Seagull Cries and Gut-Dwelling Ducks?
As usual for a Kashima Phil POPS Concert (repeat fanfare) we had a wonderful, action-packed program guaranteed to be fun for the whole family. And of course we had a couple of guest stars to round it all out. It was a kick-out-the-stops, no-holds-barred, shoot even if you don't see the whites of their eyes kind of deal. An adventuro allegro con fuoco, or something like that.
Or at least it looked that way on paper. It sure should have seemed that way. I don't know what it was about this particular POPS concert (yeah, yeah...repeat fanfare). Maybe it was because I wound up with a whole pile of other, mostly work-related activities dumped on top of me right around the same time. Maybe it was because those other activities kept forcing me to miss rehearsals. Maybe it was because all the tunes I was playing seemed almost ridiculously simple, especially compared with last December's Beethoven/Weber/Mozart marathon and the extra heavy POPS concert the June before that (rhythmically complex but off-key fanfare). Maybe it was because I was starting to feel a trifle redundant in the clarinet section. Whatever the reason, when it came to this concert I just felt distracted, unfocused, even apathetic.
I have to wonder whether others in the orchestra felt the same way. I say this because, compared with last December, we were kind of lame. Don't get me wrong; it's not that we sucked. No, we don't suck anymore. Not like we used to. There was a time when we REALLY sucked. We have gotten over that. We weren't sucking now. But we were definitely sounding kind of...lame.
As we came into the usual final rehearsal marathon (read "wiping the performers out just before the performance") I could tell Mssr. Maestro Ogawa was getting a bit frustrated. It was bad enough that he was having so much trouble getting principal players to come to the regular rehearsals. Now he was having trouble getting said principal players to play with much gusto. I'd like to think that they were just saving their chops for the main event (like they should, actually). To me it just seemed uninspired and unmotivated (i.e. lame).
Okay...now that I've totally darkened the tone of this post, I'll go on to a rundown of the actual concert.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the 2007 Kashima Philharmonic POPS Concert! (Um...fanfare?)
Once again, despite the 2000 yen ($18) a pop ticket fare, we came on stage to find a packed house waiting for us. We tuned up and kicked off the show with a rousing rendition of J.P. Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever", the first time Mr. Ogawa has allowed us to play that since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. (Does that mean he has finally forgiven us?) Then the emcee, Koneko Edoya, one of our celebrity guests, came out and started his patented brand of wacky but very talented banter.
The first thing Mr. Edoya did was an introduction of the individual orchestra instruments for the kids. He had a representative of each instrument, in score order, stand up and, after a brief explanation, play a short tune and then do some kind of animal call. Yes, you read that right. Animal impersonations are one of Mr. Edoya's specialties, and he's quite good at it. However, that doesn't mean that we were. The individual performance blipverts went pretty well for the most part. As for the animal calls, well, two violae(?) stole the show with a cute rendition of "Neko Funjatta" ("I stepped on the cat") including the poor cat yowling, the oboe did a good goose, the bassoon did a better bullfrog, the clarinet (me!) did a seagull that Mr. Edoya said was excellent (Yay!), and the horn did a pretty good elephant. Other than that...probably better not to comment.
After that was our big production number, "Peter and the Wolf", narrated by one of our other guest stars, the chief of a local theater troupe. I had always wanted to try playing "Peter and the Wolf". So guess what? I didn't play it. For a number of reasons that responsibility fell to Mrs. Ogawa. (In retrospect, that might have been better. The clarinet part in "Peter and the Wolf" is really nasty in a few places. It's the only piece we've tried to date that I sincerely doubted I'd ever master without lots and lots of practice time, and I didn't have that luxury.) However, even though I missed out on playing the regular clarinet part, I DID perform. During the last part, when Peter and the others are parading the just-captured wolf on their way to the zoo, we changed the arrangement of the piece so one line (Peter's theme in a march style) repeated, and on the second time I and a dixieland combo marched into the concert hall playing it in jazz style. I was dressed up as grandfather (complete with a beard), the trumpeter was Peter, the trombonist was the cat, and the sousaphone player was...well...a patch of forest. We marched together with a couple of guys in medieval huntsmen costumes carrying a big, stuffed wolf on a pole. (One of our clarinetists made the wolf herself, and it was damned impressive!) We marched up onto the stage and mimed along with the last bit of narration. At the climax of the piece, the huntsmen surgically removed the duck from the wolf's belly. (You had to see it to believe it.)
Part Two of the concert started with J. Strauss' "Fruehlingstimme" ("The Voice of Spring"), a nice waltz. It was my turn to be out of the rotation, so I spent the time kicking back backstage. Then I went on for our guest vocalist's set. This time our singer was Kazuko Matsumoto, apparently an up-and-coming operatic soprano who lives not far away but is already experienced overseas. She sang Puccini's "My Father", a Japanese children's song called "Inu no Omawari-san" ("Dog Policeman") (my arrangement), and a recently popular song, originally of Irish origin, known in Japan as "Sen no Kaze ni Natte" ("Become a Thousand Winds"[?] or perhaps "Sent to the Four Winds" might be better) (also my arrangement). After that the singer left the stage, some players changed seats, and we played a medley from the Disney classic "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves". Then the singer came back and we did a medley from "The Sound of Music".
Our first encore was the theme from the movie "Exodus" (known in the U.S. as "The Ten Commandments"). Then we brought the singer back and played that lovely (if a bit hackneyed) tune "Itsumonandodemo" ("All the time however many times") from the movie "Sen to Sen no Kamikakushi" (English title "Spirited Away"). Finally, we closed up by following a (very aggravating) Kashima Philharmonic tradition: Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance". The huntsmen came out with the wolf again, balloons and streamers were tossed around, a bunch of students from Ye Olde Academy wearing angel wings danced in the aisle, and the crowd eagerly clapped along, but unfortunately there was no standing ovation this year.
Oh, well. The crowd definitely seemed pleased, and the comments we got were, with one or two exceptions, very favorable. We gave another gift to the people of Kashima, and they seemed to appreciate it. That is the most important thing, after all.
As for me, I went from thinking, "Oh, wait...today's the day of the concert, isn't it?" to "Oh, wait...the concert just ended, didn't it?" Still distracted.
As always, we quickly cleaned up and headed off to our favorite cafe/wine bar for the post-performance bash. This year Mr. Ogawa kicked it off by announcing his resignation as conductor and stomping out. Rather ended it all on a bad note.