Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Do Re Mi Fa So La Tea...

What a week this has been. We saw yet another Space Shuttle launch delayed once due to the weather and again due to technical problems. We saw world-famous adventurer, animal expert, and energetically Oz-speaking icon of Australia, Steve Irwin, after tempting fate so many times with aggressive, wild animals, finally brought down by the poisonous barb of a panicking stingray. We saw the first male heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne of Japan born in over 40 years arrive via C-section compliments of Princess Kiko, whose husband is NOT the crown prince. We heard the announcement that Tony Blair plans to resign before the year is out.

And here at ye olde academy, the yearly Foundation Festival (soryosai - 創陵祭) has begun.

I figured it would be a wild one this year. After all, the Festival is always the project of the school's 11th grade class, and this year's 11th graders are a uniquely wild bunch. (This is, after all, the same class that, as 9th graders, drove me to throw a desk.) This year's theme, "Upbeat", also led me to suspect we were in for a crazy ride. I was right. The lengths they went to this year are nothing short of extraordinary. They even went so far as to put up gigantic signs all around the school so that no one driving by had any chance of missing it.

And just in case they did, there was also an advertising balloon!


Needless to say, the opening ceremony was a spectacle to behold. They performed a skit that was a spoof of the Power Rangers...and the enemy was the demon that was making the students of their class misbehave! (I guess they really do understand themselves well...) It was full of cliche Japanese humor; there was lots of confusion, bellowing, smacking people over the head, cross-dressing, and gay jokes. In the end, our principal strode onto the stage dressed as "Gold Ranger" (wearing what looked like a shiny, gold forest ranger outfit) and shot down the demon with a laser rifle. (Students dressed as kabuki "invisible" stage hands carried the "laser blast" across the stage. It was pretty funny.) They then declared the Festival open.

A familiar sight: a student art exhibit in the lobby and a "stained glass" image in the lobby windows are an annual thing.

I only wish the individual classrooms of the other grades and the clubs were even half as inventive with their own activities. Unfortunately (or maybe even fortunately), I wasn't really able to check them out. That's because I was in charge of La Bohême once again.

La Bohême is one of the annual festival projects of our music club. It is basically a tea room with live music. In other words, you can sit down in an air conditioned room and enjoy a cold drink and some bakery treats while being serenaded by various solos and ensembles. The project is planned and executed almost exclusively by the 10th grade members, and as such it serves as a valuable dress rehearsal for the following year, when they will be in charge of the music club itself. La Bohême has been a regular event for the past twelve years, and I have been in charge of it for the past five. It is always an adventure, and I'm never really sure what to expect once the wheels start rolling.

In fact, this year I wasn't sure of anything. The leaders of this year's project seemed unusually aloof and evasive, telling me nothing and giving only evasive answers to my questions. Considering this year's 10th graders are actually one of the better groups of kids we've had in a long time, I thought that very strange. Anyway, the evasiveness went on clear up until four days before the event was due to start. Even then the chief started answering my questions only when I pressed her. It was hard to guage her reactions; either she was worried about my possible interference or she was just plain shy. At any rate, their plan seemed like a good one, if a bit vague, so I only offered a couple of points of advice and let them do their work.

I remember the first La Bohême I ever saw at ye olde academy, which was back in 1995. It was my first year at the school, but only as a part-time instructor, and I wasn't directly involved with the music club yet. For the most part it was just a dark and sauna-bath hot (since there was no air conditioning yet) room; what little decor there was seemed like a half-hearted joke. The waitresses serving the (warm) drinks and snacks seemed as disheartened as they were lost. The performance schedule was so badly planned that there were long intervals of nothing...and at one point the emcee actually asked if anyone in the audience was willing to get up and play something! I remember almost wishing either I or someone else had, because the few student performances I saw were pretty bad (as in "Quick, let's play time to practice!"). I remember leaving the room shaking my head and regretting the ticket I'd forked over to get in.

The year after that I was a full-time instructor at Seishin and also assistant director of bands. Mr. Ogawa was still in charge of La Bohême, but he asked me to assist. Things weren't much better than they'd been the year before; both the planning and the execution were half-hearted and confused. Lots of mistakes were made. The room was still too dark and too hot. The performance schedule was still full of gaping holes (which I was asked to fill on the spot on several the point where they were joking about renaming it La [Moody] ). However, two good things did happen. Our kids got the top award for their promotion poster, and the quality of the student performances showed some definite improvement. That apparently helped get the wheels turning, because, as with everything else in our music club, once the tradition became established it started to grow and develop.

In fact, it grew and developed a lot.

I don't think the corridor outside the AV lecture hall has ever been this colorful, let alone musical!

As I watched this year's La Bohême take shape, I couldn't help thinking back to those good (well, maybe not...) old days and being amazed at just how different things have become. The fact that the room now has air conditioning and we have the luxury of portable stage lights and good sound equipment is only part of the story. The students turned that grim-looking lecture hall into a high-class night club with tastefully eye-catching decor on the outside (complete with a pub sign!), an impressive stage backdrop on the inside, and a smartly-organized bar. The kids also went to great lengths both to fill the performance schedule and to organize it the point of bringing a couple of special guest appearances. Judging from the rehearsals I heard, the overall quality of the performances was also a far cry from the thin, out-of-tune attempts of a decade ago. Things were looking pretty impressive.

However, there were also a lot of problems. This year's 10th graders are very good kids, but their thinking has tended to be rather more naive than average. There has also been a noted lack of initiative, something which tends to be scant among Japanese kids in any case. True leadership was in short supply, which meant that teamwork tended to fade in and out as direction was lost and reasserted. Needless to say, there were also some pretty severe communication problems. The original theme, which was London, somehow wound up becoming a sort of European-flavor Old West saloon simply because the people making the decor either weren't told the plan or simply didn't pay any attention to it. They also managed to thoroughly piss off the teachers that were assisting with our light and sound systems simply because the right hand didn't know what the left was doing. That's when I finally decided to step in and start keeping direct tabs on what was going on, though I still kept my kid gloves on. After all, for me to assume personal control of the project and just start ordering the kids about would have defeated the whole point of the issue. Instead, I asked the student leaders to give me the orders as if I were a senior student rather than a teacher. I then helped make sure those orders were understood and carried out by everyone else. I also offered advice when it was needed. In the end, I helped things run a bit more smoothly, but it still remained a student project.

Actually, things fell into place nicely. As I said, the room and surrounding hall turned out beautifully...just in the nick of time. After that the kids somehow made it all work over both days of the Festival. There were a few hiccups here and there, but no major problems of any kind. Sporting my official La Bohême necktie (this year's uniform...and a very nice touch), I got to play bouncer and sit in the back of the room, which meant I got to see most of the performances on both days. I have to say I was quite impressed. Sure, there were a couple of mediocre performances, but no bad ones at all. In fact, many of them were quite good, and I'm not just talking about the ones I was in! (You saw me wink, didn't you?)(Actually, I didn't. PFFFFTTH!!!) However, most impressive was the way the kids kept the performances rolling throughout both days, covering the few, brief breaks with entertaining ad-libs and interviews. They did a fine job, and I was both happy and proud that they managed to pack the house and keep it packed most of both days. We actually had people coming back. I'm not sure if I've ever seen that before.

"Welcome to La Bohême!"

I was even happier when the kids got the top award for their promotion poster. It had been a few years. It was too bad they couldn't get another one for that English/Western stage backdrop, though.

The stage is taking shape.

Now ready for the first performance - a horn quintet!

The bar is about to open! But where are all the other barmaids...?

After it was all done we had the initial cleanup (another chaotic mess) followed by the traditional review meeting. It was here that I was probably most impressed. There were a lot of things I'd been planning to say, most of them strict, but the kids wound up saying every single one of them for me. It turned out that they understood perfectly what went right, what went wrong, and what will need to be improved before they become the leaders of the club next year. I went ahead and gave my lecture anyway. There were some tears at first, but then the kids immediately launched into a very active and very productive discussion. It turned out that they were full of ideas, and they seemed even more surprised than I was. Their maturity level seems to have been given a much-needed kickstart, and that is precisely what La Bohême was meant to do.

I only hope it keeps running into next year.


  • Wow, that's really impressive. The La Boheme was particularly so. Very cool. Beats the heck out even the best prom themes and decor I remember from my own high school days.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 9:08 PM  

  • Ahhh.... The School Festival. Our Green Wind Festival is this weekend. It ought to be...ahhh...interesting. Same town, and yet there is such a big difference. It must be genetic....

    By Anonymous Obliquai Mirabiledictu, at 9:40 PM  

  • Omigosh, you just reminded me how the American schools get decorated and have classroom door decorating competitions.

    LOL Like for the "Say No to Drugs" week, we decorated the Latin Class door wih "Dicet non ad medicamentii" or something like that.

    Oooh look at their knee high japanese socks!
    The last time we saw that in England was at school in the 80s...or today on the Japanese girls in their babydoll dresses.

    By Blogger Olivia, at 7:10 AM  

  • What an amazing concept - French title, but like a Wild West saloon, and let the kids decide how to run it. It's good for a teacher to stand back and let them have a go. A great idea.
    What kind of music did they sing and play? Surely not Musetta's Waltz?

    By Blogger Peceli and Wendy's Blog, at 9:17 AM  

  • Do, So, La, Tsi, Do, Ra. Do!! westernized decor! Your student did a good work. Then of course needs a good to support them!

    Interesting and Humorous Principal works in your School, at least, he could join the fun with all students together. Some Leaders as to keep their dignity and prestige, they won’t’ do it.

    By Anonymous L.C_D, at 5:16 PM  

  • Pandabonium
    I'm with you. My school events were never anything like the festivals we have here. I'm really happy with the way La Bohême has developed over the years, with each new group of 10th graders learning from their seniors and adding to it.

    Well, long time no hear! I'm curious to see what your school festival will be like, though I doubt I'll be able to make it out there this time.

    "Green Wind"??

    That must have been a Texas thing. My junior and senior high schools in Oregon never did anything like that. It sounds like fun!

    Yes, Seishin's uniforms are still stuck in the old mode that many schools are finally now trying (painfully) to abandon. Our boys still wear 19th century Prussian army uniforms. With the girls, however, they have compromised. They only have to wear 19th century European navy uniforms in Summer. During the rest of the year they wear more modern blazers.

    Mr. Ogawa and I often take a lot of flak over the fact that we try to leave as much of the running of all music club events (including La Bohême) in the hands of the students. We're reminded time and time again that students are "too immature" and "not experienced enough" to handle responsibility on their own. We always counter by asking just where and how the students are supposed to become mature and experienced if the teachers do everything for them. Then we point to the successes of the music club over the past decade and let them speak for themselves.

    There's a lot more to education than rote memorization of facts.

    It's an annual tradition that our principal participates in the opening ceremony, usually in a form that's less than dignified. I haven't seen every opening ceremony over the past eleven years, but the ones that really stick in my head are:

    1. Mr. A (the first principal I worked under...and a very stuffy, old man) coming in dressed in a beautiful wedding gown escorted by the student chairman, who was the "groom".
    2. Mr. A dressed in a space suit leading in the student chairman, who was dressed as Yoda.
    3. Mr. J (the second principal I worked under) in a well-choreographed boxing match with the student a very well-made boxing ring!
    4. Mr. J running into and around the gym dressed in athletic wear and pursued by all the members of the student the accompaniment of "Chariots of Fire".

    I don't really remember any of the others, so I either didn't see them or they weren't significant enough to stick.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 10:15 PM  

  • wow, impressive! i really love all of it. i love the black decor in the hall w/ all the musical notes. very creative! and the back-drop and such.... i'm really tickled that they did so much. i can't get over how many events your school has. do they always put so much energy into starting the new year? if so, that's great. i remember having things while i was in school but nothing like this.

    what happened w/ your wife?

    By Anonymous kenzity, at 3:27 AM  

  • yes yes, Japanese do things in a big and nice way..

    Thanks for sharing..

    which reminds me..
    doe a deer, a female deer...

    but no meow

    By Blogger Robin, at 11:28 AM  

  • LOL I did see the girl uniforms in the Aussie pics. I like seeing kids in sailor outfits. It is so quaint.
    Perhaps I was of the last generation to have a sailor top.

    By Blogger Olivia, at 6:28 AM  

  • Moody: I'm sorry that this is my first visit to your site. I'm also sorry for not commenting on the subject at hand. I will definitely blogroll your site and comment more to the point in the future. Anyhow, I didn't find your email address anywhere. If you get a chance, feel free to email me at: and I'll let you know what's been going on.

    Best, Greg.

    By Blogger Greg, at 11:19 PM  

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