(There wasn't much to report on the 6th, so I've jumped ahead.)
This is it, the final day of this year's music club summer training camp
. As luck would have it, it's also the day of the Prefectural Concert Band Championship (tight, brassy fanfare in close harmony...oops, the alto saxes are FLAT!!!)
. That's why this year's camp was so hectic. That's why they robbed me of all my jazz band rehearsal time. That's why they suddenly canceled yesterday's free afternoon (i.e. no golf this year)
That's why we're faced with one heck of a logistics nightmare today. We have to get roughly half our 100-strong music club to the contest in Mito and the other half back to Ye Olde Academy
. We also have to divide up the equipment, meaning two trucks.
As for me, as always, I've been asked to come along to the contest and be a back-up teacher/director. That's not a problem. I'm quite used to the gig. However, my transportation duties this time are quite different from what they were last Friday (the 3rd). Mrs. Ogawa has already gone home, Chuck is riding the bus with the kids headed back home, and the cellos and things have been loaded in one of the trucks. Instead, I've been told I have to carry myself plus two alumni, Mr. HB (grad. class of 1997) and Mr. OZ (grad. class of 2007). Of course, I also have to transport our luggage, which still amounts to a fair amount of gear. Wouldn't you know it, I've also been stuck carrying some "support equipment" (no, I'm serious this time)
for the concert band. It's not a problem. There's plenty of room in my BLUE
RAV4. It should be a smooth and interesting drive over to Mito.
Shortly before departure time HB and OZ come running to me and inform me that they've decided to ride the bus with the students instead (insisting they "promised")
, but they still want me to transport their luggage. I suppose I don't have any trouble with that, though I do feel some hackles raising a bit. As it turns out, however, the bus winds up taking off while HB and OZ are still trying to stuff their gear into my car. They seem rather annoyed, but they're with me whether they like it or not.
It turns out to be an interesting ride. Despite one minor navigation system hiccup (i.e. it tried to get me onto the freeway despite my wishes. The back roads are actually faster!)
we make excellent time. Meanwhile, HB and I have an entertaining chat. He has a master's degree in music, specializing on recorder (especially medieval, renaissance, and baroque music)
, and is currently studying in Switzerland. He speaks fluent English (and Spanish)
and is trying to learn German at the moment. He seems to have a bit of an issue with my music selection (though I try to keep it in the pseudo-classical category)
, but we still keep a lively banter going all the way to Mito. OZ, who was quite good at English in his school days, follows our conversation for a while, but then his brain starts to overload, and he quickly slaps on his iPod (but nods off anyway)
. In the end, we wind up arriving in Mito more than two hours ahead of schedule.
The three of us have a bite of lunch at a pretty good noodle shop just outside the downtown district of Mito, and then I call Mr. Karatsu on the bus. He tells me that they have stopped at a roadside rest stop just outside Mito city limits and will be there soon, so we proceed to the Prefectural Citizens' Culture Center, where the contest is held, and find the parking lot full. As if the signs aren't enough, both traffic cops at the entrance give me very emphatic "x" signs. I wind up parking at the temporary parking area set up over at the Lake Senba park...almost a kilometer from the Culture Center. The hike from my car is not fun; it's hot, it's muggy, and even the small percentage of our gear that we lug along is a serious pain in the neck. We're thankful to arrive in the welcome embrace of the air-conditioned lobby.
No sign of the bus, and another school band is still occupying our designated area.
We wait a while, and I phone Mr. Karatsu again. He tells me that they are "about ten minutes away", so I go ahead and sign us in at the registration counter. Then we wait...for about an hour. It turns out that "about ten minutes away" referred to the distance, not the time, as they were still having lunch at the roadside rest stop. Now the kids are there. However, the band occupying our area is in the process of clearing out as we come in, and it's all wonderfully chaotic.
It's even worse when it comes time for us to set up for the performance. Our kids immediately open up their cases and start readying their instruments...right in the middle of the passageway. In other words, they're blocking the way and causing trouble for other bands. Mr. Karatsu says nothing, so I have to be the jackbooted fascist and get our group out of the way. Then our guide arrives and tells us to get ready to go...and several of our kids are off screwing around instead of getting into position. Once again Mr. Karatsu says nothing, so I have to be the evil overlord and get their butts into line. I think you can guess how the kids are looking at me now. (Somewhere along the lines of, "What the **** is his problem?")
I, for one, do not
welcome being a gaijin overlord.
And so our erstwhile band is marched off to the rehearsal and tuning rooms before backstage standby, and I'm left guarding the bags. It's okay, since I do this every time. As it turns out, there are also a couple of 7th grade students that have been drafted to do the same thing, so I really don't have to be there. I decide to be fair and stay there until it's time for our band to go on stage. Then I ask the 7th graders to hold the fort while I go into the hall, watch our performance, and write my own judge's critique.
Our performance is pretty good, but probably should have been a lot better. The opening note, which sucked at the block preliminary, sucks even more today. The opening line, a unison phrase played by the tuba, contralto clarinet, and string bass, is sloppy. Once the band gets going after that they sound tight and together...but there are a couple of very noticeable splats in the trumpet and trombone sections, and the horns are out of tune. The blend and balance are much
better than at the block preliminary, the musical expression is there, but the band somehow lacks energy (maybe tired from all that hard practicing over the past four days? Naaaaah...)
. The woodwinds are definitely in the groove, but the solos sound a bit tentative. Overall, it's an improvement over the block preliminary, but because it's an improvement the weak spots are an even bigger disappointment. Considering the level of competition, it's really hard to say whether we'll cut it or not. Frankly speaking, we weren't sure we'd even make it this far.
Once it's all done the kids quickly put their instruments away and load the truck. Then they grab up their bags and take off. That just leaves my stuff, HB's, OZ's, and the little bit of support equipment that I was stuck with. Then the boy members of the band, who were the crew mainly responsible for loading the truck, come in together with Mr. Karatsu and HB. We chat for a while, and then HB suddenly decides he wants to go get something to drink. There's a problem, though; OZ is still nowhere in sight.
HB sighs irritably and says, "[Moody] sensei, look after OZ's bags, please. Come on you guys, let's go get something to drink!" And then, just like that, he heads off with the boys. Mr. Karatsu apologizes to me quietly three times before HB calls for him to follow. The Moody Baggage Handler no longer exists for HB or the boys, apparently, but then again, he's only a baggage handler, right?
About an hour later OZ finally decides to show up, and he looks annoyed. Without a single word of greeting to me, let alone thanks for my trouble, he tells one of our drummers to grab his bags for him, and off he goes. Yes, being everyone's baggage handler is a thankless job, but somebody's gotta do it, right?
Now, where the **** is my tip????
That's the last I see of anybody for the rest of the day. I sit in the lobby alone with my briefcase and the band equipment for about another two hours until the final ceremony, which I watch on a closed-circuit monitor. Our band did well; they got a gold medal (meaning they were in the top ten out of forty...every band in the Prefectural Championship got a gold, silver, or bronze medal)
. Unfortunately, they weren't picked to represent Ibaraki at the East Kanto Regional Championship. They were chosen to be the first runner-up. That's far better than we'd expected, but it's still kind of disappointing. After all, it's almost better to be at the bottom than right at the edge of victory.
Something tells me I'm not going to see HB or anyone else, so I gather up the stuff and hike the kilometer back to my car. Sure enough, no sooner do I start the engine than I get a call from Mr. Karatsu saying, "HB is with us on the bus. Don't worry about him." I tell him I'm not worried at all. I don't
tell him that HB should be far more worried I might dump the two large suitcases he has left with me off on the side of the road and go get something to drink. I am seriously contemplating doing just that.
Yes, I am very angry...*pant pant pant*...VERY
Nevertheless, the Moody Baggage Handler does his job, without thanks or tips, and HB's bags get dropped off at Ye Olde Academy (and MBH immediately scrams)
an hour before the bus arrives.
Summer vacation has finally begun.