Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Sunday, February 21, 2010

My Snowy Valentine

(Yes, I know this post found its way online a bit behind schedule...)

In the USA it's normal to associate Valentine's Day with pink hearts and white lace. White snow, however, doesn't usually enter the picture, at least not in my old Western Oregon stomping grounds. Snow was exactly what greeted me when I got up in the morning on Valentines Day and headed off to Ye Olde Academy. Even more bizarre was the fact that it was the third time that month that I headed out in the morning with new snowfall on the ground.

(You have to understand that any amount of accumulated snow is unusual in my part of Japan. Once in a given year attracts a lot of attention...but three times in one month?)

Yes, Valentine's Day was a Sunday, but I still had to go to the school. You see, the Seishin Flying Eggheads jazz big band had been asked to play at Kashima's local shopping mall. Our school's string orchestra had performed Valentine's Day concerts there two years in a row and had been warmly received. However, this year both Mssr. Maestro Ogawa and the man in charge of special events at the shopping mall agreed that it would be nice if the Eggheads could do it this time instead. I jumped at the chance; we don't get that many opportunities to play for people except at school-related functions or the Kashima Seaside Jazz Festival. Here was a chance for the kids to strut their stuff for the local community at one of its biggest gathering places.

There was no snow at all on the ground across the lake in Kashima, but it was anything but easy going. I'd allowed a good hour and a half for lugging kids and gear to the mall. I probably needed about twice that much plus a couple of time warps. Although it's only about two or three kilometers from Ye Olde Academy to the shopping mall, it seemed to take forever. Last summer, when we played at the Kashima Soccer Stadium, all the transportation was taken care of in fifteen minutes. The reason was that all the gear was loaded in the vans by stadium staff, and they treated it more or less like sports equipment. ("Any room left?" "Yeah, sure!" CRUNCH!!!) The kids in our music club, on the other hand, have been trained to treat the instruments and things as if they were all made of delicate crystal. They spent more time arguing about how to put things in the van than they did actually doing it, which got to be a problem. We literally had to dump the last load out of the van, run it to the stage, and start playing as soon as it was out of the cases.

The center of the shopping mall is called the Zico Hiroba (Zico Square), and it is basically a shrine to soccer legend and local hero Zico. It was more than a little weird and even disconcerting (no pun intended) setting up the Eggheads in and amongst all those statues and pictures of Kashima's favorite Brazilian (How'd they get so many statues in there?), but the show got underway. The kids opened with Count Basie's famous version of "April in Paris". Then we did a cool, shuffle-funk arrangement of Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" followed by Glenn Miller's "Little Brown Jug".

After that, the kids took a break while I played one solo number, "My Funny Valentine," on my alto sax with just a piano accompaniment. Since I'd had no warm-up time and was playing a cold horn, I was thankful just to get a note out of the thing. As it turned out, the new, silver mouthpiece my wife gave me for my birthday last month worked beautifully, and I really got caught up in the passion of the piece. When I was done, my face was dripping with sweat. I allowed myself a few seconds to cool off before kicking off the Eggheads again with a 50's-ish tune called "Run With It" followed by traditional swing favorite, "It's Only a Paper Moon". We then closed out the set with Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" followed by our favorite encore piece (and a sort of de facto theme song for the band), "Over the Edge".

Then, after about a twenty minute break, we came back into the Temple of Zico and did it all again! The kids and I were more relaxed the second time, which meant smoother playing but a lot less energy. The crowd was also smaller, but no less enthusiastic!

It's always nice to play at small, local events. It always feels like we're giving something back to the community. It's also nice to have smiling, appreciative faces right up close and intimate. Big stage performances are always exciting, but it's hard to beat such things as having "Bravo!" shouted at you from only a few meters away or having children and elderly alike wanting to shake your hand afterward and ask you to please come again. Ye Olde Academy is well isolated from the surrounding city. It's nice to be able to be in the thick of things for a change.

It just seems so much warmer.

Speaking of which...

The night before and morning of Valentine's Day were February snow accumulation number three back home in Namegata. Let me show you what greeted me the following Thursday morning:

Feb 2010 snow 1
Number Four was even worse. This time there was actually snow (slush, really, which is even worse) on the street.

Feb 2010 snow 2
And if the little lane I live on was bad...

Feb 2010 snow 3
Route 50 wasn't much better.

Feb 2010 snow 5
And since it doesn't usually snow here, people here don't know how to deal with it. Driving through town was pure confusion.

Feb 2010 snow 7
Wouldn't you know it, though; once I got close to Lake Kitaura the snow accumulation quickly tapered off. There was no snow at all on the other side of the hills in this picture. Kashima itself (on the other side of Lake Kitaura) got only rain. I felt silly coming into the school parking lot with snow all over my BLUE RAV4...about ten minutes late. Oh, well. at least it's warming up now.


  • Hopefully the snowy days are behind you...sounds like a great show.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 1:28 AM  

  • It doesn't really need saying but I will anyway. Not ONE flake of snow so far. It has been no lower than 35 degrees F. You should look on snow more favorably. Makes things pretty.

    I've been meaning to ask how that silver mouthpiece was working for you. Glad you and the kids had a good time.

    By Anonymous Dave, at 4:12 AM  

  • Nice snow pics. We had it too. On the 14th we went up to Lake (sounds better than swamp) Hinuma and they had gotten a bit more, but the sun melted much of it quickly.

    The concert must have been fun. The mall seems pretty "live" acoustically, yeah? Glad your new mouthpiece helped. Those are pre-warmed up at the factory I believe.

    w.v.: pastromb - my old horn

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 4:06 PM  

  • I know what you mean about people unused to snow and trying to drive in it. That was me in Montreal during a blizzard....

    So great that the kids got to play to an enthusiastic crowd. You seem always to be on the spot for pulling a rabbit out of a hat (playing with no warm-up) -- and it seems you always manage to pull it off! Bravo.

    By Anonymous nikkipolani, at 4:00 PM  

  • Thank god I am in Shikoku... snow and me are definitely not compatible...

    By Blogger Lrong, at 5:57 PM  

  • Oh wow, pretty! We sure could do with some of that snow here. It's been so hot (and humid) here that it's no fun being outdoors.

    We celebrated V Day and Chinese New Year together this year. Year of the Tiger it is.

    Wish I was there to hear you guys play. Zico Square, interesting!

    By Blogger HappySurfer, at 1:42 AM  

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