Japan Center directors Mariko Yokosuka and Kyoko Takano reflect on the May 18 visit from the Yomiuri Symphony Orchestra, who visited ASIJ for the first time to perform a “Friendship Concert” to the community.
With the launch of Japan Center in 2015, we took action for our school to join the Yomiuri Education Network; a non-profit educational support organization which allows participating schools to take advantage of various educational programs, resources and opportunities. The network helped match our needs of seeking authentic Japanese learning experiences with that of Yomiuri Symphony Orchestra’s, whose mission was to give back to the local communities through the power of music.
This three hour concert program, now on ASIJ TV, was split into three parts: kindergarten to grade 2 concert, grade 3-5 concert and the middle/high school strings joint performance and workshop with the orchestra.
As soon as our student emcees opened the concerts, the elementary audience quieted down and sat in their seats to respectfully watch, and at times sing along with, the performance. The Yomiuri ensemble played familiar and timeless compositions by famous composers like Eine kleine Nachtmusik by Mozart and Comedian’s Gallop by Kabalevsky, which resonated with the elementary-schoolers. As students swayed back and forth to the delightful music with some waving their hands trying to be like the conductor, we could tell all were thoroughly enjoying the musical experience.
“What a sensational performance! The overwhelming response from the 4T children was that this was the best presentation..I completely agree as the pacing and music choices were child friendly. Also, to hear each individual instrument and then listen to them play in unison really brought home the importance of how being part of something bigger creates many possibilities where working alone does not have as much impact.” -Mumi Takeuchi, elementary school teacher
Now, it was time for students to take part in the collaborative portion of the program. After months of planning and coordinating together with Yomiuri and elementary school music teachers, Jody Fuller and Karolee Kent, we chose a Japanese song which would be appropriate for each group of students. Kindergarten – grade 2 practiced singing to the song Sanpo (Walk) and grades 3 – 5 practiced Sekai ni hitotsu dake no hana (Only Flower in the World) in music class for several weeks before the concert.
We projected the lyrics on the screen of the theater for all students to follow and sing in Japanese. Hearing our students’ confidently and joyously singing the song along with the dynamic and vibrant sounds of the orchestra, music was working its magic and everyone in the theater felt it. “I’ve never sung with a live orchestra! I want to do that again!” a student shared her excitement with us.
“(They) offered us excellence in performance and repertoire. I appreciated the creative way of introducing the instruments of the orchestra. My first-graders still had Do-Re-Mi in their voices today.” -Jody Fuller, elementary school music teacher
Wasting no time with these world-class musicians, immediately following the two concerts, 35 students from middle and high school strings took to the stage for an opportunity to perform with the orchestra. Despite their lack of any rehearsals together and absence of a conductor for this blended orchestra, they performed Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flower seamlessly. After some “sound” advice and critique from the orchestra members, they played once again together, this time sounding more harmonious and euphonic.
Katherine Plotz (grade 11) remarked, “Playing with the Yomiuri Orchestra members was an invaluable and inspiring experience. Since Japanese is not my first language, music became the language through which I communicated with the Yomiuri Orchestra members, and learned a lot about musicianship, professionalism, and the importance of playing music because you love and enjoy it.”
Finally, this was the first attempt for Japan Center to present a program entirely in Japanese, with a Yomiuri emcee speaking to students in Japanese. We placed importance on the fact that this would be an authentic Japanese learning experience and that music would be the common language. The power of music will transcend language barriers and will motivate students to engage and learn. We would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to the Yomiuri Symphony Orchestra and the Yomiuri Education Network for this collaboration and celebration of the importance of music in our lives.
Read more in the Yomiuri News article published on this visit.