February 2011

Farmers' Philharmonic Orchestra of Japan (continued)

February 18, 2011 09:55

 

For some reason only part of my last blog got posted and the edit function won't work, so here's the rest:

After the concert there was a buffet dinner with Danish fare and speeches from the Japanese ambassador, the lord mayor of Silkeborg and members of both orchestras. The musical conclusion to the evening was provided by members of the orchestra’s brass section led by Professor Kaneda in a spirited (if not entirely sober) rendition of the famous sentimental song "Tsugaru Strait: Winter Seascape"*

*Here is one of the numerous youtube versions, sung by Sayuri Ishikawa with the more typical orchestral accompaniment featuring soaring violins,:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUNRVbMdsfw&NR=1

 

But that was not the end of the evening: "What about a nijikai (post-party party), inquired Mr Makino, and eventually 40 members of the orchestra piled into the Cafe Picasso (one of the few places open late on a Sunday in Silkeborg, and almost empty; the waiters probably didn’t know what had hit them), and managed to try quite a few of the vast and international selection of beers on the menu. Amateur musicians wherever they come from feel an urge to let off steam after a concert, and soon the noise level made conversation difficult. But I did speak to a cellist, who told me she’d only started playing in her forties and had joined the orchestra because her friends had urged her to. I did not have the chance to ask, but I wouldn’t be surprised if quite a few of the members turned out to have taken up their instrument as adults, displaying the same enterprising spirit that characterized the colonization of Hokkaido under the Meiji government in the nineteenth century. I expressed my admiration for the high level of playing to the concertmaster, Mr Satoshi Nomura. Not all the players were of equally high level, he told me, but playing in such a group brings out the best in them.

 

In their "Message from the Farmers' Philharmonic Orchestra Hokkaido" http://www.jdnet.dk/jdnet/front/osusume/2011-01_Farmers-EN.pdfwe are told that 'the orchestra is considered to be the only one of its kind in the world.' If it really is, I hope it doesn't remain so and that others follow the example of these Hokkaido pioneers.

 

 

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Farmers' Philharmonic Orchestra of Hokkaido ?????????

February 18, 2011 05:00

My next blog was going to be on the Kôda sisters who pioneered violin playing in Japan in the 19th century, but as a follow-up to my remarks on the joys of amateuring I will leave them for another time. Instead, here’s a story of a performance by very special amateur orchestra from Japan in collaboration with the Silkeborg Chamber Orchestra here in Denmark. http://silkeborgkammerorkester.wordpress.com/

 

On 13 February the Farmers’ Philharmonic Orchestra of Hokkaidô (Hokkaidô Nômin Kangen Gakudan) and the Silkeborg Chamber Orchestra gave a joint concert in Silkeborg, a provincial town not far from Aarhus. The programme:

 

Mozart: Ouverture to The Magic Flute (both orchestras, conducted by Tokio Makino)

Mozart: Salzburg Symphony No. 3 (Silkeborg Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Hans Holm)

Makino: Capriccio Hokkaidia for solo violin, Japanese wadaiko drum and orchestra (1998) (FPOH, conducted by Satoshi Nomura); Violin solo: Tokio Makino

Dvorak: Symphony No. 8 in G major (FPOH with members of the Silkeborg Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Tokio Makino)

 

The Farmers’ Philharmonic Orchestra of Hokkaidô (FPOH) is the brainchild of Tokio Makino and gave its first concert in January 1995.

http://www.phoenix-c.or.jp/~m-ecofar/profile2.html

 

Today it has 67 members, 17 violinists, 8 violists, 8 cellists, 3 bassists, 5 flautists, 3 oboists, 3 clarinetists, 2 basoonists, 5 hornists, 5 trumpet players, 4 trombonits, a tuba player,and 3 percussionists.

The FPOH rehearses at weekends during the winter months (November to February), when the there is little to do on the farms, and gives a concert each year. The idea to found an orchestra for farmers owes much to the philosophy of the Danish poet and pastor N.F.S. Grundtvig (1783-1872) and the farmers cooperative movement and the folk high school movement he inspired, as well as to Japanese thinkers who themselves were inspired by Denmark, including the poet and social reformer Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933), who himself tried (and failed) to found a farmers’ orchestra.*

http://www.kenji-world.net/english/who/who.html

 

* I’ve written an article about other Japanese who were inspired by Denmark, should anyone be interested “N.F.S. Grundtvig, Niels Bukh and other "Japanese" Heroes: The Educators Obara Kuniyoshi and Matsumae Shigeyoshi and Their Lessons from the Past of a Foreign Country”, European Journal of East Asian Studies, 6.2 (2007), pp.155-184.

 

Tokio Makino, born in 1962, started to play the violin and the piano at the age of three, but like so many Japanese children gave up his music lessons when he entered middle school. He started playing again as an agriculture student at Hokkaido University played in the university orchestra, which he later led. Since 1992 he has been running Eco Farm, where he grows organic fruit and vegetables.

http://www.phoenix-c.or.jp/~m-ecofar/ (the video shows the farm's products, with the accompaniment of violin music)

The challenges of building up and running an organic farm business did not stop Mr Makino from pursuing his musical passions. Besides founding and conducting the orchestra, he is also the leader of a chamber music society with which he regularly performs. He even composes; his homepage lists 21 compositions and 19 arrangements, and the programme on Sunday included one of his own works.

 

The first thing that struck me about the orchestra - 60 players had come to Denmark - was that it included musicians of all ages; all too many amateur groups I’ve played in since leaving university have been heavily biased towards the upper end of the age spectrum. I asked if the members were really all farmers or connected with farming; apparently most of them are. Members include Mr Makino’s wife, a pharmacist, and their daughter. The concert master Satoshi Nomura, although he insists on calling himself an amateur, is actually a seasoned performer (but then so is Mr Makino himself) and runs a private violin studio. http://mumupark.com/elmate/kyo_elm_school/vio.html

There were a few music students, some roped in to replace regular members who couldn’t come. Other members were students and lecturers from Rakuno Gakuen, a private university, high school and dairy science research institute founded in 1933 by Torizo Kurosawa, another thinker and activist inspired by the example of Denmark. In fact, the orchestra’s tour was made possible through the cooperation of the orchestra’s member, Professor Isamu Kaneda of Rakuno Gakuen University with a Japanese colleague at the University of Aarhus. They were ably supported by Mrs Sumiyo Kinoshita, a Suzuki-trained violinist in the Silkeborg orchestra, as well as the orchestra’s other members. For Mrs Kinoshita, herself Japanese, and the other Silkeborg musicians this was not the first Danish-Japanese exchange. The Silkeborg Chamber Orchestra toured Japan for three weeks in 2005, although they did not venture as far north as Hokkaido.

 

The members of the FPOH had little chance to enjoy Denmark. Arriving late on Friday, they rehearsed most of Saturday and Sunday; their schedule on the day after the Silkeborg concert included a lecture concert at Kalø Organic Agricultural College, and on Wednesday they were on their way home again. An amateur orchestra they may be, but their schedule sounded hardly less gruelling than that of a professional one.

 

Even before the programmed concert, a group from the wind section gave a short performance in the foyer, including an arrangement of Dvorak's Humoresque.The concert itself was a resounding success, and the musicians received a standing ovation. Most of the works on the programme are well-known, and although I enjoyed them, I have to admit that it was Tokio Makino’s own Capriccio Hokkaidia that interested me most. Before he started playing Mr Makio introduced the Japanese instruments included in the score: the huge wadaiko drum (on loan from a group in Copenhagen, as it wouldn’t have been practical to bring one along on the plane), a small drum, and a small hand gong. He told us that his work used folk melodies from Hokkaido; not that I or most of the audience were able to appreciate this. What we did appreciate is that it was an accessible and melodic piece and that he played the impressively virtuoso violin solo part with skill and confidence.

 

Following his Caprice, Makino gave an encore for violin and orchestra, a work by Kosaku Yamada (1886-1965), whom he described to the audience as the first Japanese composer of Western music (when I queried this afterward, he did not seem to have heard of Nobu Kôda’s violin works – I guess it’s high time I get on with that blog about female violinists!).

 

Two more encores followed after the Dvorak, Leroy Anderson’s ‘Sleigh Ride’ and the Danish song “I skovens dybe, stille ro” (In the forest’s deep, quiet calm), composed in 1864 by Fritz Andersen (1829-1910 – no, not H.C. Andersen of Little Mermaid fame!), for the last the audience was invited to sing along, the lyrics having been given out with the programme.

 

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An Encouragement of Doing Things By Halves 中途半端のすすめ

February 11, 2011 03:37

 

An Encouragement of Doing Things by Halves (Chuuto hanpa no susume)
“Both Midori and Ryû were interested in the violin, so I decided to teach them. According to the people around us my teaching was really strict; I guess that is because I am the type that hates doing things by halves.”
Gotô, Setsu. "Tensai" No Sodatekata. [How to bring up a ”genius”]Tokyo: Kôdansha, 2007.
“I never had any plans to make him a musician, but I wanted him to do whatever he did properly.”
Arata Michiko, mother of Arata Yumi, quoted in Saitô, Juri. "Baiorinmama Jônetsu Rapusodii." [Rhapsody over the violin mum’s zeal] Asahi Shinbun Weekly AERA no. 25 April (2005).
 
I am not sure I understand what these violin mums mean, and I don’t think it’s just my Japanese. Is anything less than becoming a star the same as ‘doing things by halves’ or not doing it properly?
By the standards of Japanese violin mums (not to mention Tiger Mother Amy Chua) my mother was a failure. She had me start learning the violin at the late age of 8 ¾; she rarely supervised my practise; she never even thought of entering me for a competition or an audition with a world-famous teacher. She did drive me to my lessons every week and came to fetch me afterwards, having done the family shopping in the nearest supermarket in the meantime. She also urged me to practice. However, when as a teenager I spent whole afternoons practising, she started to worry; why was I doing it? Surely I wasn’t thinking of becoming a professional? It’s the amateurs who have the fun.
She need not have worried. When my fourth teacher wrote ‘Practise 2 hours every day’ in my notebook, I did, and never increased my time to the previous 3 hours again, even when I changed teachers On leaving school I went on to study languages and history.
So was it all a waste of time, because my mother let me get away with ‘doing things by halves’ and I didn’t beat Anne Sophie Mutter to it? I don’t think so. She did not spend her time making me or my siblings practise our instruments, because she was too busy practising the cello herself, having resumed lessons in her thirties. For years she played in an amateur orchestra, and throughout my high school years she had two regular string quartets (one only disbanded recently). My father took flute lessons in the middle of a busy career, although he was proficient already, and played first flute in the same amateur orchestra. Maybe they were ‘doing things by halves’, but they were obviously enjoying themselves in the process. And so am I. I have never gone for more than a few weeks without playing the violin; if I travel for more than a month or so the violin comes with me. I have played in orchestras and still play chamber music; I have performed in six countries (mostly tucked away safely in a larger group or playing for fellow amateur players).
Not that amateurs normally describe their pursuit as ‘doing things by halves’; in fact, just because we missed out on becoming another Menuhin or Midori, that doesn’t mean we regard either or parents’ or our own efforts (or lack thereof) as wasted. And we are definitely enjoying ourselves – or we wouldn’t be playing. ‘Doing things by halves’ has its own rewards.

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Matsumoto Zenzoo: Addendum 松本善三

February 5, 2011 05:20

Matsumoto Zenzô also played piano trio with the cellist Yoshida Tadayoshi and the German harpsichordist and pianist Eta Harich-Schneider, who pioneered research into Japanese music after WW2. (See http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Bio/Harich-Eta.htm) Talk about remarkable female musicians! Her History of Japanese Music (Oxford University Press, 1973) is still unrivalled. In her autobiography she speaks highly of her Japanese fellow-players (unlike many other colleagues, whom she slags off). Apparently they worked through the entire classical piano trio literature during the war years and may well have been the best piano trio in Japan at the time.

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