Saturday, May 31, 2014

Goodbye to Maeda-san

It was Maeda-san's last day, something that I hadn't realized until she entered the lounge to greet us this morning.  A few hours later she stood in front of the orchestra as Bucho made the requisite announcement, thanking her for her service of 8 years.  It's difficult to say goodbye to someone that has been like a mother to all of us in Japan.  After the concert there were cookies in all our mailboxes.  She will truly be missed.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Bananas Everywhere

When I go to my weekly lessons with Fukunari-sensei, she always brings me tea and a snack.   This week was a treat:  homemade banana bread.  She explained that she had bought bananas last week and that they had started to get brown and when that happens, it is good to make banana bread.  We reflected on the warmer weather and the fact that since bananas don't go in the refrigerator, the warmer weather makes them get ripe faster.  It was a comforting conversation, to know that the same problems exist here as back home, in my childhood; and just as back in America when I was a child, here and now it is still possible to give a brown banana a second, delicious life.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Shimono-san II

I noticed Shimono-san walk into HPAC just after 9am today. Perhaps other conductors have done the same but I never noticed it.  They don't have the same need to physically warm-up as instrumentalists do.  Perhaps he just had a meeting, but I think he was doing score study for rehearsal.  And I think he spent his lunch working with the soloist,  preparing for the afternoon rehearsal of the concerto.  After rehearsal I asked him if he might have time to listen to my excerpts and despite being noticeably tired (likely from not eating and conducting all day) he got very excited and said, "Yes of course! Thank you for asking me!"

It's such pleasure to work with him even if some of the players have room to make suggestions that he doesn't address, even if his conducting technique isn't perfect.  His dedication to the music and his courtesy are so intact, his humility so open to any opportunity to improve the preparation.  He is sure of what he wants, and in all the other space that inevitably exists in music and in life, he is open to recommendations and willing to serve.  A pleasure to have him this week.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Conducting Humility

This week we are graced once again by the humility and gentle humor of Shimono-san.  "I know it is maybe my problem, but could you help me.  Please keep the sixteenth note exactly in rhythm.  Maybe it is my conducting problem, but please help me."  And, "I know it is a terrible place to start, but may I?" Always questions and requests, never demands.  No conductor is perfect, but humility takes them a long way in the remaining distance to that never achieved goal.  And perhaps a lesson for all of us who get to witness life on the podium from our comfortable seats.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Visit to the Dentist

Every summer, mixed with the bliss of saying goodbye to school or three months, was the trickery of heading to the dentist.  It was out of love that our parents scheduled these appointments, but I still remember the dread that my brothers and I experienced sitting in the waiting room.  And there was that one dental hygienist whom we all feared the most.  When she opened the door to call for a name, the two of us left remaining always exhaled a sigh of relief and looked after our compatriot sibling with sincerest sympathy.  We all had our turn, and we all still have our teeth.

Today was my first experience of a Japanese dental appointment.  The dentist came first to examine my teeth (I was pretty sure I had a cavity) and he apologetically asked permission to look inside my mouth.  He chatted quite a bit, happy to be using English and saying just as much.  "I've never studied abroad!" he said with enthusiasm.  I agreed his English was pretty impressive for only having lived in Japan.  "But I love to speak it!  Especially about dental things!"  Oh good.  I told him I was from Cincinnati, and he said, "Oh in Ohio!  Yes I know it!  My teacher was a professor in Cincinnati!  Ohio, the Good Morning State!"  Haha, yes I said.  He made it sound like the motto even though it is simply that the Japanese word for "good morning," happens to be "ohayo."  I've always enjoyed that.  And I enjoyed his enthusiastic declamation.

The dental hygienist then came back and started cleaning my teeth.  I apologized for the condition they were in, explaining that it had been over two years since I'd last had an appointment.   She smiled and said, "Oh it's alright," and added sympathetically, "dental work is expensive in America."  She tilted back the chair.  "If at any point you have pain or would like to rinse, just raise your left hand."  I wondered what happened if I raised my right.  But truth be told, I wasn't even sure if she was cleaning my teeth.  "Your gums are perfect, no bleeding," she said.  Well yeah, you'd have to touch them to make that happen I thought.  "Almost done."  Wait, what about the top teeth?  Apparently she had cleaned them without my realizing it.  She then showed me some pictures of gums and recommendations for brushing.  The whole process took less than 30 minutes.

'm almost looking forward to having my cavities filled next week.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Attempting Kyoto

Today was a day full of mishaps and mistakes, and somehow, perhaps because they all happened in Kyoto, it was still beautiful.  From nearly caught buses and trains, to poorly caught buses and trains, to wrongly caught buses and trains, to spending time by going to museums that are closed on Mondays, to walking through Imperial Palaces that require special permission to enter;  at least the persistent rain kept the sun at bay.

The journey was fueled by a desire to fix a buzz in my cello.  I went to Okuno-san's timeless shop of wood and windows and after tapping and plucking and gluing for about an hour-and-a-half, he found an open seam and asked me to return about 4 hours later.  I didn't go into the Municipal Art Museum–perhaps if I had had my "Just for your information" that was given to me a month ago (and the impetus for this time-spending excursion) I would have recalled their hours–but I did walk several miles back through Kyoto and the green space outside the Imperial Palace, lamenting with some visiting British people about the very impervious nature of the walls surrounding it.

I returned to Okuno-san–after narrowly thwarting another bout of misinformation–and he gave me my cello to try.  It was better but the buzz was still there.  He took it back worked some more.  Still there.  He found another weakness in two seams and put some glue there.  We waited an hour.  Still there.  A terribly frustrating thing to chase, like a phantom limb.

Okuno-san was very tired.  It was over 8 hours since I had arrived that morning, but it seemed improved and he had put a lot into it.  I said I'd play on it and if need be I would get in touch with him again.  I asked him how much I could give him for his work that day and he said, "I could not find it.  It is my profession and I could not find it.  I'm sorry."  I just stared at him.  I think my mouth was hanging open in disbelief.  "I'm completely willing to pay you for your time today," I said.  He said, "Next time when you bring it, if I can find it, then you can pay me."  I realized this was the answer.  So I just stood there for a few seconds and then thanked him very much for all his work.

It seems more than a sense of pride.  It is doing something that is right.  He holds himself to a higher standard and wants a higher level of trust from those he serves.  Perhaps it is a way of business he learned from his father who used to run the shop.  I've come to trust Okuno-san, not just for this time but for previous times, that his incentive to be paid is complete success of his trade.  I find it to be quite admirable, an example I'd like not to forget.

Sunday, May 25, 2014


We played an outreach concert this afternoon in Ashiya and in addition to some quintet and trio repertoire, I agreed to play a movement of Bach.  I also decided to make my first attempt at public speaking in Japanese.

My first speech in Japanese
I got some help from my chamber music partners.  They corrected some word choices and cleared up some grammar and throughout the morning prompted me to practice and listened to me say it through, congratulating me each time.  It's great to have a second childhood in Japan.

It says: "(Hello), my name is Andrea.  About two years ago I came to Japan from America.  In the summer of 2011, I attended the PMF summer music festival in Sapporo and fell in love with Japan.  At that time I heard about HPAC.  Now I'm really happy to be in Japan.  Thank you, please think kindly of me."  And then I bowed, truly appreciating their audience, their kindness and patience in listening to me, and continued, in my friend's handwriting, "And now I will play Bach."

And then I played the Allemande from the G Major Suite for them, feeling their kindness with me throughout.  I'm really happy to be in Japan.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Rotarian Concerti

Four soloists took the stage today in a program of concertos for the Rotary Club.  From their grace, to their talent, to the their humility and gratitude, they gave us a wonderful performance, each in their own way.  It is always such a pleasure to hear another share something that is of value to them.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Children's NHK News

Many people have a trusted new outlet.  The Times of any given nation, Huffington Post, Slate, the Onion.  I often enjoy listening to PRI and find the 10 minute news updates in English from NHK to be very concise and informative.  But recently, if I'm going to read the news, I try to do it at NHK's children's new source.  Here there is a video of the news story, as well as an easy-reader version with simplified kanji, and an option to listen to the written story read by a gentle if not electronic women's voice.  There is also a link to the adult written news version of the story.  All of these provide great resources for practicing and learning grammar, kanji and new vocabulary.  And I also slowly find out about important things going on in the world.  Pipelines between China and Russia, maritime problems in Vietnam's seas.

But because this is often my first news outlet and because I often must run a great deal of it through google translate, slowly deciphering the sentences word by word, shocking world events often hit me in slow motion.  Today's news of the coup d'etat in Thailand, took about 5 minutes for me to read and understand the headline.  And then to sit wondering if I had taken the information in correctly.  I still wonder.  The rest of the world is such a story.  Even when we read it in our native language do we really understand what is happening, what it means?  The electronic woman reading it to me in Japanese never seems the least bit concerned.  A string of mysterious characters to translate into reason. Somewhere between the lines is the meaning, somewhere there is a way to make sense of the world.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

It's a strange trick of humanity that a sky can seem like a painting.  How did we capture nature from herself?  And yet still she keeps us wanting more, looking for another sky that was never as any sky was before, that can never be harnessed and viewed on command.  The miracle that we are alive at this moment, to be here, in that vast presence.  Never before and never after, no matter how much we think we can hold.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Nice to Meet You

Sometimes I arrive at Fukunari-sensei's home a little early so I sit outside her apartment building, on a quiet street near a little tributary, and review the week's lesson.  Quite often there are children playing in the area and today I heard a few of them in the driveway behind the building.  A ball came bouncing out into the street and I become distracted by the suddenly still feet that had come running after it.  I looked up and saw two girls standing there, staring at me in amazement.  I smiled and waved and they giggled and ran back behind the building.  A few seconds later they returned with two more of their friends, peaking from behind the corner, giggling, until two of them bravely came out and said, "Hello!"  "One of them came a little close and I answered her in English, "Hello.  How are you?"  I paused then added, "Genki desuka?"  To help her remember what it meant.  She giggled and said, "I am happy!"  I smiled and said, "I am happy, too.  It was nice to meet you.  Goodbye."  I waved to them as I stood up and headed into my lesson.  "Goodbye!"  they called after me.  It was nice to meet you.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Japanese Cavity

Without a parent or a reminder postcard, I've somehow managed to go more than two years since my last dental check-up.  It's been on my list of things to do for a long time–I have coverage in Japan–but now that I've admitted I likely have a cavity, there is no more putting it off until later.  Luckily there is a dentist in Osaka that understands foreigners in Japan all too well.  His website quite blatantly advertises:  "ENGLISH SPEAKING DENTIST in OSAKA."  It further comforts us with assurance that there are members of his staff that also speak English and can help in setting up appointments.  Such a beacon- thank you.  At least this part of the process has been painless.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The First of Many

Yesterday we said goodbye to one of the third year violinists, who decided to leave a few months early in order to have more freedom to take auditions.  As core members we are limited in the number of concerts that we may be excused from each year, and in order to take some additional auditions, he decided to resign a little early.

It is the beginning of a season of departures.  In a few months, more of my colleagues will be leaving, colleagues that shared their experience and helped acclimate me and other new-comers to HPAC and Japan.  While I've been here, they left their second-year roll and filled in the third-year one and soon I will do the same.  I've watched them change, watch them look at the uncertainty of the future, prepare themselves to close this chapter of life and leave Japan, a place that was once so new and novel, colorful and magical.  Each year, new challenges.  One can see it, and one comes to live it.  Time will not disappoint in moving forward, in carrying us there.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Sunday Cleaning

It was a morning for singing.  The area around my apartment complex was teeming with Japanese residents; it was the Sunday of the month to take care of the grounds.  Everywhere people carried brooms and rakes and bags filled with leaves and other debris.  The bikes in the shed had been straightened and the concrete swept clean, beautiful and orderly.  The stray leaves from under the trees were disappearing and the moss was emerging, clean and smooth.  The gutters were opened and being scrubbed, the weeds picked from the walls and ground of the playground.  The garbage areas were scrubbed, the netting used to keep out crows and cats neatly folded, waiting for the next garbage day.  It is a chore, an obligation they have to the apartment residents' association, but I can't help but want the same obligation.  How nice to have to spend a Sunday morning caring for a common space with one's neighbors.  Maybe one day, here or in another place, I'll have the pleasure.  

There's So Little Time

If I could stretch across a river to see the ocean, perhaps I'd find La Mer.  In any given instant, light upon the water vanishes as the sound of a cymbal fades.   I've missed it.  It's gone.  And as I search for it, I miss it again, until I get off my bike, and sit by the river.  Without waiting, without wanting.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Stage Tender

I'm on the stage alone,
dressed in concert black,
playing the cello parts of great symphonic works.

The doors to the hall open and slowly the audience emerges,
seats fluttering with moving programs.
It is time for me to exit before I enter again,
more formally.

But before I reach the door,
it gracefully opens,
as if by magic,

Every role I played,
you were watching me,
waiting for my inevitable departure.
And stoically, you won't even return my smile
of gratitude.
It is your job to tend the stage,
making every transition to and from,
I'm young for not seeing it,
and uncomprehending of my gratitude
for your care.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Bit of Excellence

Dale Clevenger, former principal hornist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1966 to 2013, is playing with us this week.  During our lunch break, I took advantage of an empty hall to practice and as I was working on the Dvorak Cello Concerto he came over to me and asked, "Do you like Jacqueline DuPre's recording?"  I told him I did. "I recorded that with her.  And played the piece many, many times with Rostropovich."  We chatted a bit and as he walked away, I felt the presence of DuPre and Rostropovich trailing him, remaining in his wake, inspiring me.

And last night I had a lesson at 11pm with Brian Thornton, a cellist in the Cleveland Orchestra, who had played with us last month and offered to do a Skype lesson sometime.  I tried calling his mobile phone through Skype as we were trying to connect, and he answered very excitedly.  "Hi!"  I said hello and there was a pause, so I clarified who I was.  "Oh, you know it's funny for some reason my caller ID said it was Lynn Harrell."  Oh no, it's me–that must have been a surprise to hear my voice instead.  He worked with Lynn Harrell and his teaching and sound carry the influence.  As he demonstrated the excerpts and concerto last night from thousands of miles away, I took in his sound, his vibrato, his phrasing, a voice and musicality passed on to him through time and care.

Such a powerful thing, these traces of people that linger in others.  What a gift that in some form these people can be passed along to us, somehow embodied beyond their physical presence, embodied in another.  Perhaps one is aware that they carry another within them, perhaps they transmit their essence simply from their ardor for that person's artistry.  Or perhaps we bring it into ourselves from the love of it, and it becomes what we share in our own being with the world.  What do we love?  What do we make a part of us?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


I am sitting awake later than usual on this rainy night, waiting for the hour when I may try something new.  It's not often that I'm waiting for a late night hour, passing the time in the evening, filling it slowly.  Waiting for an hour to bring a new experience, and in the midst of my waiting, already living one.  As the time passes and approaches what is coming, it is all too possible that the hour will not bring what it is expected to bring and in its trace will be only the waiting, and the way in which it was waited.    Every moment new.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Stars' Necessity

When we are tired it can be hard to see what it is that we need.  But sometimes if we simply go to the practice room, walk into the doe-chang, open the blank page, we can give ourselves the opportunity to unfold.  Inspiration is not something that we can control.  Becoming would not be so miraculous if it we could schedule its arrival.  But if we do not ask, it certainly will not be emerge from us.  It is a pulling out from within.  Something new from the person to which we think we are closest:  ourselves.

How do we know that we have done enough for the day?  Sometimes, when we are tired, it seems that what is best is to go home, to rest.  But sometimes devotion can dissolve the feeling of being tired.  After a day of orchestra rehearsals, our quartet thought it was too much to have another.  But we decided to stick to the schedule and read the second movement of a Beethoven quartet.  And in that extra pocket of curiosity and loyalty, we found something really beautiful.  A new way to interact with one another and the chance to touch the genius of Beethoven with our own voices and imagination.  A pulling out at the end of a long day.

What more exists within us?  What more can we discover if we ask a little further?  What may come to us with a little more effort, with a little more sacrifice of comfort?  It can be terrifying to imagine what we may be capable of doing.

And even in this endeavor, the path of discovering the extent to which we are capable, we can only bring ourselves to the door and keep asking ourselves to ask.  Asking ourselves to give.  We are only human, but we are capable of trying–for ourselves and for the sake of others.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Sleep Trains

Sometimes on trains, people fall asleep on your shoulder.  It's just a part of riding the train in Japan.  Today my neighbor leaned against me and dozed off and I looked out the window at the beautiful weather in Japan.  I daydreamed through my stop and rolled over the bridges of the wide river to Osaka.  A crow glided over the water, over the banks, and when I returned to the train, she was still sleeping, leaning against me.

When we came to the final stop, she awoke and looked at me with wide eyes.  "Sssorry," she said, slowly conjuring English for my benefit.  I smiled and laughed and said, "Eeeeeee," the Japanese way to say, "It's all good, no problem."  The old man across from us smiled and laughed, too, recently awakened from his own slumber.

And then we slowly got up, and got off our Sunday afternoon train to greet the world awaiting us.

Saturday, May 10, 2014


One of the things about this world that seems to become more apparent as I get older is that few things are black and white.  The future is uncertain, no matter how much planning one does, and hard work cannot necessarily promise a given outcome.  There are ways of living, chosen ways of living, and whether they are right or wrong is simply a preference of the one who lives them.  Where is the jury awarding points?  We can strive towards goals, work towards ambitions, but what are the terms of the compass we follow?

Sometimes it feels like swimming in a pool of no up or down.  But today I received something in the mail that I had ordered a few days ago:  a martial arts target.  After two years of kicking into the air, I may have something towards which to aim.  And that has a comforting feeling.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Doing Nothing

I read recently about a man that would occasionally take a day and devote it to doing nothing.  When  asked to join a friend for lunch he said,  "I can't today.  Today is the day that I do nothing."

What does it take to be able to spend a whole day doing nothing?  And what would it give?  In these slower days, I start to hear more, to see more.  I wonder if I might ever notice the daily schedule of the planes to and from the nearby airport, the routines of my neighbors, the patterns in my breath.  Surely one is always doing something, to some degree.

What courage and calm would it take to relinquish the act of doing?  What would one learn?  What would one practice?

Thursday, May 8, 2014


The goal will never come, but it will be much farther away if we don't walk towards it.

Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.  -Martha Graham

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A Medicinal Conclusion

A short while ago I was in my apartment and I picked up my phone to a number I didn't recognize.  It's not uncommon that I miss phone calls from an unknown number.  I don't have voicemail (because that's a little intimidating in Japan and isn't needed enough to justify the extra cost), and I usually assume it is a wrong number.  But this time I answered and pieced together the meaning of a very excited voice on the other end.  It was the medicine man.

It has been well over a year since the pharmaceutical company came to my door and somehow convinced me to take a box of medicine in an old house system of making first aide available.  Mostly painkillers and bandaids from what I can gather, the idea was that they would check the box every few months and then I would pay for what I had used.  I didn't really understand this at the time, but it's fun to participate in Japanese activities so I thought I would give it a try and go along with it.  They were very persuasive, especially for not speaking the same language.  Maybe I'm easy.

It sat in my closet for 14 months until this gentleman actually got a hold of me.  I told him I was in my apartment right then and he excitedly decided to come right away.  Three minutes later he was at my door.  I brought him the box and said I hadn't used anything.  We kept saying things to one another, having parallel conversations, neither one of us wanting to be rude enough to outright give in and say we didn't understand.  But luckily, our game of enthusiastic charades paid off.  I was able to express that I will never use this medicine because I don't understand it, and because I will be going back to America in about the same amount of time that I have had this box unchecked by your company, maybe it would be a good idea if you took it back with you.

He nodded his head excited, kneeling the whole while in my entrance hallway with all his papers and handheld computer, calculating the things in the box, saying lots of things enthusiastically, some that I understood, some I didn't.   He said he was very surprised, he had never had a foreign customer before.  Boo.

Eventually he had done his calculations and pulled out his portable printer, barely larger than a ruler.  He sent the information from his computer to it, and printed out a form for me to keep as a souvenir, along with his business card.  I feel very lucky to be able to keep something from this experience, though I don't anticipate I'll need to contact him to play this game again.  But then this week has been slow.

thanks for the good times

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Eating Beans with Chopsticks Kind of Day

When I'm in Japan, and have an afternoon with some time, I sometimes eat my beans with chopsticks while laboriously translating kanji from food containers using a new website I found and google translate.  Today I slowly deciphered the label of some rice seasoning that had been sitting, almost gone, on my refrigerator for about 4 months.  "Please use soon after opening."  Whoops.  I also finally decoded, "Please refrigerate after opening."  Luckily, I'm still here.  Stronger everyday.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Children's Day in Japan

Some winters can be really hard.  How many winters will I have in my life and what will they ask of me?  

My grandfather has been through many winters and surely this one asked a lot of him.  Every time I speak with my parents I ask them how he is doing, wishing that there wasn't so much distance between us.  But over the past few months, I've been hearing better and better news.  Yesterday my parents told me that he had gotten back on his motorized scooter and was riding around the neighborhood.  My father said that my mother had gotten him a hat with a cord so that he'd be protected from the sun and it wouldn't blow away.  And they are going to get him a walker attachment for the back of the scooter so that he can get off and walk around at the places where his whim takes him.

Learning from his winters.  The joy of spring.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Searching a Timeless Day

When the world ceases to ask things of me, I ask things of myself.  The wind is calling, the sun is beckoning.  Find me, find me.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

A New Way to Start the Day

Perhaps it's Japan's distance from the west that makes things like granola a bit of a mystery.  There is a paucity of breakfasts cereals and grains in general, but the recreation of these western classics is often intriguing.  In the past I've tried green tea and sweet potato cornflakes, and enjoyed bean and tofu granola, but this may be the most unconventional yet.  Vegetable granola.  

But why not?  Just like it's bean/tofu predecessor, it is quite delicious.  It just takes a bit to switch from the expectation of fruity nutty granola to the taste of peppers, carrots, tomatos, green beans, and pumpkin.  Thank you, Japan, for opening another world of possibilities.  

Friday, May 2, 2014

A Tour Concludes

Our tour has now both officially and unofficially closed.  After a post-tour tour to Yokohama for a filming of Sado-san's TV show, "Daime no Nai Ongakki," we are now home (well, most of us).  I experienced a commuter flight to Tokyo yesterday morning, an afternoon of tech rehearsals and a live filming in the evening, a walk through the park by the water in Yokohama, a post concert toast with the orchestra and crew and cello get-together (it was great to play with them for all 15 performances of Russian music) and my first Japanese overnight bus experience, complete with blankets, free wifi, and curtains to block out the light.  We arrived in Osaka at 7am and I had 6 hours to enjoy before my cello arrived at HPAC at 1pm.  So I enjoyed Osaka and Osaka Castle in the morning light.

ferris wheel with large digital clock in nearby amusement park

by the water

love in the shadows

sky over the water

modernity in Yokohama

morning Tae Kwon Do in Osaka Castle Park

flowers venders and the castle in the distance

field trip!

water surrounding the castle

good mix

opera banners at HPAC
on to the next project