Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Music Camp 2011

Well, yet another summer training camp for the Ye Olde Academy music club has come and gone. Once again we were up at the Ohshima Forum in Nasu near the Nasu Yumoto Hot Spring. Rather than write a lengthy journal about it, I'll just give you the highlights:

  • The food was much better...and artsier...than I'd remembered.
  • Since they didn't give me any time to rehearse with the Flying Eggheads jazz band, I had no music-related work on the schedule at all. My main job was to use my BLUE RAV4 and once again be the BLUE TAXI, ferrying people to and from the shinkansen (bullet train) station down in Nasushiobara City. I also had to take care of all the shopping trips to prepare for the nightly welcome parties for the guest clinicians.
  • My taxi outings included one incident where I was sent to pick up one guest clinician who'd happened to arrive with another at the same time. The student in charge of scheduling the clinicians had already asked the hotel to pick up that second clinician, so they both wound up going in the hotel van together. Meanwhile, I made the half-hour trip, sat for an hour at the station before calling the hotel on my cell phone (and finding out my charge had already arrived there), and made the half-hour trip back, missing dinner. Naturally, nobody bothered to ask the hotel to set aside a late plate for me. My Family Mart dinner was enough to tide me over till the inevitable drinking party anyway, so it was okay.
  • The weather was cooler and rainier than normal, which also meant fewer bugs. No complaints there...
  • I did end up taking care of the extra practice and training sessions for the new 7th grade wind players, however. That's always fun, though it takes a lot of patience.
  • Since I'm in charge of arranging tunes, I also had the job of preparing music sheets. I didn't have much to do in that department for the first two days, but there was a sudden rush on day 3. It was a damned good thing I'd brought my laptop and a copier/printer.
  • Actually, the copier/printer I got for the music club two years ago, a rather nice Brother model, broke. They didn't use it at all last year (while I was in Australia), and whoever used it for the school festival two years ago left the ink cartridges inside (a serious no-no for that model). I managed to get the colored ink to work after monkeying with it for almost a full day, but black wouldn't budge. I gave up and went shopping in Nasushiobara City. I stumbled on a good Epson model that had a "Today only: 60% off" sticker on it, so I snapped it up. It got suitably broken in. Hopefully it'll last longer than two years.
  • The hydrangeas that line the main roads there were in bloom, as usual, but they seemed more vividly colored than I'd remembered.
  • On the last day, Herr Maestro Ogawa asked me if I could "improve" the (professional) arrangement of a tune being practiced by the junior high orchestra, a Sound of Music medley. While I was thinking about it, our new club counselor, a graduate of Ye Olde Academy and an alumnus of the music club, suggested we work on it together. She's good at ad-libbing on the piano, so I grabbed my sax, and we went to the piano in the hotel lobby to brainstorm. We came up with a whole bunch of cool ideas, and then we wound up having an impromptu jam session (earning some applause from clinicians and students up on the second floor balcony above us). That was fun!
  • After several years of strong showings and successes in contests including being #1 in our prefecture in our division last year, our concert band is currently in maintenance mode. We lost almost all of our "muscle" to graduation and quitting. Our brass section in particular is now made up of young, inexperienced members who probably should have been given more training last year, but were ignored in favor of all those strong players (a common trap to fall into). We're at the point now where perhaps our most significant guest clinician ended his stint at the camp by basically telling the band not to worry about it since they clearly weren't going anywhere. (Way to build confidence, guy...)
  • The orchestra isn't in much better shape. It has the same brass players. Moreover, the violin section is also weak even though it's mostly made up of older, more experienced (but not necessarily more intelligent) players. Herr Maestro Ogawa actually let me direct the last orchestra session of the camp so that he could take a break (though I practically had to twist his arm to let me do it). It felt good, but it was also kind of depressing. I'm used to the kids being better than that. They seem to be trying their best, however, and I can't ask for much more than that.
  • There was an unusual amount of bad blood and bad vibes this year. The 11th graders (the eldest members since 12th graders don't participate), who are supposed to be in charge of everything, were divided into feuding factions. The leader of the sax part suddenly teamed up with all the junior high members and started bullying the lead alto player, the strongest and most diligent member. There was similar clique-forming and excluding happening all over the club, mainly among the younger set. And in the teacher/clinician fraternity, a huge percentage of the dialogue consisted of caustic criticism of the teacher who directs the concert band. They just went on and on and on, ripping on him brutally, mostly behind his back (when they believed he couldn't hear...though I know better). Certainly, a lot of that criticism was on the mark, but it got to be agonizing to listen to...especially since I've had the experience of being ripped on in a similar manner myself (though only once to my knowledge, it was only one conversation they thought I couldn't hear, and the clinicians actually stuck up for me). To make matters worse, when the topic of the one year that I directed the concert band at the contest came up, Herr Maestro Ogawa immediately countered with the same, old story: the oboe solo that I couldn't fix, but he did. That happened a decade ago, but apparently he still considers it "proof" as to why I shouldn't direct the concert band, though he won't say so directly. (Then again, it's a given he doesn't believe the current director could do any better...or even as well...which really makes me wonder.)
  • Perhaps the bad vibes were influenced by the radiation level. We found out shortly after we'd arrived that a group of college students doing independent research had discovered the Nasu area to be a "hot spot". Apparently the prevailing winds had been blowing directly from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, and the recent spikes had had some effect on our location. It wasn't high enough to be dangerous, especially during our brief stay, but it was kind of scary, especially since it rained so much.
  • As I headed out to go home, I finally stopped at a place clearly indicated on my car GPS navi system and frequently advertised in local pamphlets. It turned out to be a really cool little mall-let filled with gift, craft, and novelty shops. And even though Nasu was crowded, that mall-let was not! I love places like that!
Anyway, another year, another summer training camp. Next comes the school festival...


  • I see what you mean about not having a break yet!

    Factions and cliques - UGH!

    Worrying about that radiation hot spot - hope the levels weren't that bad really.

    By Blogger Rock Chef, at 10:56 PM  

  • Rock Chef

    I tend to hope summer break ends soon so I can get some rest.

    Even when the radiation levels peaked in the northern part of my prefecture (less than 100km from that nuke plant) right after the earthquake, and we were warned to stay indoors, it never got much higher than the world average natural background radiation...a scary thought, really.

    I'm not sure how high it was there in Nasu last week, but those students said it was the hottest area they tested outside the evacuation zone. That's even scarier.

    BTW I'm celebrating tonight. I FINALLY got a speaker cabinet to go with my first-ever tube amp head, and tonight I gave it it's first shakedown. Oh, YEAH!!!! Even a little thing like this "mighty lunchbox" proves that even good emulators like my PODxt just don't replace the real thing.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 12:54 AM  

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