Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Die Echte Weltsprache, Day Three

And so we arrive at D-Day Number One.

Unlike night before last, I actually got some sleep. I also made sure that I slept in late (and gave the wife some much-needed attention). The migraine is gone, and I'm feeling pretty good. Antsy, a bit worried, but physically good. I take my time getting ready, and I make my way to the Kamisu Culture Center at a nice, leisurely pace, ignoring the message on my cell phone from Mrs. Ogawa informing me that we're having a woodwind section rehearsal. I still manage to arrive with enough time to join them for most of it, anyway.

Kamisu Culture Center

The members of the orchestra don't seem very enthusiastic. Some members seem a bit disheartened. I keep overhearing a lot of whines along the lines of, "I can't do this. It's hopeless."

I'm afraid we may be done before we've even started.

While I'm chatting with Chuck, Mr. N, our regular oboe player and orchestra chairman, comes up and says very loudly and cheerfully, "Hey, Chuck, a bunch of us are going out for karaoke after the concert. Join us?"

"Sounds like fun," replies Chuck pleasantly.

Am I invited? Hell, no. It doesn't really matter, though, since I already have plans for the evening, but that's kind of the way it is these days. Chuck has become a sort of Garfunkel to my Simon. I'm the one who gets stuck with heavy parts, plays solos, arranges music, and prepares everyone's music sheets, but Chuck is the popular one who gets all the attention. Mr. Ogawa is also totally infatuated with the guy, a fact he sometimes seems to rub in my face for reasons unknown...maybe a sort of "Why can't you be more like him" kind of thing. It's a good thing Chuck and I are friends, because sometimes that gets rather obnoxious.

The rehearsal lasts three hours, and it's a back-breaker. We're all in a bit better shape than we were last night, but I can already sense danger signs. I see an awful lot of people puckering and massaging their lips, which are red ringed. Once again, we are committing suicide. We do need to rehearse, but not to this extent. Not today.

As for me, I'm in much better condition than I was last night, but now I seem to be having a new problem: my reeds. Day before yesterday I spent time trying out every reed I could find (somewhere around three dozen) and selecting the best ones for both my Bb and A clarinets, which are quite different. The A one in particular is very unforgiving, and, unfortunately, the best reed I had for it wound up getting smashed by a music stand last week. Still, I managed to find good primary and backup reeds for each instrument...or so I thought. Reeds are very sensitive to temperature and humidity. They can also give out under pressure. Now, for whatever reason, they're a bit sluggish on the attack and a bit thin in the tone. The back-ups aren't any better, so I just stick with the mains.

Now we have only to change into our concert dress and wait.

Mr. Ogawa has snatched up Chuck and is towing him around to use as an interpreter while he socializes with the two women from Rostock. Apparently my services are no longer needed. Neither are those of their manager/interpreter/piano tuner. Poor guy. After he tunes the piano yet again, he sits forlornly in the corner of the auditorium. I go and chat with him for a while. Then I nod off for a spell, waking up just about in time for the warning that the doors are about to be opened.

Finally, the program starts with the Lupinus Choir (Dennis M...arrgghh!). Tonight is the only night for them, so they are putting everything into it. They turn out a fine performance, and the string orchestra accompaniment (mainly Seishin kids) is spot on. Finally, I and a few other woodwind players come on for the encore, a version of the Russian folk song "Katyusha" arranged by me. While onstage, I notice that the hall is packed, and people are standing in the aisles. None of us expected that. We were afraid the place would be half empty. No such unluck.

Peter I. Tchaikovsky

Next comes the full orchestra to play the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto featuring Janka Simowitsch on piano. She is positively brilliant. Unfortunately, we are not.

Actually, I am being extremely harsh in my appraisal. Not long ago, I watched a video of our 2002 concert, and I was amazed at just how sad it really was. We really did suck back then. Ever since Mr. Ogawa took over as conductor, he has really brought us up to a much higher standard, which is why I can afford to judge us according to a much higher standard. I know we can do better, and should do better, because I've heard us do better. Now I'm hearing sloppy entrances, embarrassing broken notes in the brass, people coming in on rests, ensemble parts that aren't sticking it together, and so on. Poor Mrs. Ogawa, who is playing solo-chair clarinet in this piece (I play solo-chair in "Pictures at an Exhibition"), completely flames out in a solo part, eliciting a sneer from her husband holding the baton.

"Pictures at an Exhibition" isn't much better. From the opening "Promenade", the brass are showing signs that they are already blown, and this is not a good piece for the brass to be blown. "Gnomus" goes okay, but in "Il Vecchio Castello" (the Old Castle) my old friend Stone on the alto sax drags his solo. (I actually rehearsed that solo...and would have killed to play it...but swapping off with clarinet was too much trouble.) When my own clarinet solo in that piece comes up, I'm already struggling to control my buckling reed on the A clarinet. I lean a bit too hard into a crescendo and am rewarded with a squawk for my troubles. (shit...shit...shit...) My little, dancing solo in "Tuileries" goes much better, but I am nursing the A clarinet along and can't really get into it. The tuba solo in "Bydlo", played by a professional extra (a Tokyo music teacher who is actually performing that bear of a solo for the first time) sounds good, but the egg ballet is sloppy. "Samuel Goldsmith and Schmuyl" isn't bad, but "Limoges-March" is shaking apart at the seams. After that, the brass hit the first power chord of "Catacombes" off-key, and it doesn't get any better from there. "Baba Yaga" rocks, as always, but we're sounding very tentative. I don't think I'll bother commenting on "The Gates of Kiev". Suffice to say that half the brass section was wiped out before they even began.

Still, as I said before, we sounded a lot better than we have in the past. Moreover, the rousing applause we got from the packed house showed that the audience didn't really care that we weren't perfect. I guess I should probably give us a break.

I don't have much time to ponder the issue. After hurriedly changing my clothes and saying a few quick goodbyes to Janka, Jana, Chuck, and the other guys in the orchestra, I hop in my BLUE RAV4 and head toward Hokota, where my next performance is scheduled.

It's John Lennon/George Harrison night at Arome, a wine bar in Hokota. Paul was invited to play a set, and he asked Jeff and me to join him. It was quite an ambitious undertaking. We knew we wouldn't have a chance to rehearse, so we decided on a set list, decided who was singing lead in each tune, and then had the lead singer record his own version and e-mail the mp3 file to the others so we could practice individually. I wasn't sure whether I'd be able to make it or not, so I didn't sing lead on any of the tunes, contenting myself with backing vocals, 12-string acoustic guitar, and sax.

I head for Hokota as fast as I could go, which isn't much considering I hit almost every light in Kashima red and get stuck behind someone cruising right at the speed limit. When Paul calls me en route and asked where I was, he just about panicks when I tell him. The venue wants him to go on early, and I'm not going to be there early. Fortunately, Paul and Jeff are able to hold off by swapping slots with another group (thanks, guys!) so I somehow make it in time.

I lug my gear into the "waiting room" next door to the bar, where I find Steve, the bassist for Cranky Old Bastards / Accidentally on Purpose and therefore an occasional fellow partner in crime. He's clearly had more than a few already. (Actually, Steve's not really the sort ever only to have "a few", so no surprises there.) Steve is generally a good guy and a good friend. Perhaps his most endearing trait is his happy-go-lucky, devil-may-care attitude. Unfortunately, when he's tanked, it goes into reckless overdrive. That can be a very good thing (if you're drunk as well), but it's generally a good idea to stay out of his way.

Unfortunately, while I'm kneeling down in a cramped space, putting my sax together, staying out of his way is not an option. Next thing I know, I have a chair in my face. After all I've put up with today, I'm not really in the mood to have a chair in my face. I manage to keep from snapping, but I don't manage to keep from shooting my mouth off. That only serves to set Steve off, which in turn sets me off even higher. It's probably a very good thing that Jeff quickly hustles me outside. Things cool off pretty fast after that...mainly because it's bloody freezing outside.

Finally, it's our turn to go on. We're squeezed into a tiny, little space surrounded by the crowd (and the place is seriously crowded!). Setting up would have been easier if I'd been a contortionist or a yoga master. Paul's amp doesn't work, and when he picks it up a tube drops out and shatters on the floor. We are NOT getting off to a good start. As it turns out, the start is only the beginning of our troubles.

In retrospect, it would have been nice to have had a chance to play through the tunes to make sure we all agreed on how they went. We didn't. The only song that went without a hitch was John Lennon's "Jealous Guy", with Jeff singing and me noodling around on the sax. The other songs went from rough to disastrous. As a performance, it was an utter, bloody catastrophe, but the three of us had an utter, bloody blast doing it. It was a lot of fun, and the crowd was surprisingly appreciative. We all had a good time.

Natch...going from stewing over an imperfect orchestra performance to feeling happy about a horrible mess of an acoustic/rock performance. What would a psychologist have to say about that? Something like, "You need to yank that broom out of your aft shaft more often," perhaps?

I finally get to bed at around 2:30 a.m.. Today is the day of the Kashima Workers' Culture Hall performance.


  • If you have audience like me, i probably didn't really aware that you weren't perfect! I've been to MPO couples of time, still trying to figure out all the instruments on stage.

    Glad that you had a long good day. Hope to hear your play sometime :)

    By Blogger @ロウ 。LOW@, at 11:16 AM  

  • I wouldn't have noticed the difference either. Sounds like it was a really long day. Still it ended nicely. Thanks MM for sharing a day in your life.

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 1:31 PM  

  • This is most interesting to me. I participated in the early rehearsals for this concert and watched the final event which took place after this concert. To read what went on in between is is fascinating.

    You do tend to be a harsh critic Moody, if I may say so. Especially on yourself. But the part about the orchestra, particularly the brass, blowing their chops out by over rehearsing is something I experienced first hand. So "I feel your pain" in that regard. Actually it isn't too much rehearsing at the last minute as it is playing all out which is of course unnecessary.

    Sorry I missed the Hokota gig, but the day K drives me to a wine bar will be the same day they serve iced tea in hell. Sigh. Having witnessed excellent performances by you, it would have been fun to see you in a tough situation, though I'm not so sure I would have been able to tell - you are so much better at your craft than you relay to your readers.

    Can hardly wait for the next installment.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 7:02 PM  

  • Apparently Paul caught the "crisis" on his MD player of the JL/GH gig...all of it. That would be either very interesting to listen to, or very embarrassing! Whatever, I had a blast too, especially in the Green Room with that complaining old lady and the Mercian red wine.

    By Anonymous Jeff Nicholson, at 7:29 AM  

  • aww moody you are too harsh on yourself, as panda said. hehe, you seem to have get the japanese perfectionist bug dont you?

    i believe you did excellent, and don't worry for imperfect performance. It's the effort in preparing, and the guts to be up there performing that counts, after all.

    Good job!
    (Count me in for listening to you play next time! hehe)

    By Blogger YD, at 7:47 AM  

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