Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Testing Their Metal

"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen! We are the Seishin Flying Eggheads!"

It's the first Saturday Afternoon Concert of the 2006-2007 school year. As always, the event has kicked off with the Eggheads in what is the first outing of this year's new lineup. Thanks to a shortage of personnel in the sax section, I'm actually performing with the band in the second tenor seat. As much as I enjoy directing the Eggheads, I still like getting out a horn and blatting along with them a lot better. The only problem is restraining myself. Given half a chance, I would probably play a lot louder...and take everyone else's solo. I'm a teacher, though, so I have to be nice and encourage my students. (fume...)

We have just finished playing an old (and, for us, rather hackneyed) big band standard, "Tuxedo Junction", and I am addressing the audience. Once I've finished my customary English greeting, I switch to Japanese and say, "This is the 2006 version of the Seishin Flying Eggheads, plus one extra. No, I'm not a student. I'm actually the director of this group."

The audience laughs and applauds heartily.

I then go on to say, "From all of us in the Seishin Gakuen music club, I would like to welcome you to the 54th..." and then my brain grinds to a halt. The Japanese words just will not come out of whatever dark corner of my cortex they've dashed into and hidden. Maybe it's performance euphoria...since I'm actually playing for a change. Maybe it's that (extra strong) Tully's Compadre Blend I've just drunk. Maybe it's Alzheimer's a bout of airheadedness. I don't know. Total Japanese lockup. I try to restart the phrase, and I force myself through it, but what comes out would probably translate as something like, "Welcome to the 54 time mud flat...Saturday go, go, go Speed Racer aftershock afternoon Concert."

The audience is a chorus of muffled giggles.

I smile, and in English (with an exaggerated drawl) I add, "Sorry. I don't speak Japanese."

The audience laughs, and we play "Oye Como Va" (another one we've done a lot over the years) followed by a Latin-rock arrangement of a Japanese folk song, "Soran Bushi". We then close the set with a shuffle-swing arrangement of "Bad Bad Leroy Brown" followed by an encore, a new addition to our library, a bright, upbeat (rather cliche but totally fun) rock tune called "Over the Edge" in which I finally get to satisfy my urge to take an improv solo.

The performance is over. The new lineup of the Eggheads has completed its first outing. My evaluation? We've lost some strength compared with last year, but not enough to worry. The sax section is still solid. The trombones are not quite up to par, but since they're the same members as last year they know what to do. The trumpets have suffered badly, and there were some bad notes and bad entrances (especially in the solos), but they're still better than what I had a few years ago. They're also a very determined lot, if inexperienced. I imagine they'll improve. As for the rhythm section, they're definitely the strong point of this year's band. All the members are doing their jobs with skill and confidence, and they're begging me to push the band's limits more. It's embarrassing to have to tell them we can' least not yet. We'll see where we are in September.

After the Seishin Flying Eggheads leave the stage, we're treated to a whole raft (as opposed to half a raft) of solo performances. Three of them are piano performances by 12th graders in a music major course. (One of them is a total disaster, one is good but not quite music school material, and one is impressive, in that order.) Three of them are "by request" performances by alums, one of whom has just started student teaching here at ye olde academy. Only one performance is by a current music club member. She's a flautist, one that made it to regional championships in solo competition last year, and she does a fine job. After the raft (rack?) of solos is finished, it's time for the "main event", the headline performance.

The Seishin Gakuen Orchestra takes the stage (actually, it's the library lobby, but we won't tell if you won't) in all its bloated, crowded glory, and Mr. (Mssr. Maestro) Ogawa is already making excuses to the audience. He has always looked forward to working with this year's lineup with about as much enthusiasm as waiting for a tax audit. We lost a lot of key power players to mandatory retirement (i.e. reaching 12th grade), and this was definitely looking to be an off year. Add to that the fact that the orchestra hasn't really been able to rehearse very much as a result of, well, your usual beginning-of-the-school-year schlock. It wasn't looking to be a performance anyone except the mothers could be proud of.

The orchestra performance starts with a selection from the DragonQuest IV (yes, the video game) suite. Yeah, there are some rough spots here and there, but it's not as bad as we feared. We were especially afraid that the loss of our two F-horn wunderkinder would be a disaster, but their successors step right into their shoes and deliver a rock solid performance. The trombones and tuba (the same group that plays in the Eggheads) are actually a bit better than last year, but they still have a little more to go. Two of the three trumpets are in a bit over their heads, but they're showing a lot of determination. The flutes are solid. The other woodwind parts are not, though only the English horn player embarrasses herself. No problems at all in the percussion section. The low and middle strings are doing a good job, but the second violins are a little wobbly and the first violins look like they're on the verge of panic. Still, they manage to make it through DragonQuest IV without any real problems.

Next up is Sibelius' Finlandia, the first time Seishin's orchestra has ever performed it. Frankly, I think Mr. Ogawa is insane for even attempting it, especially since they were only able to rehearse it three times. I am pleasantly surprised. The brass, mainly powered by that horn section (you girls ROCK!), is actually tight through that opening part (though poor Mr. Moriyama on 1st trombone goes a bit sharp on the crescendoing high notes...his Achilles' heel...). The strings sound pretty good through the subsequent soft passage, echoed slightly less effectively by the woodwinds (though the flute is gorgeous). After that comes that famous, rapid-tongued, minor-key fanfare. The trumpets (one of the trumpets, actually) brick it the first time and nail it the second. The piece proceeds through the "dark and stormy night" part quite well and then kicks off into the march. This starts out very well, but then disaster strikes.

Our concertmaster this year is a 10th grader, a boy named Kimiwada. He was asked (by the students) to assume that role because none of the 11th grade violinists are anywhere near up to par. He's a very sensitive and exciteable kid, perhaps a bit childish, who tends to be a bit accident prone though he always means well. Anyway, Finlandia goes into a phrase that is a whole line of descending, offbeat notes. I don't know whether poor Kimiwada panics or gets too caught up in the rush, but all of a sudden he goes completely out of control and loses it completely, sending the entire, wide-eyed 1st violin part into a panicked muddle. He and the rest of the part manage to recover their footing (bowing? fingering?) at the end of the phrase and continue, but the tears are plainly visible on his cheeks.

The tune ends strongly, the audience applauds, and Mr. Ogawa apologizes between nervous giggles. Then the orchestra closes with Takeda Shingen, the title theme for a famous samurai TV drama. It's a very intense, brass-driven piece. Once again, the horns make that brutally punishing part look like duck soup. The trumpets, unfortunately, are more or less blown and the trombones are close to it. There are a lot of iffy entrances and rough-sounding notes. The strings, winds, and percussion, however, manage to do the job well enough for a legitimate performance. After that, Mr. Ogawa giggles and apologizes again, and the concert comes to an end.

Yes, we have a very young and inexperienced group this year. We have also lost some of our metal. Still, things aren't nearly as bad as we'd feared. For the orchestra to be able to play even that well after only a few rehearsals is amazing. Not so many years ago they wouldn't have been able to play even that much after months of rehearsal! Besides, these kids know what needs fixing, and they are clearly determined to do so.

If you don't believe me, ask Mr. Kimiwada. He's currently in the music office freaking out...and tearfully begging Mr. Ogawa to call our visiting violin instructor to come for an immediate lesson. Yep. Exciteable, accident-prone, but he means well. I think he'll do okay.


  • Congrats for another successful event. Tell me again, why Flying Eggheads? Interesting name though.

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 7:48 PM  

  • "Welcome to the 54 time mud flat...Saturday go, go, go Speed Racer aftershock afternoon Concert."

    Wow moody, this is quite some sensible words coming out from you! ;-)

    hey, a starting with DG IV sounds cool! new blood coming in, so good luck! :-)

    and i just realized the post is uploaded at 06:06pm, 06/06/06. Nice one.

    By Blogger YD, at 12:32 AM  

  • oh dang! it actually reads:
    "posted by The Moody Minstrel at 6:06 PM on Jun 05 2006"

    almost! just one day miss. ;-)

    By Blogger YD, at 12:34 AM  

  • Any Flying ****heads? Oops! Sorry.

    But why Flying Eggheads? I am curious... =)

    By Blogger Kurakat, at 10:56 AM  

  • Wow they did test their metal. I'm sure they will be awesome later in the year. Good job Moody.

    So, you fused a synapse during your announcements. Happens me all the time - in my native language. I don't even need to be speaking in public.

    Maybe it's tongue twister time:

    Kanda kajicho kado no kajiya no Kanbei-san ga kachiguri katta ga katakute kamenai kamisan ga kanshaku okoshite kari-kari kandara kari-kari kameta.

    (Kanbei, the blacksmith on the corner at Kanda Kajicho, bought roasted chestnuts too hard to bite. His wife threw a tantrum and gnawed on them successfully.)

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 11:52 AM  

  • I'm glad you asked!

    I was going to answer that question as a comment, but it looks to be a bit long. Also, it should be a bit more public, so I'll make it a new post.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 11:53 AM  

  • I would love to actually be able to listen to some of your group's performance. Is that possible?

    By Blogger Alfanan, at 8:01 PM  

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