Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Sunday, June 29, 2008

SECs and the City, Part Q

Once upon a time I did a post on this blog in which I talked about SECs, or Stupid English Catchphrases. I'm talking about all those wonderful English phrases used by marketers and promoters here in Japan to make their products look classy, but which were concocted with a sadly inadequate understanding of the language. The results can range from bizarre to flat out hilarious.

For example, take the TV commercial I saw last night.

In the ad, a number of different people from different walks of life (businessman, office lady, housewife, etc.) all look square at the camera and say (in English):

"I am a..."

After a whole string of these, they mention the name of the loan bank which is being advertised:

"Dikku" (pronounced "Dick")!

I guess we are to assume all those people are saying, "I am a DIKKU!!!"

I seriously have to wonder if some native English-speaking consultant somewhere is laughing out loud while counting all the yen paid to him by Dikku for his creative input. That's just too good to be a coincidence. And speaking of dikkus...

Yesterday (June 28th) saw the largest music-related event in the history of Kashima, the Kashima Music Fest (hugely budgeted fanfare). It wasn't intended to be quite so huge, but it was.

It started out innocently enough. Some months ago the music club at Ye Olde Academy got an e-mail from the director of the Garfield H.S. orchestra in the U.S. saying they were coming on a tour of Japan. They had came to Kashima before, namely a few years ago, and we had staged a joint performance/reception at our school. (I posted about it on this blog, but I won't link it just in case I'm still being spied on.) We still had fond memories of that event, and we'd been hoping to do it again. Now the Garfield orchestra was offering just such an opportunity. However, true to form, Mssr. Maestro Ogawa wasn't one to leave things as they were.

The orchestra at Ye Olde Academy is currently in maintenance mode after the loss of several key players to graduation with few truly viable replacements. Figuring they'd be in no condition to work next to the Garfield orchestra (which is definitely a high-class project), Mssr. Maestro Ogawa decided to involve the Kashima Philharmonic as well. Then he got to thinking (ominous diminished 7th chord). Last time the Garfield orchestra came, we held our concert event at the school auditorium, but with a full orchestra on the floor it can only hold a few hundred spectators. The Kashima Workers' Culture Hall is always a possibility, but even it can only seat around 750 people. Mr. Ogawa figured we wouldn't be doing the Garfield orchestra justice unless we could get at least a couple thousand into the venue. But was there any such place anywhere nearby? Yes, there was. The Kashima Sports Center, fully completed in 2002, was designed to seat 2,002 (Yes, you read that right. It's because it commemorates the 2002 FIFA World Cup, in which Kashima was one of the venues) in its main arena, which also happens to have a stage. Problem solved...

...NOT. Unfortunately, the manager of the KSC was extremely anal about it. He said basically, "I am a dikku!" "This facility is only for sports or sport-related events. We won't agree to its use for any other purpose without a specific directive from the City of Kashima." Well, Mr. Ogawa went to City Hall to get just that. Not very optimistic about it, he started resigning himself to using the Kashima Workers' Culture Hall instead, but then he got a phone call from the Mayor...which turned out to be more than he'd bargained for. Basically, the Mayor said, "SURE you can use the Sports Center for this event! And while you're at it..."

And thus the Kashima Music Fest was born. In addition to the Garfield and Ye Olde Academy orchestras and Kashima Philharmonic, it included all the junior high bands in Kashima, all the senior high bands in the Eastern District of Ibaraki Prefecture, a senior high Taiko Drum Troupe, a local ballet troupe, and three community choirs. It also involved a nightmare of organization, logistical planning, recruiting, promotion, rehearsal, and ticket sales, nearly all of which was dumped directly into Mr. Ogawa's lap...and subsequently delegated to the executive committee of the Kashima Philharmonic! The fact that we had never tried to pull off anything even remotely like this before was bad enough...coupled with an untried venue. To make the whole thing worth it, we put together a performance itinerary which was very ambitious in scale, putting pressure on the many performers and directors alike. We (Read "I") also had the complicated business of trying to work out various issues with the Garfield orchestra, which had enough problems of its own, without putting undue pressure on them. In the end the sheer scale of the thing was intimidating to say the least. There were just SO many things that could go totally wrong at the least provocation! By the time the Garfield buses rolled in on the evening of the 27th for our first and only full rehearsal together, many if not most of us were nursing ulcers and scars from torn hair.

Anyway, without going into all the rehearsal stuff (or the fact that I had to be responsible for five different instruments), I'll go directly to the event itself.

There had been some concern about the weather, but the 28th turned out to be nice...if a bit hot and muggy. After all the massive expenditures, we knew we had to sell at least 1500 tickets to break even. Thankfully, almost all the 2002 tickets were sold, and about 1800 people showed up. Unfortunately, the KSC management (still being a...dikku) insisted on blocking off part of the stadium parking lot and wouldn't let us use the air conditioners, citing worries of circuit breaker capacity. (They told us later...while the event was in progress...that they had special high-capacity power connections for special events...for an additional fee. Gee, thanks...dikku!) The result? A hideous traffic jam followed by a main arena that quickly reached oven temperature. That didn't stop the overwhelming majority of the audience from staying for the entire, three-hour marathon!

It all started with the junior high mass band, consisting of the concert bands of Ye Olde Academy (junior high) and two of the Kashima public junior highs. Three other junior high bands in town had hoped to be there, but a ridiculous gaffe on the part of City Hall had led the principals of those three schools to intervene and pull them out after rehearsals had already started. I didn't get to hear their final performance, but they made a valiant effort. They were followed by a Taiko Drum (traditional Japanese percussion) troupe from Kashimanada High School, which provided an exciting break from the usual fare. After that was the senior high mass band, which was made up of the concert bands of all twelve senior high schools, public and private, in the Eastern District of Ibaraki. The fact that the total number of players was only about 70 shows in no uncertain terms the sad state of high school music in this part of Ibaraki. Some of those bands have fewer than a dozen members each. They worked hard, and their performance was quite good.

Next was the joint Kashima Philharmonic/Ye Olde Academy orchestra performance. We started out playing a sort of Straussian 2001: A Space Odyssey medley including the intro from Also Sprach Zarathustra and "The Beautiful Blue Danube" (each by a different Strauss brother). This was followed by a suite from "Pirates of the Caribbean", which is always a blast to play. We then did some quick seating changes and started the highlight of our set: Ravel's "Bolero".

"Bolero" is quite a fascinating piece. It is repetitious as can be, repeating the same bass line more than a hundred times and including a mere three melodic themes. However, it is full of surprises. Conventional instruments are used in unconventional ways. Unconventional instruments are used in conventional ways. And all along, that theme just keeps building, building, building as if the sun is rising and a city is coming to life. But then, just as it seems like that theme is arriving at a glorious climax, it suddenly turns into a screeching, grating cacophony and ends in one of the nastiest closing hooks in the history of classical music. It sounds easy, but it's not. Actually, "brutal" would be an appropriate term. It requires some extremely skilled musicianship, both from its various, taxing solos and the steady, controlled rhythm that forms the piece in the first place. I had always wanted to play it. I had always been rebuffed. This time not only did we do it, but I had TWO solos (one on Eb clarinet, another on tenor sax)!

Not surprisingly, we had ringers in our ranks; each of the string sections plus the horn, trumpet, trombone, and oboe sections had one professional extra each. Most of them are our regular guest clinicians, so we know and work with them very well. The trombone ringer, however, was someone Mr. Ogawa came up with through contacts, and he was definitely a...dikku. When members of our orchestra tried to greet or thank him for his help he responded by not responding or even acknowledging their existence. Instead of setting up, warming up, or attending the announcement assemblies and march to the backstage door, he spent the entire time leading up to our performance in the concert hall sitting in one of the audience seats typing text messages on his cell phone. We were not impressed.

"Bolero" was the piece we had worried about the most because it is so demanding and because there had been so many problems in rehearsal. I myself wasn't in good shape at all when we rehearsed on the 27th. During the main performance, however, fortune smiled on us. We kept it together, held the tempo, and all the solos and ensembles came in properly. As for me, I felt really good during "2001" and "Pirates", so I just relaxed and got into my solos. I really felt more in the groove than I usually do onstage. My Eb clarinet solo felt really good. The sax solo felt even better. I have yet to listen to the recording (which may yet yield unpleasant surprises), but it really seemed to be a shining moment for us, and the thunderous applause we got from the biggest audience we'd ever faced made my throat seize up for an instant. Definitely a shining moment.

Come to think of it, the only low point was the trombone solo. The ringer sounded great in rehearsal, but he was full of holes during the performance. Our own trombonist probably could have done as well without costing as much. What a...dikku!

Garfield was up next. Unfortunately, I had to haul four instruments (A clarinet, Bb clarinet, Eb clarinet, tenor sax plus their stands) back to our practice room and get ready for the final production number, so I wasn't able to hear much of their performance. They're one of the top school orchestras in the U.S., though, and what I heard of them was top notch. I'm sure they did great.

Then came the ultimate performance spectacle. The final set was the Garfield orchestra together with the Ye Olde Academy orchestra and Kashima Philharmonic. But that wasn't all. We brought out the massed choir and ballet troupe. What did we play? The Triumphal March from Verdi's Aida. Aida is an opera to end all operas simply because it calls for such a massive scale. This one selection is no different. A challenging and dramatic tune on its own, with the added choir and ballet it was nothing short of amazing. It was also a daunting undertaking. We rehearsed it with the choir only four times. We rehearsed it together with the ballet troupe and the Garfield orchestra only twice (the evening of the 27th and the morning of the 28th). Anyone with any common sense would call us insane to attempt something like this with nearly all amateur performers! I wish you could've seen it! The Garfield kids are wonderfully competent, so they had no trouble adjusting to Mr. Ogawa's interpretation of the piece, which was very different from what they'd rehearsed at home. The choirs were also far more on the ball than we'd feared, and they stayed right with us powerfully and, most importantly, in tune. I couldn't see much of the ballerinas, who were dancing behind us, but they gave a lot of added spark to the piece. Those glorious brass-and-choir fanfares (I say partly because they mainly consist of the word "Gloria") really rang out in that sports arena. So did the applause. I could see some members wiping their eyes. We've pulled off some miracles before (like...Beethoven's 7th last winter?) but nothing like this. History was made in Kashima.

Now if only the ballet troupe had come out for the second curtain call along with the rest of us...

We played two encores. The first was J.P. Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever" under the baton of the director of the Garfield H.S. orchestra...and played very much American style! :) This was followed by the soft, emotional piece "Sen no Kaze ni Natte" (Become a Thousand Winds...aka "Don't Weep By My Grave") sung by the choir to our orchestral accompaniment (arranged by this moody minstrel). Then it ended...and we all heaved a huge, collective sigh of relief.

I went to the reception for the Garfield orchestra afterward, but I just felt drained. The traditional after-concert party for the Kashima Philharmonic was also sparse and kind of melancholy...though Mr. Ogawa was happy and had only good comments (which is EXTREMELY unusual!). Then I was off to Kashima Central Hotel, where the Garfield group was staying, to help out as an additional interpreter/gopher, but I think I was too burned out to be of much use. (I won't complain about the complimentary room and breakfast, though.) Now the Garfield group is on its way back to Seattle after having finished their latest Japan tour with a bang (or a glorious fanfare, take your pick). At Ye Olde Academy all the music rooms are quiet and dark.
I'm back home thankful for the rest. As for Mr. Ogawa, I'm sure he's enjoying a much-deserved bottle of wine.

Tomorrow is Monday...

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10 Comments:

  • Tum tum te tum...

    Live television coverage next, right?

    By Anonymous Dave, at 12:10 AM  

  • lol,
    I also wonder about the names they give 4X4s

    PAJERO
    might have sounded cool to some Japanese marketing exec
    but it means 'wanker' in Spanish.

    By Blogger QUASAR9, at 9:51 AM  

  • Dave
    I did see TV cameras there. I haven't heard anything about a news broadcast, though, so I don't know. There damned well should have been, considering the scale of the thing!

    QUASAR9
    That doesn't surprise me at all considering the names of other products here, such as a drink called "Nude", a car called "Naked", a yellow soda drink called "C.C. Lemon" ("C.C." is pronounced the same as the Japanese word for "piss"). I think a lot of twisted sense of humor goes into these names.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 5:01 PM  

  • It was long, but we really enjoyed it. Your solos went very well. The finale was spectacular and the Kashima Philhamonic sounded better than I have ever heard it. Kudos.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 9:02 PM  

  • Sounds like a very good show. I am sorry it wasn't sports though (har har).

    This was a happy orange sexy post.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 10:23 PM  

  • Pandabonium
    Thanks a lot for coming, and I always appreciate your support! ;-)

    Snabudon
    Ever been boned up the...never mind.

    Actually, the Sports Center management fought this thing tooth and nail right up until the very end, which is ironic considering they bill themselves as a "multi-purpose arena dedicated to the people of Kashima".

    I guess "multi-purpose" means something different to jocks.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 1:07 AM  

  • I got yer Dikku.... oh nevermind.

    By Anonymous Some Guy, at 6:10 AM  

  • Well Moody, if it makes you feel any better, American slaughtering of French for uppity marketing shenanigans suffers from the same linguistic idiocy.."Le Voiture" (using a masculine article w/a feminine noun)..franglais like "Let us retouche (ay..w/the accent)your photos!"...etc.

    By Blogger ladybug, at 6:47 AM  

  • Wow, what an exciting performance that must have been - such challenging pieces played by two orchestras, a choir and a corps de ballet!

    Wish I could have seen it.

    As for the dikku, it's worthy of Engrish.com.

    By Blogger Olivia, at 2:21 AM  

  • I was thinking about you, MM, when I attended a concert yesterday. Watching the musicians set up, warm up, move about for various solos. It all looks so coordinated and well rehearsed. Your post reveals so much of the drama and chaos that so often goes on in the background. Congratulations for getting through the ordeal and I hope the recording will show happy surprises :-)

    By OpenID nikkipolani, at 2:08 AM  

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