble (Eval'd)and the Fuji High School Orchestra (Tchaikovsky).

Music Sharing is my outreach non-profit organization in Japan. The mission is to bring children opportunities to come into direct contact with music, both classical and Traditional Japanese. The Orchestra Visiting Program is currently in its fourth season at Music Sharing. The goal of this program is to facilitate stronger communication between young and professional artists. In Japan, there is a distinction between youth orchestras that are independent organizations and school orchestras that operate as part of after-school programs or "Club" activities. From tomorrow's program, Matsudo and Tama are in the former category whereas the Fuji and Shirayuri are in the latter.

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I was impressed, as we rehearsed with the Tama Youth Orchestra, by the respect the students showed toward one another and toward the adults. The concept of respect is still very important here, and it is fascinating to feel the intent gaze of all the musicians each time I open my mouth to make a comment. There is no yawning, no side discussion with the stand partners, no dropping of music.

We spent some time discussing different colors within the music. I am particularly fond of working with harmonic characteristics and acknowledging them as we play them. Another favorite of mine is to be certain where changes occur in music, whether in character, mood, texture, or articulation. When I listen to music, I want to hear when changes occur as they happen, rather than realize, in retrospect, that the changes have taken place.

The Beethoven First Piano Concerto with Koji Oikawa will be performed tomorrow by the Shirayuri Middle School Orchestra from Sendai. This is one of the "Club" orchestras, which rehearses every day after school. In general, the majority of "Club" orchestra members do not have previous experience playing instruments prior to joining the orchestra in contrast with orchestras like Tama Youth Orchestra, which selects its members by audition. The older students in the "Club" orchestras coach the younger ones, and most of them make decisions rather democratically with support from the adults. Though the teachers and staff are present, the daily management of the activities is left up to the students, including decisions about repertoire. The adults take a supportive role and guide them when necessary, but the students are encouraged to make their own decisions through discussions. Some "Club" orchestras have one of the music teachers as the conductor while others may have a fellow student to stand on the podium.

I listened to part of the Shirayuri Middle School Orchestra rehearsal earlier today, as Koji, with the help of the conductor-teacher, did his best to energize the students. The main focus of the rehearsal was on style. At one moment, I had the sense that all the young musicians made a leap from simply "playing" the notes to "feeling" the music. It was amazing to watch how Koji inspired the students and made them light up. They went from being timid about playing all the notes to playing the music with a sense of purpose. I could hear and sense a big change.

I am often asked whether discipline plays a big role in Asian (or Japanese) music education. It certainly makes it easier for teachers to work within a disciplined environment. The sense of focus I feel from the students in Japan is simply amazing. I suppose one could argue that this discipline "cages" the students into a corner, but after my experiences today with the two groups, I did not feel that this was the case.

At the end of the rehearsal with the Tama group, I reinforced some of the issues I had addressed during the rehearsal, and asked the students to give themselves a few minutes to think them over and look over their music markings before rushing to put away their instruments. I got an amazing chorus of "Hai!" meaning "Yes." Then, as I was leaving the rehearsal room, they all stood up, bowed, and thanked me.

Wow. I'm certainly not used to being treated this way!

Midori

Posted by midori at July 2, 2005 04:17 PM

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