Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Die Echte Weltsprache, Day Four

The Kashima Philharmonic after our first regular concert, 2001.

Concert poster for the current two-day event.

Sunday. The last day of this music marathon. I’m not sure whether I really want to get up or not. I guess I have to. After all, regardless of our condition (or mine, for that matter), today the Kashima Philharmonic (rather tired-sounding fanfare) is playing at its home turf, the Kashima Workers’ Culture Hall. The Kashima crowd has always been a very loyal one, so…well… I guess what I’m trying to say is…

Whatever. Time to get up.

When I go to gather my “fake tux” together, I notice to my dismay that my loyal, loving wife has taken all my dress shirts to the cleaners. The white shirt I wore yesterday smelled bad, so I popped it in the washer last night. It’s now hanging on the clothes pole outside. I don’t have any other white shirts. However, before I panic, I notice that, for some reason, a white shirt I’ve never seen before is hanging on the rack. Perhaps it is one of my father-in-law’s that got brought here by mistake. Whatever. It’s clean, it’s pressed, it’s starched, it’s white, and it fits, so it has just been pressed into service!

After I finally hit the road, one of the first things I do is take the John Lennon/George Harrison CD out of the car stereo. I put that disk together to help me prepare for last night’s gig in Hokota. Now that that’s out of the way, the best thing I can do is scoop kitty litter over the memory of that gig and get on with life (and I am winking with my tongue in my cheek while I say that, you realize). I content myself with the meditative sound of the 1.9-liter engine purring along as my BLUE RAV4 makes the journey across the Lake Kitaura Bridge into Kashima.

I arrive at the KWCH to find instruments lying all over the lobby but few souls to be seen anywhere. Apparently it’s lunchtime, and almost everyone has gone out (if they’ve come at all). Chuck is there, looking chipper as ever, and we wind up heading to the KFC across the street for lunch. I figure a bit of white meat will do me some good.

Alas, that was probably a big mistake. Soon after returning to the KWCH, I am afflicted with two problems. My “primo filet sandwich” seems to have fossilized within my stomach, which now sports a large rock. There is also an occasional tendency for oily food to make me feel both agitated and spaced out (since I usually avoid oily food), and my system decides to make this moment one of those occasions. When the afternoon’s rehearsal starts, though my head and fingers aren’t in bad condition, I’m feeling short of breath and having trouble focusing. Not good.

Frankly, I can’t figure out why we’re even bothering to have yet another long rehearsal today. Almost all our problems yesterday could be attributed to being exhausted. More practicing isn’t going to solve that. It’s only going to make it worse. Apparently Mr. Ogawa understands that, because he orders us to play only what’s necessary and save the chops. It doesn’t seem to compute. Everyone plays at more or less full potential, repeating the same old error yet again.

I’m still having trouble focusing. The fast runs are going by without too much trouble, but I keep losing count of the measures. A couple of times I accidentally come in on a rest (oops…). The good news is that, though I’m using the same reeds as yesterday, they seem to like the air in the KWCH better. Control is definitely not a problem, at least for now.

There are bigger problems elsewhere. Stone is still dragging the sax solo in “Il Vecchio Castello” (The Old Castle, second movement of “Pictures at an Exhibition”), and Mr. Ogawa is getting irritated. We go over the same passage again and again, and Stone just can’t seem to figure out that he’s drifting behind the cello rhythm. He and Maestro Ogawa are glaring ice bolts at each other. Later, Janka is having inexplicable trouble with the Concerto. She and the orchestra keep winding up off from each other in the same place, [cue Robin Leach voice] and we don’t know why. We go over it again and again, the same thing happens every time, and the bright, young, German pianist starts getting upset. She’s trying very hard to communicate with Mr. Ogawa (at high speed), but he is lost and she is getting tongue-tangled. Chuck does his best to interpret, but they’re having trouble following each other. Finally Mr. Ogawa tells her just to follow her instincts and runs through it one more time. This time we’re almost on, so Mr. Ogawa says, “Good enough,” and moves on.

My assistance isn’t requested, so I stay where I am and keep my mouth shut.

Once again, the rehearsal takes a full (and totally unnecessary) three hours. I figure there’s little prayer of us actually pulling off a good performance now, so I decide not to worry about it. I’ll do my part as best I can. I hope the others do the same. I can't ask for much more than that.

After that, we have a bit of time to unwind before changing into our concert dress. Janka and Jana come into the rehearsal room (also the men’s changing room, wouldn’t you know it?) to practice a bit more. I manage to chat with them for a bit (before Chuck comes and quickly monopolizes the conversation), and they tell me they’re planning to come to the after-concert party, a tradition which amazes and even confuses them a little since there’s no such thing in Germany. I ask Janka about her condition, and she replies that she’s happy as can be…but very eager to get the whole thing over with. She and Jana both look tired. Considering their schedule, they probably haven’t gotten over jet lag yet. I’m sure they will be happy to get back home to the land of candle-lit Tannenbäumer.

Eventually the doors open, and the hall fills up quickly. Ever since our first “pops” concert two years ago, we’ve been pretty fortunate in terms of turnout at our now-twice-annual performances at KWCH. This is even despite the fact that we now charge admission. Our home crowd has been good to us, and they’ve come to give their support yet again. I only pray we don’t let them down.

Modest P. Mussorgsky

Curtain time. This time there is no Lupinus Choir (Den…*sigh*), so we start right out in Concerto formation, but we open with Mussorgsky’s “A Night on a Bald Mountain”. It goes pretty well, and it feels pretty good. Next, Janka takes the stage, and we play the Concerto. As always, her performance is wonderful, but I can’t help feeling that she’s holding back a little compared with what she did last night in Kamisu. She’s playing it a bit safe, which is a pity, but it still sounds great. (Actually, she later tells me that she really was playing it safe because the problems during the rehearsal had shattered her confidence. Strange, that, coming from a world-class performer! Still…it was probably better for both parties.) I’m even more impressed with the orchestra. I can tell by the tone quality of some of the notes I’m hearing that people are holding on for dear life, but they are pulling it off, and they are sticking it together. I don’t hear any of the glitches, splats, or flame-outs that happened in Kamisu.

I don’t believe it! Are we actually doing this?

During the intermission, I spot Janka in the hall and congratulate her on her fine performance. She replies by giving me a very dark look. She’s not happy.

Next, we go on in the “Pictures at an Exhibition” formation (i.e. me in the solo-chair position and the saxophone, bass clarinet, contrabassoon, harp, celeste, and full percussion section stuck in). I take a deep breath and hold it just before Sanshiro Ogawa (Mr. Ogawa’s son, a 9th grader who also happens to be in my home room) starts the opening trumpet solo fanfare. Last night, in Kamisu, he started out fine and then collapsed halfway through. Tonight I bet he doesn’t last two measures…

...and I lose. He starts out beautifully and STAYS that way!

Way to go, Sanshiro! I guess I owe myself a beer.

The rest of the brass, apparently encouraged by their most junior member’s success, are coming in solid around him, too. “Promenade” is sounding the way it should. So far, so good, against all expectations!

“Gnomus” is about as solid as it has ever been. The “Promenade” interlude that follows, which is mainly a woodwind ensemble ending with a duet between me and Mrs. Ogawa, comes off beautifully. That’s when I realize that the reed in my Bb clarinet is not being sluggish like it was last night. I’m feeling and sounding good. Next is “Il Vecchio Castello”. Stone drags a bit again, but only a little bit, and we hold it together. I come to my solo, and I nurse it a bit through the crescendo (since I do NOT want to squawk again!), but then I realize that my A clarinet is responding to my commands without complaint, too. (Must be the air.) I take a risk by testing it, throwing in another crescendo off the hip in the next phrase (hey…it says “espressivo”, right? MY PREROGATIVE!!!!) and leaning into it hard. Smooth as silk. Better than usual. Bingo. We’re in the game!

I owe myself another beer. I'll make it a Yebisu.

After another “Promenade” reprise comes “Tuileries”, which feels a bit rushed, but I’m feeling just good enough with my A clarinet to play around a bit more during the solo and have some fun with it. My fingers come dangerously close to slipping on the sweaty keys, but I somehow manage to keep it under control. Next is “Bydlo”, and the tuba solo sounds great. That thrumming bass woodwind and low strings rhythm is also tight as a drum. The egg ballet is about as close to being tight as we’re probably ever going to get it, and it feels pretty damned good. “Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle” (I know I spelled it wrong in the last post. Sue me.) also sounds and feels great. So does that notorious “Limoges-March”, with my Bb clarinet staying with me as I navigate through all those tricky register-crossing sixteenth-note runs. I am feeling pumped right now, and I am REALLY enjoying this, but now we’re coming up to perhaps the most dangerous piece of all.

Hartman's "Catacombes", which inspired the movement.

I pop off the altissimo A and then grit my teeth just before the brass pound the first power chord of “Catacombes”. That has always killed us in rehearsal, and it wasn’t very pleasant to be sitting right in front of it in Kamisu last night. Tonight it wobbles a bit on the punch, but not bad, and the members quickly pull it into tune. Not bad...not bad at all! For the most part, the trombones and horns are nailing it on the mark!

I’m on the verge of tears. I can’t believe this! Are we really doing this? Do I owe myself three beers now? Or was it four counting “Limoges”? Should I make them all imports? I guess there’s something to be said for the homecourt advantage! Or are they just putting everything they’ve got into it since it’s the very last time? I guess it doesn't really matter. All that matters is that we are doing it, and doing it well!

I can feel a surge of energy going through the whole orchestra as we launch into “Baba Yaga’s Hut”. I think everyone is feeling the same rush I do, and it is an adrenaline flow to rival any heavy metal concert. We’re riding the wave far higher than we did last night, I can tell you. My Bb clarinet’s reed is showing signs of giving out again, but I don’t give it a chance. I blast it at maximum power through the fast and furious parts, ease it gently through that tricky, descending trill run in the middle, and then blast it again when it rages at the end. My instrument responds without squawking or even drifting out of tune even though I am pressing it past my safe limits. My mouth muscles are probably going to be killing me tomorrow, but this is about as close to flying as anyone can get. Even so, the real test will be coming immediately after the last sixteenth-note run.

Hartman's design for a Gate of Kiev, which inspired the movement.

“The Gates of Kiev”. The brass have to have chops of steel for this. Last night they didn’t. As I roll off the last sixteenth notes, I shut my eyes and whisper a monosyllabic prayer.

The first chord is solid and gorgeous. So is the second. Then a half and two quarters. Then Sanshiro spots the interval up to a high Bb. Then he does it a second time. Then the section repeats the chords. Solid as a rock. Unbelievable.


Screw it. I’m buying myself a case next chance I get. It’s a good thing that I have twelve bars of rest right now, because I’m feeling seriously choked up. That spot of moisture I feel on my face could be sweat, and it could be a tear. This is truly amazing. A few years ago some of these people could barely play a major scale. Listen to that!!!

“Kiev” rolls off probably as well as any time we’ve ever played it, and probably even better. That glorious last note leaves us all feeling like we’ve just won a marathon. I guess, for all practical purposes, we have. It’s a shame the Kamisu performance wasn’t this good, but at least we gave the home crowd…and ourselves…something to remember.

Mr. Ogawa has to come out and take a bow three times. The applause just keeps on going. We’ve never gotten that much applause before.

The encore is Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride”, a nice, relaxing favorite that I’m now much too spent to play well. My clarinet is still responding fine, and the reed is serving me well, but my fingers just don’t want to move anymore. The fast notes come off clunky. Oh, well. I’m well covered, I can play strong when I need to, and it’s only the encore.

And now, meine Damen und Herrn, it’s party time.


  • Moody, I get tired just reading about orchestral adventures like that. How you hold it together is simply amazing. of course, if I had never practiced music, tired chops wouldn't mean anything. But three hours for a rehersal seems a bit excessive.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:05 AM  

  • It was really interesting to read the "rest of the story" that led up the Sunday concert.

    Having played the pops concert in June, I watched and listened to this one with a bit of inside knowledge that made it all the better for me. I was really pleased with how well it came off. Your solo parts were great.

    The reason the audience applaused for so long was simply because it was well deserved. Bravo!

    I post more comments on my blog.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 10:56 AM  

  • The rusty 3rd to 2nd language translations must have been maddening. I can't imagine doing it without an English stop in the middle. Congrats on a great show and make sure to tell us about the party.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 3:23 PM  

  • Otsukare-sama deshita, Moody.

    By Anonymous j-apricot, at 5:07 PM  

  • Omedetou gozaimasu! Honto ni super-man dayo! Sugoii!!! :p

    By Blogger @ロウ 。LOW@, at 5:14 PM  

  • "super-man dayo!'" - Low

    hahahaha... yup yup bravo our superman clark!!!

    these few days have been like following the drama series, watching episode after episode, and finally sighing a relief at the ending. great ending!

    phew, clark u really had us holding our breath for days!


    By Blogger YD, at 7:07 PM  

  • Wow. I felt like I was THERE. Marvelous.

    By Blogger bonnie, at 12:29 PM  

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