Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Seagull Cries and Gut-Dwelling Ducks?

Last Saturday, June 23rd, was the day of the 2007 Kashima Philharmonic POPS Concert [pointless link] (kind of wobbly fanfare).

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). 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,'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.

Now what?


  • We had a great time at the concert, and thought it was wonderful. Afterward I was sorry to learn I was not supposed to have taken pictures, so I erased them all (NOT!).

    Mr. Ogawa resigned? No way. He'll come around.

    If not, I can hear the chant starting in a whisper and building in a long crescendo.... "moody, moody, moody, moody".

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 9:00 PM  

  • I thought Mr O was part of the furniture round there.

    And wait, there's a Mrs O too? Or have I totally misssed that for the past few months?

    Also, I keep getting the same word verification for each blog today..."smenita"

    By Blogger Olivia, at 7:23 AM  

  • That's funny, I got smenita also.

    It must mean something.

    I can understand Mr. Ogawa's resignation. He's a perfectionist, and he expects everyone else to be also. Perhpas he is just tired of everybody's other business getting in the way of the thing he loves most.

    By Blogger Pa've, at 8:21 AM  

  • smenita here too!

    sorry i missed the show. wonder what caused mr. o's drama?

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 11:08 AM  

  • Careful people. Mr. Ogawa and the illustrious "Mr. O" are NOT THE SAME PERSON!!!!!

    Actually, when we first founded the Kashima Philharmonic back in 2000 Mr. Ogawa was not the director. He was the chief administrator and music advisor. We had another director named Mr. Sato. That was back when we really sucked. Mr. Ogawa finally got so fed up with us sucking that he asked Mr. Sato to let him plan and direct one extra concert halfway between our regular December concerts (i.e. in June) to show him how it was done. That was our first POPS concert, and it happened in 2003. That performance was a big success, and we learned a lot. Then Mr. Sato came back, directed our December regular concert, and we went right back to sucking again. Not surprisingly, Mr. Sato resigned right after that, and Mr. Ogawa took over as regular director.

    Although Mr. Ogawa remained in the post from 2004 till now he was never really happy about it. He kept pushing the K.P.'s executive committee to try to find a different director and was always threatening to quit if he didn't feel we were giving him 150% effort. I'd figured it was only a matter of time, and since the players seemed so lacking in drive at this last performance I wondered whether he'd bolt after it was done.

    Yes, there is also a Mrs. Ogawa. Like Mr. Ogawa, she's a very competent clarinetist. (In fact, as Mr. Ogawa is so fond of reminding me, she is a clarinet specialist, whereas I play a lot of different instruments and just consider clarinet to be my #1 since I've played it the longest.) She has had considerably more training and experience in classical music than I've had, so she usually takes a leading role when we play classical tunes (though we do rotate). I, on the other hand, have a lot more experience with contemporary music and jazz, so I tend to be favored when we play those kinds of tunes. She was picked to play "Peter and the Wolf" partly because Mr. Ogawa figured she stood a better chance of getting it down (and he could train her personally at home) and partly because he wanted me to do the dixieland jazz combo, something she can't do.

    She and I generally get along fine, and we both understand our respective roles. However, there has always been a bit of awkwardness since there has long been some confusion as to which of us is really in charge of the clarinet part. Officially I am (and she stubbornly insists that I remain so), but since she is clearly the more experienced player she definitely gets more respect than I do. There's also the no small fact that the other members of the clarinet section are all her students! Yes, it can be awkward sometimes.

    It seems that Blogger's word verification thing gets hung up on "smenita" every once in a while. I wonder why.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 4:45 PM  

  • I'd love to see the duck removed from the foxy wolf's belly. I hope panda caught that on film, or in pixel. Can't wait to browse the not-deleted pictures of the concert in panda's blog. You will post them will you panda?

    By Blogger agus, at 6:31 PM  

  • gawa.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 4:45 AM  

  • I had never seen smenita before...

    And thanks for the clarification on the Mr O / Ogawa issue...

    By Blogger Olivia, at 7:37 AM  

  • Maybe you're developing ADHD... -giggle- but seriously, it sounds like you put a lot of work into it even if you were kinda spaced out.

    By Blogger Swinebread, at 9:53 AM  

  • By the way. There were a lot little kids at the concert. Peter and Wolf is great for kids, but 3 year olds?
    Anyway, I think that explains why you didn't receive a standing ovation - parents too busy trying to maintain control of the little monsters.

    I for one was ready to stand - but not to be the first. (Hey look at the gaijin standing up - typical, have to be the center of attention.)

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 10:15 PM  

  • The Moody Minstrel.

    Sorry for this late comment.

    I feel I MUST comment and say how much I enjoyed reading your post ‘ Seagull Cries and Gut-Dwelling Ducks?’ - Your writing description made me feel as though I was there with you.

    The action-packed program guaranteed to be fun for the whole family so I suppose "Peter and the Wolf" catered for the younger element and they would have enjoyed it but not for me. Music, yes performance no - [sorry].

    Am I picking up bad vibes with Mssr. Maestro Ogawa?.

    and now:

    Pandabonium's "Pacific Islander" post ‘Take the 5th, Pops’.

    I was absolutely blown away with his write up of your concert - priceless, double 5-star grading, His write up supported with photographs and a video as well, marvellous.

    Have you ever thought about videoing the performances, perhaps a local college who specialise's in media studies could be invited to video any future Orchestral concerts, published on ‘You Tube’ - [many other colleges from the States do that].

    Many thanks to you and Pandabonium for sharing your Kashima Philharmonic POPS Concert

    By Blogger Mick's Page, at 9:11 PM  

  • Mick, thanks for stopping by, and I appreciate your frank comments!

    Actually, we do video our performances, but they only end up going in our own archive. Yes, I agree it would be nice to put clips on YouTube. Maybe I should raise the issue at one of our meetings.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 10:38 PM  

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