Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Ye Olde Big Regular Concert 2009

Yesterday (April 4th) was the annual regular concert of the Ye Olde Academy music club. It was unusually late this year mainly because the regular performance venue, the Kashima Workers' Culture Hall, had just finished undergoing renovations. We were actually the first group to use the main hall after the construction was finished. The smell of paint and adhesive definitely took a bit of getting used to when we arrived to start the final rehearsals and preparations.

This year's event broke with tradition in other ways as well. Our usual soundman/stage manager, Mr. SKM, was away on business. Not only did we have to do without his services, but the decision was also made not to use our school's considerable stock of sound equipment (mainly because no one had the confidence to try to use it without Mr. SKM's expertise...something I'd consider to be a serious problem). Instead, sound equipment and management was outsourced for the first time in almost a decade, and we did it on a very tight budget. Stage management was left in the hands of a different music club director, in this case my American coworker Chuck. It was definitely a whole new ballgame, and it was a learning experience for everyone involved. The program order was also different from usual. Since at least the beginning of the 2000s the orchestra has always headlined the show, playing last and having the longest program. On the other hand, the concert and jazz bands always took turns playing first. This time the orchestra started the program, the concert band appeared in the middle, and the jazz band headlined for the first time ever. There were many reasons for this, but it was still kind of odd.

I won't bother going over all the details of preparation. Getting together an event like this, one that involves roughly a hundred students doing more than just playing their instruments onstage, is a complicated and time-consuming affair. It also tends to leave people with some very frayed nerves. Suffice to say it took a lot of energy and thought. It was a relief when the final bell was rung, the lights went up, and the show started.

The concert was kicked off by selected members of our brass and percussion sections marching onto the stage and performing Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man". It was directed by a 7th grade trombone player (who is also the tallest member of the music club). It was a powerful and dramatic start, but the trumpets, already worn down by overrehearsing (as usual), struggled with the really high notes. Still, the fact that they could hit those notes at all was a vast improvement over past years. The horns and trombones were spot on.

Next up was the orchestra, directed by Mssr. Maestro Ogawa. They started off with Chabrier's lovely EspaƱa. Then they performed Copland's quirky El Salon Mexico. This was something of an off year for the orchestra (one of the reasons why they didn't headline this time), but they did a respectable job, mainly thanks to quality work by key players. As an ensemble, the string parts are currently dominated by inexperienced players and show it, but there was some quality solo work in the strings and winds alike.

The concert band was next, directed by Mr. Karatsu. The repertoire consisted of "original" concert band fare, Mr. Karatsu's specialty. The first was a tune called "Arcadia", by Japanese composer Hayato Hirose, which describes the life journey of a young boy. Second was three movements from the otherworldly "Starscapes", by Brian Balmages (with plenty of fun on the part of the light crew). The third and most dramatic, however, was an interesting if not disturbing work by Belgian composer Bart Picqueur called "De Bello Gallico", a multi-movement piece inspired by Julius Caesar's "Commentarii de Bello Gallico". It is anything but typical; one hears throbbing, martial rhythms, dissonant fanfares, jarring pulses, and exotic, bestial wailing. At its climax, those members of the music club not in the concert band (i.e. the string section) came onstage to join in a wild, bacchanalian dance singing about Rome's victory (in Latin) and drinking lots of beer (in Old German!) as a piccolo and Eb clarinet dueled in a bizarre, primitive-sounding frenzy over maddened drums. Then it all ended with a brilliantly discordant Roman fanfare. (All three works can be heard performed by the Osaka Municipal Symphonic Band on the CD New Wind Repertoire 2008.)

Then it was the turn of the Flying Eggheads jazz band. By now I was worried sick that the brass section was going to be totally blown out, but we still stood poised to perform one of the most ambitious sets ever by virtue of sheer length. We kicked off with an arrangement I made of the Ken Woodman tune "Mexican Flyer", and the brass sections relieved all my fears in the opening blast. We continued with bossa nova standard "BLUE Bossa" and the Afro-Caribbean hit "Afro BLUE" with lots of fine solo work and a strong showing by our percussion section. Then our main pianist, also this year's music club chairman (and first chair flautist), surprised me with an unannounced open solo before proceeding directly into "My Heart Will Go On", featuring some beautiful solo work rearranged from the original by the students themselves. This was followed by "Harlem Nocturne" featuring our baritone sax player. Now firmly in swing country, we proceeded into "Bewitched" and "A String of Pearls", with the latter breaking two 8th grade sax players into the world of improvisation. Then we ended it all with a frenzied, 2-part medley of "It Don't Mean a Thing (if it Ain't Got That Swing)" and "Sing, Sing, Sing" that has become something of a Flying Eggheads tradition, particularly when a drummer is about to graduate. In this case, by FAR the best drummer the Eggheads have ever had (and we have been blessed with some good ones in the past eleven years) was giving the farewell performance I'd long dreaded hearing (because it meant her term with us was done). True to form, she stuck an open solo in the middle before starting "Sing, Sing, Sing", and she really had the audience going. The high point, however, was toward the end, when the lead alto saxophonist/Chief Egghead stood up to play her big solo. She walked over by the drummer, and the two of them did it together, tears in their eyes. When all was said and done, we offered my arrangement of "Hello, Dolly" (theme song of the Kashima Seaside Jazz Festival) as an encore as all the graduating 11th grade members of the music club came out on the wings to dance their final bows.

But the show wasn't over yet. The biggest spectacle was the ENCORE.

Right after the music club chairman gave her farewell speech, I and some of the (graduating) 11th grade members of the Flying Eggheads came in one of the side entrances and marched into the middle of the audience playing a dixieland-style rendition of "It's All Over Now" (myself on clarinet) before marching out ad-libbing "Aloha Oe"...leaving the lead alto sax/Eggheads Captain alone in the middle. As the orchestra quickly set up on the darkened stage, Captain slowly walked down the aisle in the spotlight, all the while improvising around "Aloha Oe" at a steadily slower and sadder tempo. Finally, overcome with emotion, she choked up too much to play and stopped a few paces from the stairs. As the audience offered encouragement, she changed tack and upped the tempo, switching the playing style to a peppy bounce as the audience clapped along in time (which had stage manager Chuck tearing his hair, but I thought it was a brilliant move! Nice use of the moment by a student musician who has grown a lot!) . Once she had mounted the steps onto the stage, she downshifted back to slow and sad, ending on a beautifully moody note just as Mssr. Maestro Ogawa started the string ensemble playing "Italiana" (I don't recall the composer at the moment). And then...

Those of you who have been visiting this blog for a while may recall that, a few years ago, I made a special arrangment (of questionable legality) combining Sartori's "Time to Say Goodbye" with Ravel's "Bolero" for use as a music club encore. I made it so that almost all of the 11th grade members at the time had their own solo passages, i.e. each could say goodbye. It went over so well with students and audience alike that we played a slightly rearranged version the following year, as well. Unfortunately, last year's 11th graders voted it down, so the budding tradition wound up getting trampled into the mud...or so it seemed. This year an unexpected excuse came up to bring it back.

It's not often that we get a really good cellist in our ranks. This is probably the only time that we've had two. Unfortunately, the second chair one was never really used; despite her comparable ability, she spent the whole time in the shadows while the first chair player got all those solos. Well, Maestro Ogawa decided that this was the last chance to give the second chair cellist a crack at the spotlight. We did it by bringing back "Time to Say Goodbye-Lero", but with a completely rewritten beginning. In my original version it started out as a tradeoff between two saxophones with a harp accompaniment. I changed everything.

As soon as the string ensemble finished "Italiana", the lights dimmed down except for a spot on the second chair cellist, who started playing the famous Prelude from Bach's "1st Suite for Unaccompanied Cello"...and then immediately segued into the opening melody of "Time to Say Goodbye". Then a second spot came onto the first chair cellist, and it became a duet that ended with a glorious sweep of both bows topped off with a delicate harp arpeggio.

I've made many arrangements and even a few compositions for the music club, but of all of them I think I'm proudest of this. I'm even prouder of those two cellists for honoring my creation so much. The final performance was a bit rougher than rehearsal, probably because it finally hit both girls that they really were saying goodbye, but it was still f*****g beautiful (and I wish to GOD I could get away with posting a video of it here, but I know I'd get in trouble if I did). I stood backstage with my breath held almost throughout the cello intro, hoping I wouldn't start tearing up in front of the various alumni, guests, and staff gathered back there with me. I relaxed when the lone snare drum in the middle started the Bolero beat (albeit in 4/4 time) and none other than the chairman played the first solo on flute. After that it was all by the numbers, and they pulled it off without a hitch even with all the reddened faces and tears. The applause afterward was thunderous and even continued for a bit after Mssr. Ogawa's third curtain call and the PA announcement that it was all done. A damned fine way to say goodbye, if you ask me!

And thus the 2008-2009 school year finally comes to an end. We're losing a lot of power players, and it's going to be painful, but we've been given plenty of reasons for hope.


  • Kudos to all for holding it all together after some fairly major changes. It sounds like a wonderful evening and some good memories for all involved.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 12:11 AM  

  • Gosh, I wish I could have heard that from the jazz to the Bach!

    By Blogger Olivia, at 1:26 PM  

  • Applause! Applause! What a wonderful way to end the year. Psst.. you made me tear too. Parting is such sweet sorrow.

    By Blogger HappySurfer, at 8:04 PM  

  • You should consider a career as MC

    Should be a featured event at the Restuarant at the end of the Universe.

    By Anonymous Dave, at 8:16 AM  

  • Snabulus
    It was definitely a(n) historic concert for a number of reasons. We got lots of really good comment letters from members of the audience, too. People seemed particularly taken with the cello solo/duet, which makes me really happy (and probably inflates my pride a bit more).

    A video is out of the question, unfortunately, but I'm going to see if maybe I can post a few audio clips from the concert here. It was certainly a very interesting program, one of the most ambitious we've ever tried (although the orchestra's performing ALL of Holst's "The Planets" last year was pretty impressive, too)!

    The regular concert always ends with a lot of tears since it's the last outing for the 11th graders. That's why I arranged that "Time to Say Goodbye-Lero" piece, as a way for as many of them as possible to get a farewell spot. The way our (rather hastily concocted) combo piece ended, with the lead alto player/Captain Egghead giving her extremely emotional "Aloha Oe" solo as she walked through the hall and mounted the stage, was even more dramatic than I'd expected. I think that made it even more special...even though the stage manager was whining, "That's not what we did in rehearsal! AAAAAHHHHH!!!!!"

    Now THAT would be an interesting job! I'd be worried, though; there'd always be the danger of me saying something in English that coincidentally sounded like a vile insult in an alien language and winding up starting a war (or having a warfleet swallowed by a small dog).

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 11:53 AM  

  • Interesting, reminds me of the ancient Roman tradition of starting the year in the Spring...rather than in Winter.

    I've always associated the start of the new year w/Fall, or End of Summer-when school starts in the US; the January start felt artificial and random...

    Anyhoo, glad to see it all worked out!

    By Blogger ladybug, at 10:55 PM  

  • Stop saying "ye" all the time.

    By Anonymous Some Guy, at 7:16 AM  

  • Oh Ye of little faith! Let not the sorrows of yesteryear dampen the joys of tomorrow!

    By Blogger ladybug, at 7:18 AM  

  • Some Guy is a ye-ye!

    By Anonymous Foignitz, at 6:48 PM  

  • Oh yeah, ye? Ye needn't be calling me-ye little faithly. Ye.

    By Anonymous Some Guy, at 5:25 AM  

  • I biff you. I biff you vedy haad!

    By Anonymous Some Romanian Gymnist, at 5:26 AM  

  • Oh, vat iss a "gymnist"? Can't spell ze EEEEnglish! You make me vedy maaaad! Biff you!

    By Anonymous Some Romanian Gymnast, at 9:37 AM  

  • Hello,

    Do you by any chance have a video of the performance when the the stage was crowded with people joining the finale of "de bello gallico" I would love to link it to my site.

    With kind regards,

    Bart Picqueur

    By Anonymous Bart Picqueur, at 8:08 PM  

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