Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Drumming in my Ears

Ah...finally! A Saturday with nothing planned! For the first time in weeks I actually get a day of rest!

Or so I thought. Wouldn't you know it, today just happened to be the day of my kids' elementary school's annual festival. They'd all figured I'd be busy today and hadn't banked on my coming. Then they found out I had nothing at all going on...

Nope, I wasn't going to disappoint the kids.

Even so, I wasn't about to make any real effort. I got up as late as safely possible, got ready to go at a leisurely pace, and wound up arriving at the school (which is only about a block from my house) after the boring opening speeches and just in time for the 4th and 5th graders' performance of the old jazz classic, "In The Mood".

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Aren't they cute! Jazz with melodicas and accordions? Oh, well. It was lots of fun. Can you find my daughter?

After the opening stuff was over, it was time for the exhibitions. Each individual grade set up its own display or performance in its own part of the gym. My son's grade 1 class had tables with handmade toys involving seasonal seeds, acorns, and pine cones. (That was actually kind of fun, especially the acorn spinning-top duels!)(Sometimes being a dad allows you to get away with things you normally couldn't. ;-) ) My daughter's grade 4 class took turns giving lectures on research they did on barrier-free society and universal design, i.e. making facilities equally accessible to the elderly and handicapped. The effort and visuals were impressive, but the kids all talked much too quietly to be heard over the reverberating din in that gym (mainly from the grade 1 toy tables). C'est la vie...

Next was Family Project Hour, or something like that. They divided us all up by neighborhood district, and then we separated into our individual families. Then we were given The Project (diminished 7th arpeggio on a koto): to make a traditional paper kite. We were given the necessary paper, bamboo, and string as called for as we went along step by step. The instruction paper we were given was about as clear as Tokyo Bay (i.e. NOT), so an expert gave us step-by-step explanations in his annoyingly shrill voice over an excessively loud and modulating PA system in that reverberating gym. By the time we'd gotten to the third step my head was pounding, and I kept wishing I'd have a heart attack or something so I'd have an excuse to leave. My bladder finally came to the rescue, but when I inevitably had to come back I found that I had missed at least four steps, my son (who was supposedly working with me) hadn't done anything in the meantime, and I was hopelessly lost. My wife and my daughter were too wrapped up in their own kite to give me much help, so I just had to examine their work and copy it as best I could. Soon after that the faculty of the school started distributing the string in my neighborhood group, so naturally all the kids from all the neighborhood groups immediately came a-running and dog-piled right in my vicinity, bumping into me, getting in my face, stepping on my papers, and kicking my tools. My attitude and language immediately turned very foul (though I restrained myself from body-slamming anybody) and remained that way until we somehow managed to finish the kite. Then it was time for lunch.

Lunch was good, and it was nice enjoying it under the blue sky sitting at my portable table. However, we couldn't help but notice that we were the only ones there with a portable table. Everyone else lounged on picnic blankets and laughed at us. Oh, well. My wife packs a mean picnic lunch, so it was more than worth it. After that the faculty and PTA got out a whole bunch of traditional toys and booths selling things like popcorn and broiled sweet potatoes (a favorite of mine). That was kind of nice, too.

After that came the "main event", and it was a bit of a surprise. We were treated to a performance by the Oarai High School BlueHawks Marching Band, not only the best here in Ibaraki Prefecture but one of the highest ranked in the entire country. Naturally, they are something of a legend here in their home turf (along with Ye Olde Academy's orchestra), but I had only seen them in videos before, never live. At first I wasn't sure I wanted to watch their performance, but I gave in and did so.

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They were clearly a high-class outfit, but they were surprising in many ways. It was also fun comparing them with the Oregon State (Beaver) marching band, of which I was a proud member for four years. The Oarai band was surprisingly small. Being very traditionalist, it consisted only of brass, saxes, and piccolos plus a percussion section. All the wind instruments were the same silver color. They didn't use sousaphones; instead, they used shoulder-mounted tubas, and the euphoniums were packed on their players' shoulders, as well. They played with a nice, warm sound with good blend and balance (and good intonation MOST of the time), but they were also surprisingly quiet. All these things plus the fact that they were a glide-stepping line-drill band couldn't help but remind me of OSU's arch rivals, University of Oregon (Ducks).

The Beaver Band always took pride in being an old-fashioned, high-stepping band that performed graphic shows (i.e. we made animated pictures or spelled out words) and played very loudly. During the yearly Civil War Game against the Ducks we had a grand time marching against each other during half time. The press always had a good laugh about the fact that, even though the Ducks used amplification (yes, marching mike holders!) and synthesizers (yes, with marching amplifier pullers!), we always blasted them out of the stadium. On the other hand, they definitely had the edge on us in terms of precision. They were quieter than us, and they were also less raucous. They had less attitude. Their modern, glide-stepping marching form tended to be much closer to perfection than ours, and they moved with a bit more snap. However, surprisingly enough, we seemed to be more precise in terms of formation. Since we made words that were meant to be read and pictures that were meant to be watched, positioning and alignment were things we took more seriously than how we got there. The Ducks on the other hand actually cheated a lot of the time by forming up into lines only to break up again before actually achieving proper alignment. In other words, they considered movement more important than formation.

Just like the Oarai band, or so it would seem. Still, the band put on one heck of a good show, and I enjoyed it thoroughly even though it both made me homesick and awakened my old anti-Duck instincts. I should also say, however, that I was especially impressed with Oarai's percussion section. They used the same types of instruments as the Beaver and Duck bands, but they employed them in different ways. Their cadences had a distinctly Japanese flavor that was clearly influenced by traditional taiko drumming, and I appreciated it immensely. It also goes without saying that they were a very tight ship. It was extremely ironic that the performance ended with one of the tonal bass drummers (a little guy...probably a rookie) crashing into a row of suspended cymbals and music stands parked at the sideline...right in front of me. my college days I was told by various occultists, New Agers, and Wiccans that I had some kind of power I didn't know about. Maybe my anti-Duck instincts made me subconsciously employ some unknown suggestive or telekinetic talent, and...naaaaaah.

Anyway, it was an interesting day, but I was ready for a long nap afterward...


  • I see you have switched some settings on your blog. I suppose that makes it eaiser to do comments, but on a 56k modem, your blog takes forever to load as it is. Lotsa pictures. Well, someday I will have cable again;-)

    By Blogger Pa've, at 11:07 AM  

  • I see your daughter - she's the one with the cigarette hanging on her lip, right?

    Glad that the Oarai band's performance didn't go O-Awry. My high school band was great (the Toreadors), but college (Bulldogs) were a bit of let down in terms of flair.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 10:03 PM  

  • Interesting that school projects include participation of parents. Family-bonding in a way. Nice.

    I'm afraid I do not recognise your daughter. Is she musically-inclined like her dad?

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 9:25 PM  

  • I was going to be your first comment last night, but Blogger wouldnt' let me.

    My guess: Your daughter is top row onstage, third from left, smiling in grey sweater.

    Pandabonium - oooh great pun!

    By Anonymous Olivia at Work, at 9:49 PM  

  • Pa've
    I may be changing more than that soon. I've been carefully examining some different templates, and I may try customizing one and using it. Hopefully it won't explode...

    Hey, if you don't have flair, what do you have? (answer: straight)

    Oh, they make parents participate in all their school events whether we want to or not! Parental involvement is something they really push here, but it doesn't seem to do much good. By the time kids are in junior high most parents don't give a damn what they do.

    Congratulations!!! You get the prize (whatever that is)!!! Yes, that's my daughter...playing the Casio keyboard I gave her for her 10th birthday (which really ticked off the Mrs.).

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 2:15 PM  

  • Looking at the pic full size on webshots helped.

    Is the Mrs sorry she was ticked off yet?

    By Anonymous Olivia at Work, at 9:58 PM  

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