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Music After the Tohoku Disaster (3) 東日本大震災と音楽 

March 9, 2012 at 11:12 AM

A stream of e-mails have appeared in my inbox, announcing events to commemorate the anniversary of the triple disaster that struck northern Japan last year. I can’t help wondering whether the anniversary will be the last time the events of 3/11, 2011 get a large share of media attention. Charity concerts, media specials and other commemorative events are very well in their way, but they are a short-term thing almost by definition. Some of the musical initiatives have included programmes that are intended to be long-lasting. For example a new foundation whose initiators include the musician and composer Sakamoto Ryûichi aims to revive music in 1,850 kindergartens and schools in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures in cooperation with local music shops. The foundation (Kodomo no Ongaku Saisei Kikin) is supported by the Japan Musical Instruments Association (Zenkoku Gakki Kyôkai) and plans to support instrument repairs, the purchase of new instruments as well as staging concerts to promote music appreciation.

Still, it’s too early to say much about more long-term initiatives, so here’s an example of a violinist who got moving immediately after the disaster. Many people felt powerless in the face of the horror they saw on their TV and computer screens. For Japanese living abroad the sense of powerlessness could be all the more acute. Embarking on a whirl of activity was one way of coping with the tragedy. One violinist who managed to stage several concerts within days after the disaster was Hakase Tarô, violinist of many genres whose recording of "To Love You More" with the singer Celine Dion headed the Japanese charts for five weeks in 1995. Unlike classical music, the Japanese prefer their own artists when it comes to popular songs, so for a foreign singer to do so well was something of a record. Hakase subsequently appeared live with Dion on her world tours (just google the two names and you'll find as many Youtube versions of the song as you like and probably more).

Hakase moved to London in 2007, although he still spends a lot of time in Japan. In fact, he was due to return Japan on 19 March 2011 for a tour that would last to mid-May. He decided to stage as many charity performances as he could before he left, and with the help of his wife Mayuko he played at the Japanese Mitsukoshi department store in London already on 14 March. His fans made sure that videos of this and subsequent concerts went up on the internet the same day. Here are just two of several uploads.

The second clip shows the substantial Japanese audience, suggestsing that his concerts brought comfort to those who, far from their homeland, had to witness the tragedy from afar and cope with their own feelings of helplessness. Although the concert raised 50, 000 pounds, the event was clearly about more than money. The third piece he plays is one of his own compositions.

Hakase even made it onto the BBC breakfast show on 17 March 2011:

By then he had played in many different venues in central London, from busking in St Pancras Station to playing among the fruit baskets in the famous Fortnum & Mason department store, to a formal charity concert in Cadogan Hall.

Here is a performance of his composition "Jônetsu Tairiku" (Continent of Passion) in St. Pancras Station in London (adjacent to King's Cross, of Harry Potter fame) on 16th of March, 2011. The other violinist, by the way, is David Juritz who, of course is no stranger to busking. He is the initiator of the yearly Musequality World Busk to raise money for charity. The next one will be from 11 to 17 June 2012

The following clip of his performance at Fortnum & Mason's is a sleek production, one better than most of the uploads with good shots of the setting. He is playing Etopirika, another of his compositions and a popular theme song from a Japanese TV series. He also talks about his motiviation (with English subtitles). The concert raised more than 10, 000 pounds.

By the time Hakase left for Japan on 19 March he had given 7 concerts n 5 days. There are many more clips of Hakase's charity concerts in London, especially the one at Mitsukoshi on 14 March. Indeed people are still uploading their own versions. It's almost as if they think that the next best thing to playing yourself is making someone else's performance available to the world.

Whatever the motives (I'm writing as someone to whom the whole concept of Youtube, social media etc is still a mystery), giving charity performances is apparently about being seen to be doing it as much as about anything else. Besides the obvious benefits of reaching a large audience and generating substantial donations, the publicity raises the profile of the performers and the cause. It may well be that it also spurs other performers into action. Hakase himself said in interviews during his eventful playing week (likewise uploaded by aficionados, but they're mostly in Japanese) that he himself did not quite know why he was doing it and wouldn't know until later. So I'll still be watching out for him on Youtube after 11 March...

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