Kawasaki, Japan – Tuesday January 6, 2009

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Greetings!  I am back in Japan for a 2-week residency at the Showa Academy of Music and Arts in Kawasaki.   This is my 6th such visit since 1998, and during my stay I will be working with about 25 college conservatory percussion students in private lessons, ensemble coaching, percussion workshops and a final gala recital.


The flight from Rochester to Tokyo takes about 14-hours total – 2-hours from Rochester to Detroit and 12-hours from Detroit to Tokyo.  I was met at the Tokyo Narita Airport by Professors Kazunori and Yashio Meguro, both on the Showa percussion faculty.  I have known them since we first met in Okinawa in the mid-1990s on a NEXUS concert tour of Japan.  They drove me to my hotel in Kawasaki, about a 2-hour drive from Narita to the southwest of Tokyo.


Of course, Japan is a fully industrialized country, so at first glance everything always seems familiar.  The standard corporate logos for Toyota, Suntory, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonalds, etc. are everywhere; the cities are brightly lighted with endless colorful neon designs.  However even though I have visited Japan many times since 1976, there are still mysteries and surprizes about the underlying culture.  For example, on the drive into Tokyo from Narita a hotel sign caught my eye – B-FLAT HOTEL;.  I had to chuckle; I guess it is not relevant that B-flat is slang for ordinary or possibly even funky.


The air was unusually clear and the weather moderate this morning.  I could almost have gone without even a jacket it was so unusually warm.  Kazunori said that some of the factory production in Japan is so reduced due to the weakened economy that the air is noticably clearer.  During my usual morning power walk I could even see the snow-capped peak of Mount Fuji.  On my previous visits to Showa I was never able to see it.


This is my second visit to the new Showa campus in an up-scale residential area in Kawasaki.   The old campus until 2006 had been in Atsugi which is another hour further from Tokyo.   The new building has a beautiful concert hall, two recital halls, large classrooms, a cafeteria, a bookstore and importantly for the percussion department, large elevators.   It seems that no necessary expense was spared in planning the new facilities.   Because the campus is in a residential district the main shopping area nearby is the Shin-Yurigaoka train station, with two department stores and several convenience shops near the  station.


The first day of this residency began with a student escorting me at 9:30 AM from my hotel on the 5-minute walk to the school.  There was a percussion department photo session and a brief convocation in which each of the percussion students introduced her/himself to me.   Also present was Satoko, who was a student when I first visited Showa in 1998 and who is now on the percussion faculty.


There were five private lessons today:


1) a second year student working on a piece titled, KYAKOU by Francois Dupin


2) a graduate student working on the new Kraft TIMPANI CONCERTO


3) a graduate student working on REBONDS A by Xenakis


4) a second year student working on CONCERTINO FOR PERCUSSION AND ORCHESTRA by Balissant


5) another second year student working on CONCERTINO FOR PERCUSSION AND ORCHESTRA by Balissant


In general, the basic issue in the lessons was trying to get good sounds.

Other issues were :

dynamics – trying to achieve real pianissimos

efficient multiple percussion setups

instrument selection and tuning

expression and phrasing


A necessary part of my residencies has been having a good translator who can deal with the nuances that I simply do not have the vocabulary in Japanese to communicate.  I rely heavily on a few basic Japanese phrases and on my ability to vocalize the musical ideas I want to share, but sometimes that is not enough.  Prof. Yashio Meguro (faculty) and Tomomi (graduate percussion student) were my translators in the morning until Professor Kazunori Meguro arrived for the afternoon lessons.  Tomorrow and for the rest of my residency the translator will be Fumiko Ishii, who was my translator in 2007.


After school I went to the enormous food section in the basement of one of the Department Stores and purchased a variety of sushi, which I carried back to my hotel room for dinner.


My Showa residency goes until January 17.  If there is time more reports will follow.


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