Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Last Lesson with Fukunari-sensei (until September)

I have a Japanese balloon in need of some punctuated equilibrium.  A month of twice weekly lessons, new vocabulary, grammar, kanji, a repeated opera's worth of semantic deciphering, and attempts at translating have produced a surplus of gears searching for grooves.  It is time for an American decompression.  I am ready to lazily partake in the meaning of words around me.  To burst a bubble, to fill it again.  

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Watching Over

Japan watches over me.  In one day, so many displays of kindness and courtesy.  As a bank clerk took the time to recheck my form, I sat on a sofa in the bank lounge feeling their kindness, watching the twitching toes of a nearby sleeping baby.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Kaneko-san Ogenki De (Take care, Kaneko-san)

I said goodbye to Kaneko-san today for the next month and a half.  I'll miss his wayward lesson plans and chuckling over the difficulty of both English and Japanese.  I'll miss his intermittent breath freshening, his occasional confusion, and subsequent patient apologies; his hurried handwriting and dictionary searches, uncovering the Great Pyramids from the sandstorm of disparate homelands, one sincere grain at a time.  Sometimes those grains fall through well-meaning fingers.  If only we had the time of the universe.  If only there were a language that fit the whole world.  But in our time together maybe we do, and maybe there is.  

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Final Confetti

Yesterday, somebody pulled the rope or pushed the button which made all the confetti drop in one audible "THUMP."  There was nothing graceful or jovial about it until it was resurrected by the chorus who started to toss it into the air for a second chance at cheer.  As it turned out, this revised plan was perhaps more effective than the original version.

Today was another concert performance (no set pieces) of the opera and rather than tempt a repeat offense, the good times were placed in the hands of the cast from the beginning.  Confetti filled the crevices of their clothing, hats, wigs, and stuck to their mask-sweated foreheads.  As they came out for a second curtain call, the pieces flew from their hiding places, trickling down into the audience who was brought closer thanks to the receding pit-line of the concert performance rendition.  We sat behind the singers, watching them and our conductor become emotional at the relinquishing of the experience, something now closed forever.  As Rossina stood from her curtsey a final piece of confetti fell from her wig.  Our most enthusiastic audience continued to clap, curtain call after curtain call, up on their feet in a highly untypical Japanese fashion, until the cast started to wave goodbye.  And then it was silent as we saw an entire auditorium filled with waving hands of appreciation.  Thank you, thank you.  So much gratitude for sharing the moment.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Departure Once Again....

Today we embark upon the conclusion of the opera tour.  As we approach the final V-I cadence of Rossini, we will enjoy each cast one more time as they step into their colorful roles.  We'll get to experience another two rounds of confetti, some rice balls, bento boxes, and several hours of pensive staring out the window into Japanese countryside as the bus takes us to Himeji, beyond, and back again to Takarazuka.  And then, goodbye to the world of Barber of Seville.  Until the opening of another world.

Walk in Awaji

Before bidding farewell to the beautiful island of Awaji, a friend of mine and I went for a very hot, humid, and hazy walk to find Hompuku-ji, a modern temple designed by Tadao Ando.  We got a little lost, and made it just in time to see enjoy the five minutes worth of beauty that we had before heading back to catch the bus.  The water temple was beautiful, but so was the unplanned hillside detour we had before we knew where we were going.  Terraced rice paddies overlooking the ocean, homes with onions and garlic accruing sun and time.  Awaji calls us to return, if only it were easier to access.  It's a place of time and space and less of attraction, though they try with their enticing onions.  In one year, I made it twice, the odds are looking good for the future.

detour of rice paddies on a hill

stairs descending below the water garden to Hompuku-ji

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Concert Performance in Awaji

Release your baited breath, there was indeed confetti at the concert performance tonight.  It was slightly different as were so many other aspects of the evening, the orchestra in the middle of the drama, elevated above ground.  The cast danced and sang around us, passed notes through us, hid within us from one another, we the silent druids, sculptors and witnesses of the evening.  How wonderful to be back on the stage, a childhood love of costume fabric and stage lights, next to someone made unreal and yet larger than life.

And we ourselves are currently are set in the backdrop of the quiet and eternal Awaji Island.  Onions and ocean.  A place that has the silence and weight of waters.  Tomorrow we will leave our luxury hotel by the seaside to return for a day to our beloved Takarazuka.  The ocean will stay here, but maybe an onion (and or course some confetti) will find it's way....

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Heart of Confetti

It's not that I haven't noticed the dark nature of the pit in which we play.  Where the drama of life unfolds in the three hours we share together, no where to run or hide from each other or ourselves.  It's just that confetti is so much more fun.  Today my stand partner and I discovered the machine that sucks it up at the end of each performance.  It was sitting backstage and we stumbled upon it during the intermission.  I overheard that tomorrow will be a concert version, and therefore no staging.  It doesn't bode will for confetti forecasts, but who knows.  We still have a few more chances.

David peers into the heart of darkness

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Confetti Tours Hyogo

Yesterday we got on a bus and began a short tour of Hyogo.  We had an open dress rehearsal with no make-up, no wigs and a very responsive audience, one that even felt compelled to start clapping along in one of the numbers.  We skipped through arias that were secure for the sake of saving the singers' voices, our maestro saying "Jump shimasu."  ("shimasu" being the Japanese verb "to do").  Despite the withholding in the dress rehearsal my stand partner and I were still happy that they bothered to sprinkle a few celebratory confetti pieces, and perhaps today we may look forward to a more robust showing.  At the very least, we know that the confetti managed to make it on tour.

Monday, July 22, 2013

First Attempts at Translation

This morning I finished my humble attempt at translating notes from our chamber music meeting with the office.  Japanese can be very open-ended:  who is doing something is often not stated, and context often gives the tense.  Poor Google translate is often a bit miffed by this vague, approximate, case-by-case basis of meaning in language, but in some cases I will take its word.  How I managed to write, "......will be able to play hemorrhoids," I'm not sure, but I'm happy not to be including it in my email to all core members. I don't think I could even recreate this if I tried.  Japanese, one day we will meet each other.  

(In case you are worried about the remainder of the document, some other friends are looking it over, hopefully catching anything amiss.  Many thanks, all around.)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Final Opera Performance at HPAC (Confetti Mysteries)

Today was our last performance of the Barber of HPAC.  We still have 4 more performances on two small tours of Hyogo Prefecture in the coming week, but it's always different being away from our home space.  Bento boxes and convenient store food.  Hotel televisions and breakfast buffets and a new space to get situated every time.  Each time there will likely need to be a number of changes to the routine and the space, but I do have one overriding curiosity.

In the last number of the opera, everyone is rejoicing heartily–it's one of those operas.  And rejoicing often seems to be augmented by confetti, which is liberally dropped from above and falls into the pit.  My stand partner and I have had a great time with it, hiding it in places for the librarians to find, but he pointed out to me a very interesting fact after one of the performances:  The next day when we arrive to the pit, all the confetti is cleared from the floor, but the floor itself is still dirty.  Unswept, unvacuumed.  How do they do it?  Do they pick it up one piece at a time?  Perhaps they account for each one and return them to the buckets above to once again be joyfully dumped.  We since started to feel bad about ruining the system by removing confetti pieces from the rotation and only took a few home for our own personal parties as needed (I think he has a yellow one).  I wonder if it will be the same on tour, but then we never get to return to the same pit again to find out.  The mystery will live on until the next rejoicing end of an opera.

But as a farewell to this conundrum and our time with the Barber of Seville at HPAC, there is a tradition of having the entire orchestra appear onstage for the second curtain call of the last performance.  And of course, there was confetti for us.  It was really beautiful to see the audience on the other side of this curtain of falling paper, hearing their applause.

From the stage
(photo thanks to a friend)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

After Opera Chamber Music

Reading chamber music after a three hour opera is strangely like getting a good night of sleep and a cup of green tea.  What a novel energy exchange.  Happy to have a chamber-musically proactive visitor from the Berlin Philharmonic.  Our library is a magical machine, extremely efficient and careful with their music. But hopefully the magic of Matthew, our viola visitor, will convince them to permit us to take some scores with us on the tour.  No need for the backstage instant coffee.  Brahms sextets will do.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Kanji Fun

I've been studying a little more kanji with Fukunari-sensei.  And like most Japanese, it's a lot of fun, so I thought I'd share a bit.  The lessons start out with some pictures and an invitation to guess what each character derived from those pictures means.  Your choices for the ten below in random order are: father, mother, previous, study, to be born, friend, every, school, what, and root.  Can you match them?  (answers at bottom):

Each kanji usually has several different ways it can be pronounced depending on context.  For example, one of these kanji can mean "root, origin," in which case it is pronounced "moto."  It can also mean "book," in which case it is pronounced, "hon."  More meaning and good times this way comes.


Answers (with the book's explanations of the pictures-enjoy):

1) to be born (umareru) or to live (ikiru): picture of a plant coming out from the earth→symbol of life→to be born
2) father (chichi):  picture of a hand holding an ax→father's role→father
3) mother (haha):  picture of a sitting woman
4)  foregoing (saki) or previous (saki):  symbol for "stop" +  symbol for  "person"→dead person, ancestors→they lived before us→precede, previous
5)  study (benkyousuru):  two hands on a roof + children→teachers and children do something hand in hand→to study
6)  book (hon) or root, origin (moto):  picture of a tree with roots
7) what (nani):  we ask what is inside to the person carrying the heavy baggage
8) friend (tomodachi):  two right hands→help each other→friends
9) school (gakko):  symbol for "tree" + symbol for "crossing" →place where students and teachers meet and study→school
10)  every (mai):  picture of a mother with a hairpin→mother gives birth one after another→every

Thursday, July 18, 2013


As I sat with Fukinari-sensei, as I've sat with so many teachers in so many different lessons, I had such a feeling of happiness to be there and to be learning.  I realized with her today, that even in the midst of confusion, I'm in a very safe place.  That she is taking care of me and that I can rely on her, trust her, if I'm willing.  Maybe that's what a lesson should be.  A safe place in which to open confusion and novelty.  A safe place in which to grow, in which to confront things that are unknown and unfamiliar.

I want to carry this safe space with me in all the times that I'm alone without a guide and need reassurance.  I want to be able to share it.  An endless supply of stickers.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Yukata Party

Tonight, a yukata party!  I don't really know how to wear one other than putting the right over left....wait no, left over right....well luckily there's the internet to help thwart any offenses and bad luck. In a short while I will join a group of my foreign friends as we all awkwardly wear yukatas together.  Our Japanese friends will also be joining us, and they may or may not be wearing their yukatas.  But they will be enjoying us as we wear ours.

Mmmmm, azuki red bean paste

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Stickers to Glory

When I first started to play the violin in kindergarten, and subsequently the cello in first grade, I remember a trail of beautiful star stickers that tracked my progress.  I must have earned a star for each practice session, and after 100, there was a big star which I think I colored in and got some other prize for my work.  Years later, in a Suzuki training program, I learned that such an innocent thing as stickers are full of controversy, the idea being that they undermine the lesson of finding the intrinsic value in the task at hand.  What's a paycheck, even if we enjoy our work?  I think sometimes we need a small stepping stone.  For me, as a child, I had yet to acquire the ability to appreciate playing Beethoven string quartets.  Nor could I grasp the glory of heightened mental coordination, technical facility, and discipline that I've come to enjoy from a good practice session as an adult.  But I could certainly enjoy the beauty of shiny stickers.

Somewhere along the way I transferred my love of sticker beauty to the love of music beauty and all its inherent qualities that teachers had optimistically hoped could be the motivation from day one.  What if I hadn't made the transition?  How many stickers might I have accrued by this point?  I feel perhaps I've cheated myself in a small way, but I'll have to let it go.  There are children who need those stickers more than I.

But after a day of studying Japanese, hoping to somehow close the gap in the number of hours that all the Japanese people around me have been doing Japanese and the hours that I've been doing Japanese, I thought again of stickers.  They must have tens of thousands of stickers owed to them.  How many hours to make a master?  How many years?  It seems impossible at this point, but I'll just keep on trekking, imagining a blazing trail of shining stars in my hard-working wake.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Opera Reception Party

After four consecutive days of opera, it was time for a huge reception party for the entire cast, orchestra, crew, and of course the people that gave the money fuel to make it go.  At 6:30pm the speeches began in a hotel event room.  Many thanks, many compliments, lots of bowing and introductions, everything done twice, once in Japanese and once in English.  The wine and beer (and the notably expensive) champagne were free flowing and the opportunity was not lost.  Alcohol and entertaining mirth seem to have an exponential exchange rate in the hands of singers.  There was a talent show of liquid courage, well-rehearsed in advance and sprung forth in the limelight of a happy audience.  Juggling, dragshows, chorus dances–it was hard to know which would be the grand final.  But in the midst of distraction behind these closed doors, the caterers kept things under control, tapering off the dinner buffet at such a time, trickling in the desserts in a meager quantity until the last act finally came on: the producer announcing the end.  In Japan there is a formal way to close a party called a sanbon-jime in which everyone in the room participates in a clapping pattern and cheer.  We all did this together and were told we had ten minutes to finish our drinks (or get as many new ones as possible) before we had to leave.  They only had the room reserved until 9pm and there was a baseball game that just got out so wouldn't we all like to get going to beat the crowds?  Everyone neatly complied and the unfettered good cheer smiled its way into the lobby and into crowded trains and buses, dispersing among the sorry Hanshin Tigers fans.  But it's ok.  They'll get another chance tomorrow against the Giants and the people of the opera production will get to save face in the privacy of their own homes in a day of recovery.  Until next time.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Joshi Sushi

I understand more and more of what Kaneko-san says to me and he understands more and more of what I say to him.  My sentences are becoming more complete.  I might be about 2 and a half years old soon.  I appreciate the recovery periods after knotted confusion, during which Kaneko-san asks gently if I like something, or some other simple question.  "Sushi ga sukidesu?"  I imagine myself sniffling back into recovery, perhaps a lolly pop handed to me, finally in a safe zone where things make sense.

I don't think there will ever be a point where I'm impervious to mistakes or confusion.  Today we ran into a difference in a particular use of particles and as I tried to ask Kaneko-san about them I couldn't understand why weren't getting anyway.  But though the words for "particle" and "dictionary" may seem similar to me, they have very different meanings in the ears of a native speaker.  Just like my Spanish friend often confused "chicken" and "kitchen," "joshi" may be found in a "jisho," but they are not the same.

In those moments when the world doesn't make sense I feel as though I've been lied to, like it was all just a set-up.  Up until today, I could use a particle to mean a certain thing, it was you who told me that, Kaneko-san.  And now you say, no, it isn't true, and my hands are empty and I have no proof that it used to be another way, that you told me so.  It just isn't fair.  And I can't even tell you what the problem is.  Oh it's so frustrating!

But we figured it out, despite my shortcomings, and yes, I do like sushi.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Self-Inflicted Questioning

Right before the first act of the opera began today, the principal violist, an invited guest top player, an American playing in the Berlin Philharmonic turned to me and said, "Can we talk at the break?"  "Sure," I said.  About what?  Scenarios and possibilities went through my mind.  How long has it been since I washed my concert clothes?  Do I smell really bad and just not know it?;  I'm working on the care and execution of my up bows, I really am, I'm sorry if they're offending you;  Is it rude to drink water during the recitatives?  I can't make it through the first act without proper hydration, but I suppose I could try to do without it if you find it distracting;  Yes I knew X (any number of people) from X( any number of places), how do you know them??;  Yeah I don't know what's going on at the beginning of the Vivace in that aria either; What?  I've been tuning my cello a quarter tone flat my whole life and nobody told me??

And countless other possibilities.  I started to enjoy the parade of thoughts that trickled through my mind, inspired by this particular person's disposition in my life and curious motivations behind such a request.

It turns out he just wanted to say hello.  All these thought were just my self-reflected paranoia, but perhaps there is something to learn from them.  Maybe it's time to do my laundry, and practice some up bow scales, and double-check my tuning.  What more can I ask myself?

Friday, July 12, 2013

After Hours Music

I remember coming home from school so often to the sound of Brahms's Alto Rhapsody, Violin Concerto, or German Requiem.  And I remember sitting at my father's feet while he played through fake books on the piano, singing along.  I wonder if my parents knew they were teaching me, and how far it would follow.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Bridging Gaps

As I left my lesson with Fukunari-sensei today, I wondered if perhaps we could get a chance in the afterlife to explain and understand all the things that didn't go through in this one.  Perhaps I have some optimism that I will arrive at a point of complete understanding in this life, a point of complete expression.  One day I will speak Japanese and it will all make sense.  If nothing else, the endeavor has highlighted the absurdity in any such quest for understanding.  If we looked back on a life, what would we express more clearly?  What words would we find in hindsight, what emotions and hidden motivations would we realize existed behind our actions?  Would it ever be possible to find a way to bridge the gap of understanding with another?  Would words be the vehicle with which to do it?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Pit Stops

This was the last day of rehearsal for the opera.  The next time we all climb into the pit we will be wearing black clothes and a full house will have presumably paid full price to see us in them.  These past two day we have had performance quality dress rehearsals with people staring down at us from all the balconies, applauding from a packed floor.  Apparently they announced the opening of the house over loud speakers at the mall nearby.  The HPAC opera is quite an event.  These were only the final dress rehearsals.

The pacing has started to settle into our blood and marrow.  The recitatives that pepper the arias have become like train stops on a familiar route, eyes closing, heads nodding off, until the body magically knows it is time to move.  Arms lift, key signature and meter determined, and a singer has their bass-line, right on time.  We've yet to fall fully to the other side, though perhaps a full accidental casualties along the way, as happens in pits from time to time.

Tomorrow a day of rest, longer than a harpsichord.  And then back to the pit.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


I wonder if I will leave Japan with a heightened propensity for meetings.  My inbox is fairly quiet these days, news about chamber music planning with HPAC had been quiet, until tonight when we had a two-and-a-half-hour meeting to discuss possibilities.  In America, there would have been a long string of emails, ideas thrown out and missed over, not mentioned in the return email and left to decay, other ideas created over time and revised, a huge brainstorming thrown together over the internet, never meeting face to face, wondering how long it would be until the next reply, and wondering if someone got the point.

Not so here, at least not in my experience.  About a month ago I sent the office a list of ideas for chamber music put together by core members and wondered if it would be an unanswered email.  It was.  But not an unanswered suggestion.  They came up to me in person a day or two later and suggested we meet during opera, a few weeks away.  Of course that would be fine, I said.  But experienced in American ways, I wondered if it would ever materialize or if it would just be brushed aside in the basket labeled "forgotten," as would likely happen in America.   But as promised, they approached me at the beginning of opera rehearsals and offered several times to meet.  We essentially started from scratch at our meeting tonight, sharing thoughts that had silently accrued over the course of the past month.  It was incredibly thorough and at the end of the evening I was impressed by how much they were willing to listen and consider, despite the tight and efficient workings of a system already well in place.  We made plans for further considerations and for where things will go from here, and at 8pm, we all departed.

Their work day seems defined by how long it takes to accomplish what needs to be accomplished.  And there seems to be no cheating that for the sake of getting home and catching a TV show.  At least not from what I can discern.  No one seemed to be cutting corners or "forgetting" certain points to mention, despite the hour.

I'm grateful to be learning from this method of problem solving.  It's different than the way I worked and organized in America where everything is done through email or occasionally phone, but rarely face-to-face.  But despite the long hours of talking through things to the point of redundant clarity, it provides an opportunity to make sure that points are understood, that ideas are conveyed and heard, that motivations are expressed, and feelings communicated.  There is less chance that someone might absentmindedly overlook a critical part of an email, or misunderstand reading between the lines.  And no endless stream of careless emails filling my inbox like a whack-a-mole arcade game, sent without regard to the face that will be reading them as often tends to happen in the email world.   It's a whole new system of communication.  One with people, and eye contact, and gentle bowing and "it's a good idea, however..."  Little considerations that a computer doesn't make.  Maybe we're getting somewhere.

Monday, July 8, 2013

July Heat

It seems the rain has been dismissed or perhaps more accurately, bullied out of its territory by July's heat and humidity.   My biking clothes smell terrible, but I have the benevolence to change them once I reach my destination.  It's difficult to decide whether I should shower several times a day, or not bother at all since I'm going to be covered in sweat as soon as I get out and I'll be showering again tomorrow, anyway.  There are many different products in Japan to help with the heat, eating sour plums aside.  Spray-on cooling foams and cooling wipes.  Everyone has a fan, men most certainly included.  But what is even more remarkable about the way that Japan does summer time is the amount of clothing worn.  It is seems that the hotter it gets, the more clothing people put on their bodies.  Nowhere else have I seen people wear gloves in summer, or jackets.  But that's the way it is.  The sun is a very powerful thing and it seems that tan-happy Americans sometimes forget this or simply never stop to think about it.  Or maybe our bodies are not the same at all and the touch of open air is worth the additional kiss of the sun's rays.  I'll be enjoying the Japanese heat and humidity for another month before changing into an American version.  One with lighter attire.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

New Beginnings in Japanese (Kaneko-san Opening Number)

I wonder if "Sundays with Kaneko-san" could be sustainable material for a musical.  The story of a teacher and a student, a retired insurance salary man and a young cellist far from home, the motivations for their meeting uncertain, but necessary.  Belonging in a new world, making connections in a new life.    As the plot unfolds, opaque confusion dissolves away revealing two individuals looking for the same thing.  Each lesson something new, worlds unfolding....

Today was our first lesson without the staple of the textbook.  And it was also the first lesson shaded by a new development in my Japanese learning, the presence of an additional private tutor.  And from these things, I think this might be a new beginning for us.

Several people at HPAC who have been serious about their Japanese study highly recommended Fukunari-sensei.  Since I'm in Japan and have this unique opportunity to learn the language, I want to communicate and understand those around me as much as possible.  I had a lesson with her last Thursday in which she served me tea and an ayu fish-shaped pastry.  She explained that this type of fish is caught in the rivers in June and that stores sell ayu themed things in June and July.  I'll have to look out for it next year more closely.  She had me talk and read, and looked over some previous work that I had done, and assigned me work to do in two textbooks.  The whole lesson was in Japanese, and was (mostly) understandable.

I'm really looking forward to having her guidance, but of course, I can't leave Kaneko-san.  And somehow in this lesson, as he started to have me work through essay exercises from lesson one of the book we just finished, I relished the opportunity and thought little about progress.  I just enjoyed sitting with him, asking him to make things more clear, enjoying the process of clarifying.  Under his guidance I wrote a short paragraph introducing myself in which I had to fabricate some information because I don't work at a normal company with regular hours to fit the model example provided by the essay prompts.  But afterwards we worked on making my case more clear, how I could explain to someone that I don't have regular work hours, that they change every week so my free days are uncertain.  We had the usually dictionary battles, the confusions and the laughs of struggling and misunderstanding one another.  But we are closer.  Somehow a new space.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Second Life Seaweed

With this new rehearsal schedule for opera, I find myself obligated to pack both a lunch and dinner.  Something in my genes or upbringing just doesn't eat out, so I spend about 15 minutes in the morning putting together the day's food and carry the bulky load on my bike.  It's a little more to think about than just the simple singular mid-day meal rehearsal schedule.  It's twice the load, actually, mentally and physically, even though I cheat by having a boiled egg and kiwi as a staple for both meals.  In addition to those two things I generally have soba or somen noodles with wakame (steamed seaweed) carrots, broccoli and tofu and some soy sauce for one meal, and brown rice, with finely cut cabbage and tofu for the other.

The point of this long prelude is that today in the midst of my laden mental and physical load, I forgot the lynchpin of joy in my on-the-go culinary HPAC lounge eating menu:  Korean seaweed.  It is the reason that I make rice with finely-chopped tofu, cabbage and sour-plum sesame seasoning.  The pleasure of spooning the mixture into the loving, slightly salty fold of green and feeling the crunchy outside followed by the soft center.  What a match.  It makes it worth the long rehearsals, it's what gets me through the last 30 minutes of practice.

Perhaps I took on too much today.  It was quite tragic when I realized my error.  But then it often happens that when we are stretch in new ways, something often falls through the cracks, despite its crucial importance.  How to stay ever focused, ever present, despite this shifting world of demands?  Sometimes mistakes happen, and that's ok.

And sometimes in addition to mistakes, grace happens.  As luck would have it, our conductor revised our rehearsal schedule so that we were released earlier and I had no need to eat my lonely rice without its beloved seaweed.  It is still sitting in the refrigerator at HPAC, faithfully waiting for me to remember its friend.  Tomorrow, another chance.

Friday, July 5, 2013


I've been thinking about leadership and teaching recently.  Perhaps it's the result of being out of school for the first time, perhaps it's the result of being so far away from people and practices to which I am familiar and sought regular guidance.  The weekly cello lessons, studio class, Tae Kwon Do practice, resources which drew a familiar leader out from within me.  Community organizing, auditions and recital opportunities, my own teaching.

There are so many ways and forms of leading and recently I've been reflecting on how one finds that inner leader or teacher.  Sometimes it can be very hard to self-generate such a thing.  School and education is such a privilege.  The words of great leaders are such a comfort. To be cradled in the care of someone of great strength, or wisdom, or tenacity, or patience, or whatever it is that makes us trust someone.  That they can guide us closer to ourselves; that they know what and where that is more than we know it.

But I feel that I as grow older, it becomes harder to find a single sacred person able to carry such responsibility for me.  There are so many.  But somehow I must find it in myself.  A mix of intuition and knowing, of being drawn towards something and moving towards it of my own volition.  What is of value to me?  What am I trying to create in this world?

And to trust in it.  To trust in following myself.  To listen more deeply to see what's there.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Birthday, America!

From so far away, it's America's birthday.  Happy Birthday America!

A group of us expats gathered for a friend's first try at paella, because what says Happy Birthday America more than a Patriotic Paella Party?  We even had sangria, a salad with strawberries, blueberries and mozzarella cheese (arranged in a patriotic manner) and vanilla ice cream with strawberries and blueberries as well as chocolate mochi for dessert.

From so far away, it seems that in some ways we are learning or relearning for ourselves, for the first time, what it means to be an American.  In the absence of its saturation, its qualities, characteristics, and the ways that it has shaped us are perhaps more poignant than when we were living within its borders.  It feels good to gather together in a small little bubble and appreciate that place from which we came.  Americakara desu.  I am from America.

A postmodern birthday, a melting pot, a salad bowl, an okonomiyaki of the American Dream.  

paella with mussels and shrimp
(completely stove-top, made by an incredibly talented oboe player)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Humid Chamber Music

It's an after-rain, humid summer night.  One of those nights where condensed moisture from the air is inseparable from sweat on the skin's surface.  It's the beginning of July biking weather.

Today was the first day in a long while that I've had a break and no visitor to entertain me, nor pressing practice obligation.  I awoke and enjoyed the morning, studying Japanese as inspired to do so, eating as inspired to do so, organizing and enjoying the catharsis of taking out the plastic garbage on Wednesdays.  I conferred with the powers that be and managed to get my bike and myself to HPAC fifteen minutes before a huge storm hit.  Perhaps I'm learning, but there is always tomorrow.

After some practice I headed across the street to a small concert hall above the convenient store where some of my friends had organized a chamber music concert.  It was a really successful evening, a sort of goodbye to some of the third-year members.  I'm hoping that we can continue the precedent in some way.  Looking for openings.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Key du Jour

I'm sure most people have had one of those days where you wake up and just need some orientation.  Maybe it's the alarm clock, maybe it's a chorus of toads singing from the rice paddy, maybe it's some hungry cawing crows that rip you from your sleep in the most precious hours of the morning and start the day a little lopsided.  Perhaps it was the burger you ate last night, or the excessive amounts of azuki paste and mochi.  Whatever the reason, whatever the source of the discombobulation, some mornings just come before we are ready.  And then, low and behold, the answer.

And your atonal day is suddenly and surprisingly shifted back to the much needed tonal tracks of direction and purpose.  Everything can suddenly fall into its respective tonal hierarchy.   Thanks be when there's a Key of the Day. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Of Lists, Of Doing and Not Doing

A year ago I had lists of to-do lists.  I had a list for issues concerning the writing of my thesis, a list for things regarding my students (organizing recitals, copying music, making arrangements, etc), a list of repertoire on which I was working, a list of upcoming recitals and auditions, a list of things to do for Classical Revolution (which was often subdivided into lists concerning grants, organizing groups for the next performance, organizing concerts, contacting media about concerts, making flyers, setting up rehearsals etc), a list for my classwork obligations, a general nuts and bolts list (do taxes, pay bills, return library books, etc), and usually and delightfully a grocery store list, which didn't change much from one week to the next, but once you're in the habit of such a thing, why not make one more.  A good friend of mine, equally occupied, was an advocate of "clouds,"  an organizational tool that transcended the list by grouping things into little bubbles connected to one another.  My brain was always too linear, or at least my paper was too vertical, for such a modern concoction of busyness.

And now I don't really have a single list.  Sometimes when I'm really tired I make a list for the pleasure of the habitual tick to cross something off of it.  "Eat dinner."  Check.  "Go to bed."  Check.  A good day.  Although usually there is at least one more weighty bit of agenda.  "Answer email."  "Study Japanese."  "Order airplane ticket home."  But still, it doesn't come close to the small book of scratches that I carried with me everywhere.  I understand why I kept my apartment pure of internet for months while I lived in Madison.  

It's a different way of living.  People in American often ask me, "So apart from rehearsals, practice, Japanese, and Tae Kwon Do, what do you do?"  It's a funny question.  And one that seems even more strange now that I'm starting to get acclimated more to this way of life.  In the middle of the year I started to take some courses through Coursera, but didn't maintain it through different travel stints that I had.  I think I'm reading a bit more, meditating, sleeping,  blogging, cooking dinner at home.  I have no affinity for watching movies alone, even youtube videos.  Perhaps I should try harder.  But what am I "doing?"  Doing, doing.  This act of doing.  I wonder if I will ever understand it.  What needs to be done?

The list seems to organize free time.  Time that is unstructured.  Time that is free.  In this life I live, I have no right to organize my free time in such an airtight manner.  I cannot teach lessons,  I cannot organize concerts,  I have no classwork obligations, or outside playing obligations to organize and maintain.  I don't even have a library to which to return books.  But oddly enough, it is entirely possible to create a list of things to do, to create things to do for which a list needs to be constructed.  Organizing recitals for my return to America (organizing recitals that require a return to America), going to the Japanese library to check out books for language practice, pursuing the creation of more chamber music opportunities at HPAC, creating bibliographies pertaining to my doctoral studies, researching journals for publication.

And I have some of these lists.  I pursue them at times.  But I think that I have something else to learn from this place beyond the self-inflicted pocketing of free time.  It is a hard lesson for me to learn.  I enjoy being productive and engaged, creating things, learning things, doing things.  And I tend to want to plan out my day so as to ensure that a certain productivity quotient will have been met by the day's conclusion.  I still don't have the grasp of it.  I still make mental lists of internal obligations.

What would life be like if we only acted as the need and desire arose?  What is the source of motivation for "doing" things?  How little can possibly be done?  And what is received in exchange for that space?