Kawasaki, Japan – Wednesday Jan. 14, 2009

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My residency at the Showa Academy of Music is now in its last few days. I am in the middle of my second week of private lessons, ensemble rehearsals and workshops. This week began when, on Monday during my daily power walk, I noticed that the traffic on the streets was very light. I also observed young ladies in kimonos, but did not think much of it, until I later arrived at the school only to find it virtually deserted. As it turned out Monday was a national holiday called, Seijin No Hi or the Day of Adults. It is a coming-of-age celebration for all young people who have turned 20-years-old since the holiday last year. All of the 20-year-olds wear kimonos on this day. Most shops are closed, but Showa was open and the only students present were those scheduled to have lessons with me. The sophomores, however, are 20-years-old, so they were not required to be there. The new 20-year-olds are now officially adults and are legally able to drink alcohol, so sometimes the night celebrations on this day can get rowdy (or so I was told – I did not see or hear any rowdyness). Also interesting to me was learning from one of the Showa students that kimonos – female and male – are also worn at graduation ceremonies. It must be quite something to see.

The Monday lessons all went well. There was a vast improvement in those who were having their second lesson. I was asked by Professor Kazunori Meguro to facilitate an orchestra repertoire clinic, so about 15 students worked on CAPPRICCIO ESPAGNOL and SCHEHEREZADE. I would normally have my own personal instruments and sheet music present for such a session, but short of that, I did as well as I could. The session still went pretty well. Actually, most of the students seemed to know these pieces already, which helped a lot.

Professor Yashio Meguro brought in a nice home-made sushi lunch, because the school cafeteria was closed. It was a large cedar bowl of rice with various goodies mixed in such a fish eggs, seaweed and veggies – a different style from the maki sushi we know back home.

At 4:30 Tomomi Yamashita, a graduate student, played a DVD of her performance last December of the Tharaichen CONCERTO FOR TIMPANI, accompanied by the electronic keyboard ensemble (about 7 players) playing an arrangement using very good sound samples of orchestral instruments. Although I have heard this electonic piano ensemble in past visits to Showa I was still amazed at how much like a live symphony orchestra it sounded – at least on the DVD.

After school on Monday, I was guided by students to a nearby restaurant on the 5th floor of the Mylord department store for a type of Japanese food I have never had before, okonomi-yaki and monji-yaki. We were joined by about 12 students – current and alums from recent years. Okonomo-yaki is like a grilled omelet with numerous ingredients and a raw egg that you combine yourself on a griddle in the center of the table. I was told it is a very popular type of Japanese food, and that it is a good way for friends to share a meal, with everyone sitting around the griddle and participating in the preparation of the dish. Monji-yaki uses similar ingredients which are formed into a ring. In the middle of the ring water is added, and after a minute it is all formed into a flat sheet in the middle of the griddle. Each diner uses a small (1-inch by 2-inches) flat metal utensil to cut off a small section at a time from the edges to eat. The monji-yaki dish is softer in texture than the okonomi-yaki. I was surprized that given the popularity of these dishes and the numerous times I have visited Japan, that I have never had okonomi-yaki or monji-yaki before. It was a very nice evening, filled with laughter and good vibes.

On Tuesday the weather turned more brisk (just below freezing) but still sunny. I decided to take a break and not do my morning power walk. Everything was back to normal at Showa after the Monday holiday. The students were all playing very well. One good explanation is that my visit occurs just a week or so before examinations (juries), so the exam pieces have already been well practiced before my arrival. In the first week I mostly suggested small tweaks in details, all of which seem to have been incorporated into the followup lessons this week . The one problem that keeps recurring is the appearance of Gremlins, a term the students now know very well. In the Spielberg movie of the same name, Gremlins are little critters that cause big trouble. The percussion Gremlins are the little noises – stand noises, stick noises, and any other unwanted sounds – that cause big trouble for the music. The Showa students have all certainly learned that bass drums – especially pedal bass drums – are the preferred residences of Gremlins. By Tuesdays lessons the message seemed to have gotten through to most of the students.

After lunch we had a 1-hour Creative Music Making session. None of the 10 students had ever improvised before, and my impression was that they enjoyed the experience.

In the next lesson a graduate student, played DRUM DANCE by John Psathas, which was new to me. He was playing drum set accompanied by piano. At first I thought he might be really out of his league, because nothing he played made any sense. Then I asked to see a score, and after they started the piece again, I realized he was indeed playing exactly the rhythms that were written. He was actually playing a rather difficult piece very well. Since this was his exam piece, I suggested that he might help himself by making sure that there were photocopies of score available to each of the examiners.

Then there waa a lesson on the Paul Creston CONCERTINO FOR MARIMBA. We had a good discussion on mallets and marimba sound when playing with piano accompaniment, as opposed to full orchestra accompaniment.

Finally, another graduate student played an interesting multi-perc concept piece, ASANO MAGARIKADO MAGARE by Yuji Takehashi for djembe, tuned gongs, log drum and pod rattles, based on the rhythms of (unspoken) Japanese verbal expressions.

Today (Wednesday) was another sunny but brisk day. On my walk this morning I saw not only the white snow of Mt. Fuji, but also the white fur of a well-groomed Westie on a morning walk with his owner. I have also seen other dogs in Japan – mostly Corgies and Long-haired Dashundts.

The first lesson today was on VELOCITIES and the second lesson was on the I CHING piece by Norgaard. In all of the lessons the students continued to demonstrate that they took my suggestions of last week to heart. In fact, at most of the lessons so far this week I have run out of things to say because the problems I first noticed last week have been addressed. The primary exception is the occasional appearance of a Gremlin. However, the population of Gremlins is gradually shrinking. I heard a very good sounding pedal bass drum today.

After lunch, Professor Kazunori Meguro asked me to conduct the senior ensemble in reading through of the Chavez TOCCATA. The seniors actually did great. We eventually played through the entire piece, and it sounded pretty good to me – just a hair short of performance ready. That was followed by a second session on Creative Music Making, which also went pretty well – each successive improv piece showing an expansion of the musical ideas and risk taking.

The final two lessons were on SEVEN SHORT PIECES FOR VIBRAPHONE by Scott Meister and then I CHING again. Stick dampening techniques on the vibraphone were suggested for a few of the phrases in the SEVEN SHORT PIECES, but cautiously because I did not not want to change too much so close to jury exams.

 

FYI – Here is an alphabetical listing of percussion repertoire I have heard at Showa –

 

ALABAMA MOON by G.H. Green/arr. W.Cahn – marimba ensemble

ALTERNANCES by Jaques Casterede – multi-perc w/piano accomp.

ASANO MAGARIKADO MAGARE by Yuji Takehashi – multi-perc unaccompanied

BALALAIKA Trad./arr. w. Cahn – marimba ensemble

CONCERTINO FOR PERCUSSION AND ORCHESTRA by Jean Balissat – multi-perc w/ pno.

accomp.

CONCERTINO FOR MARIMBA by Paul Creston – solo marimba w/piano accomp.

CONCERTO FOR MARIMBA by Darius Mihaud – solo marimba/vibraphone w/piano accomp.

CONCERTO FOR MARIMBA by Emmanuel Sejourne – solo marimba w/piano accomp.

CONCERTO FOR PERCUSSION by Andre Jolivet – multi-perc w/piano accomp.

CONCERTO FOR TIMPANI by William Kraft with piano accomp.

DRUM DANCE by John Psathas – drumset with piano accomp.

ETUDE FOR SNARE DRUM NO.9 by Jaques Delecleuse – solo snare drum unaccompanied

FRENCH SUITE by William Kraft – multi-perc unaccompanied

GREETINGS TO HERMAN by Hans Gunther Brodman – drum quartet

I CHING by Per Norgaard – multi perc unaccompanied (difficult but very good piece)

KAYKOU by Francois Dupin – solo multi-perc (including Timpani) with piano accomp.

MATRES DANCE by John Psathas – solo multi-perc

MUSIC FOR PIECES OF WOOD by Steve Reich – claves sextet

PAGANINI PERSONAL by Toshi Ichiyanagi – solo marimba w/pno. accomp.

(difficult but wonderful piece)

PIZZICATO POLKA by J. Strauss – arr. for marimba ensemble

PORTALS by Bruce Hamilton – multi-perc with CD

PRELUDE OP.11 NO.3 by Clair Omar Musser

QUATRE INVENTIONS by Michel Cals – multi-perc w/piano accomp.

REBONDS A by Iannis Xenakis – solo multi-perc unaccompanied

REBONDS B by Iannis Xenakis – solo multi-perc unaccompanied

SEVEN SHORT PIECES FOR VIBRAPHONE by Scott Meister – solo vibraphone unaccompanied

SIDE BY SIDE by Michio Kitazume – multi-drums unacconpanied

SUITE ANCIENNE by Maurice Jarre – multi-perc w/piano accomp.

TOPF-TANZ by Eckhard Kopetski – multi-perc unaccomp. (very cool)

TOCCATA FOR PERCUSSION by Carlos Chavez – percussion sextet

TOM TOM FOOLERY by Alan Abel – drum quartet

TROIS DANSES PAIENNES by Serge Baudo – multi-perc w/piano accomp.

ULTIMATUM I by Nebojsa Zivkovic – solo marimba unaccompanied

VELOCITIES by Joseph Schwantner – solo marimba unaccompanied

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