Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Wakuwaku Final Beginnings

The first of the last Wakuwaku projects.  Two years ago, our conductor for Wakuwaku, Iwamura-san, stood on the podium and told us about Wakuwaku.  Even though we play this program nearly 40 times, he urged us to make it new for each performance, for every new group of children in the seats.  He spoke for a long time about the passion we should bring to the children.  We then proceeded to run through Stravinsky's Firebird with some light rehearsal, as well as the first movement of Beethoven's 5 Symphony, Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld (i.e. the Can Can but with all the stuff that comes before it), Bizet's Torreador, and a heart-melting arrangement of Furusato, a sentimental Japanese folk song, complete with cymbal and snare rim hits.  The idea is that the children will sing along, but as Iwamura-san says sometimes they are shy.  In all honesty, this arrangement would make me feel that way, too.

Tomorrow is the first day of concerts.  It's an exciting program and I do feel pretty Wakuwaku about it. Despite the brevity of preparation, I still feel like I'd like to play my role in it as professionally as possible.  I'm not sure how sincerely passionately I can play this arrangement of Furusato and the Radetzky March, but I'm happy to share in whatever way I can.  Looking forward to another year of children and exciting concerts.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Tigers Win!

We made it to one of the last baseball games of the season.  After nine and a half innings of no scores, with bases loaded, Gomez hit the winning ball to finally score a run for the Tigers.  They had been flirting with it for several innings, but the voices of the chanting crowd were always answered with a popup or a strikeout at the last minute.  Finally!  Gomesu!



Sunday, September 28, 2014

Mt.Rokko Hike and a Finish at Arima Onsen

Today I hosted an HPAC hike to Mt. Rokko, ending with a soak in the onsen at Arima.  The weather was beautiful.

before the hike

view over Kobe and Osaka

(this time with me!)

break time!

crossing a stream

at the top!

the town of Arima

hike and onsen complete
outside Kin no Yu 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Return to Fukunari-sensei

Yesterday was my first lesson with Fukunari-sensei in over two months.   I'm not sure I have ever felt more improperly prepared for a lesson.  In place of reviewing the lesson I should have studied in the textbook, I had completed the next lesson in it's entirety (which we didn't even touch).  In place of arriving on time, I arrived slightly late, sweaty from a hurried bike ride, and without any socks to protect her beautiful house slippers.  One of the new core members had asked for information in order to take lessons and I had emailed him her email address, not realizing that I forgot to delete her email from the recipients list.  We had an entire conversation about this email that I couldn't understand because I didn't realize until today that she had received a copy of it.

I did, however, remember to give her a can of premium pear juice from Yamagata prefecture and a nearly two-month-old box of sweets from Seoul, as well as an unsolicited essay I wrote to try to explain my travels in August.  She received all three graciously but tepidly.  I don't really understand gift-giving here, but I felt a little redeemed in my efforts when her doorbell rang and she returned with a bag of many small lime-like fruits.  It was a gift from the people down the hall who had just had a baby, which I guess is a reason to give neighbors gifts.   She seemed to not really know how she would eat them all and gave three to me.  I guess gifts are gifts, not something to think too deeply about.

I suppose it's been two months and it will naturally take a bit to get back into the swing of things; knowing what lesson to prepare, giving myself enough time to bike there easily, bringing socks, reviewing previous lessons.  There's a rhythm to this and I think I can get back into it, even if the gift-giving department remains slightly illusive.  Limes, sweets, cans of juice, mystery essays, babies, travels; so many reasons to give.  Just trying, endlessly trying, to figure it out.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Impromptu Lesson From a Karate Master

One of the new members this year asked me if he could join me for a Tae Kwon Do workout sometime; he has some past experience but hasn't been practicing recently and was interested in getting started again.  Of course I agreed, and yesterday we were finally able to get some time and a space in a dressing room at HPAC to practice together.  It seems that our clubs have similar characteristics:  both are relatively slow to award belt promotions giving a lot of emphasis to the mental growth of students, both have a relatively rigorous warm-up routine, both have the same forms.  But there are also some differences in class format and exercises that could give some opportunity for sharing and learning from one another.  During our practice, I led with my club's warm-up routine and then we went through some basic kicks using the mirrors in the dressing room for feedback.  We went through some forms together, as well, and some simple sparring exercises.

It was great to be able to workout with another person again.  Having another's presence can do a lot for self awareness.  I think this, combined with the prevalence of so many mirrors, and my inability to remember exact preparations and footwork in some of the forms, made me once again feel how far I have to go.

Last night, afterwards, I felt the missing of a master.  Who or what is my master here?  I woke up this morning feeling the same way, wishing I could be with the club again.  Wishing for some guidance from somewhere.  Sometimes there is a Skype class on Friday mornings, but not today.  Just me and a blue sky and time to unfold however it unfolds.

I got up and quickly decided to go to the river for a workout this morning.  I wanted to improve my kicks and have the space to do some combinations and forms that I can't get indoors.  I hastily put together my things and was out the door in 20 minutes.

When I arrived at my normal space, I found it occupied with three dogs being overwhelmingly cute, playing together and frolicking.  I could have pulled up and begun my practice–the owner would have moved them away–but I didn't have the heart to interfere with their gloriously fun.

Instead I kept biking to another spot, halfway up a hill on a tributary of the river, a little out of the way of the river bikers and runners, but just below a road.  I began a quick warm-up and then started going through my kicks.  I could feel the increased power and focus that comes from really wanting.  As I went through the basic kicks, I remembered a source of motivation that used to be my primary reason for learning while in Madison: for the sake of my students, present and future.  This has disappeared in Japan with the lack of teaching, and it was good to feel it pulling and pushing me from within, an inexhaustible source.  It reminded of how Bach dedicated every work "to the glory of God alone."  A reason apart from oneself.  

As I continued to practice I moved on to forms, trying to remember every part of every move.  During the second form, there is a turn-around and at that time I noticed that on the knoll above me, a older man had stopped his bicycle and was watching me, just standing there, watching.

Sometimes this happens.  It's something I've become accustomed to; I supposed I was something unusual to watch.  I kept working, focused on my task of reviewing forms.  A minute later he had come down and was there with his bike, pulling it over next to me, stopping and obviously wanting to talk.  Again, this happens sometimes, and it's fine.  I was in the middle of something but was ok to have a small chat, although I'm sure my apprehension showed.

I thought he said, "Nippon ga aru?" to me, which would mean something like, "Is there Japan?" but I gathered he was asking if it was a Japanese martial art.  I said no, from Korea, and he mentioned Karate.  I understood nothing of what he said, but found myself suddenly in midst of a marial arts lesson.  He immediately started to give me pointers on my punches, pointing to the space between his elbow and his body and the trajectory of the punch.  His instruction was extremely explicit and clear and I mimicked to see that I had understood.  He then gave me a pointer on kicks, on leading with the knee.  Again, his verbal explanation was lost on me, but his teaching was completely clear.  He confirmed that I had understood correctly.  The points he made were extremely basic, but exactly what I needed.  The lesson was over in less than five minutes.

As he left me, he mentioned a few other words that I understood, basically that he was very far along in Karate.  But I had already gathered that.  I thanked him as much as I could and then he got on his bike and rode away.

I reflected on the power of this master; on his kindness in watching me, on his strength to interrupt me, to look past my apprehension, to give me a lesson from which he thought I could benefit.  I reflected on his ability to take control of a situation after watching it, to work past cultural and situational inertia which might have suggested that he let a foreign woman practicing martial arts alone by the river to continue to practice without intervention.  It was an extremely powerful lesson.  A lesson in kindness, a lesson in respect, a lesson in teaching.  It was a lesson, that despite it's brevity, I think will stay with me for a long time.  I feel very fortunate to have encountered him this morning, to have received his forthright kindness towards a stranger.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Heavenly Biking

After several days of beautiful weather, we had rain last night.  It accompanied sleep, and this morning left the sky in the pavement to bike among the clouds.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Mr.Soudant and Mozart

I remember the last time Hubert Soudant graced the podium at HPAC.  He was the man, who after a long day of rehearsals asked us, "And now, would you like to play a beautiful piece?"  And of course we couldn't say no, and happily gave ourselves to rehearse the encore.

Today we have begun a new project with him.  He will come to HPAC several times this year to conduct programs of only Mozart.  This week we are playing Mozart's Symphony No. 6 in F Major (composed when Mozart was eleven), the Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, and the Jupiter Symphony, No. 41 in C Major.  It's a fun and varied program, despite being all-Mozart, and it is a pleasure to work with Mr. Soudant, again.

Today he relayed a quote from the famous cellist, Tortelier, "When you live in a square country, art is not possible."  He danced and tried to get a liveliness to the figures on the page.  And in his hands, I could see so much of what he wanted, in the pacing of his fingers, in his wrists, in his eyes.  I'm looking forward to working with him again, and seeing what more he can share with us.  

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Baby Meets Music

Today our quartet traveled to Akashi, which isn't so far away but took two hours with bus and train transfers.  We rode the train past a Camus-ocean, sun blinding on the water and arrived in the central location of Japan time.  I don't really understand how that works (everywhere in Japan is the same time- why is this so much more precise?), but it seems to be the most central place in Japan, in the middle of the time zone.  I didn't think things could aspire to being any more punctual here.

Ironically, our outreach concert began a few minutes late.  But because it was for 0 sai (0 year-olds, i.e. babies) and other very young ones, the elevator was inundated with strollers and we happily accommodated while everyone got situated.

Our first violinist had prepared a very nice speech and halfway through at our instrument introductions, she wanted me to say something.  She let me know this several days ago, and gave me the questions and my answers in Japanese to prepare.  At the dress rehearsal today, she skipped over bits and pieces of the speech, but made sure to rehearse that part with me.  Such a nice teacher!

Our Question and Answer Session:
Question:  When did you start the cello?
Answer:  わたしは5さいからヴィオリンをはじめました。
When I was 5 years old I started the violin.  Then, when I was 6 I switched to the violin.
The reason was because I wanted to sit.
(this last part, "wanted to sit"  or suwaritakattakara, took a lot of work;
I guess it's karma for being a lazy 6-year-old)
Question: Is the cello heavy?
Answer: そんなにおもたくないです。しかしおおきいです。
It's not heavy, but it's big.

One of my favorite and most confused periods of this program (funny how often these two come together in Japan), was singing Do-Re-Mi with the children, or perhaps more accurately, their parents.  Of coures in Japan, there are completely different words.  I sang the solfege lyrics, then faked my way through the explanation of each one.  However, I did come to learn the words after the fact, which I think may be an improvement to the English version.

Japanese Do-Re-Mi

A rough translation/explanation:
Do- as in DOnut (yes, it's the same word!)
Re- as in LEmon (in Japanese lemon is Remon)
Mi- as in MInna (which means everyone; apropos contrast to the English variation)
Fa- as in FAito (the Japanese pronunciation of "fight;"ok, maybe this one isn't so nice, but it's forgiven by...)
Sol- as in aoiSOra (which means blue (aoi) sky (sora))
La- as in RAppa (the Japanese sound of a trumpet)
Shi- as in SHIawase (happiness)
And the final closer is: "So let's sing together!"

After learning this, I then shared the English version with my quartet, trying to explain things like "Do" being a female deer, and "Sol" involving a needle pulling thread.  A "Re" of light was also new, "Fa" being a long, long way to run was confusing because of the British pronunciation, as was "La" since that isn't really how anyone sings.  The Japanese pronounce "Ti" as "Shi" so it was a bit of a stretch to have it with jam and bread, also since that isn't how people drink their tea here normally, anyway.  Regardless it was a great cultural exchange.

Throughout the program, babies cried and we learned to find our place on stage, hoping that at least their parents would enjoy the first two movements of the Ravel quartet, Anpanman, Totoro, and William Tell.  Maybe one day they'll remember it.

our quartet, after the concert
(Yuria was hungry)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Autumn Sky for Granddad

The weather this morning, all day today, was so beautiful.  It's the kind of weather that hurts because it can't be loved enough.  Something about the sun, something about the sky, something about the air in the midst of a change that cannot be harnessed.  I recently the kanji, 日光 (nikko), meaning sunlight; I thought perhaps I would ask my shodo teacher to let me try it in class today.

But in class she gave me several other projects.  First was 登山 (tozan) for mountain climbing, then にわか雨 (niwaka ame) for rain showers, then 月光 (tsugikou) meaning moonlight.  I went through them in silence, first writing them on the back of a receipt, planning out the space and the motions with my pencil, and then using paper, brush and ink.

登山 (tozan) - mountain climbingにわか雨 (niwaka ame) - rain showers月光 (tsugikou) - moonlight
It took me far less time to work through these than usual.  Perhaps after several months away I've reacquired some beginner's luck.  Or perhaps without the camaraderie of my friends, I had nothing to do but to focus on the lines I was drawing, taking my time.  It was a slow and peaceful morning, washed in the sounds of others speaking Japanese, watching Sensei draw the lines with such calm acumen, working with other students, listening and watching her explain.

I had finally gone as far as I could with "moonlight."  I could see areas for improvement, but I felt it was time to have her corrections.  She added a few things but was mostly very pleased and gave me one more in the final ten minutes of class.

あきばれ (akibare) - clear fall sky
"Aki" means "autumn," "bare" is a derivative of "hare," which means "clear sky."  A feeling created, poetry in a single word.  An inspiration to learn more Japanese that I may come to feel it.

I relished the short bike ride home, wishing I didn't also feel a desire to practice during the afternoon.  So many wonderful things in life.  Skies, music, characters emerging on the page in time and over time, another language, another life.  No way to take it all in.

Can you find all beauty?  No, but you can fill your life with it.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


Eleven hours; that's how long I slept last night.  I got up slowly, did some Tae Kwon Do and various chores, went to the grocery store and studied some kanji in anticipation of my upcoming return to Fukunari-sensei.  I watched some videos of Lynn Harrell and thought of how his sound seems to be the only thing awake in the world.  Certainly my past twenty-four hours doesn't compete.  Something towards which to aspire.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Dinner Music

We finished our weeklong chamber music project today with a performances of two Schubert pieces.  In the first half, several members played the Cello Quintet with Mr. Piovano and in the second half all the core string members played an orchestral version of the Death and the Maiden String Quartet.  It was a challenging program but beautiful to perform it together.

Afterwards a group of about 20 of us went to dinner and shared food and drinks together at a yakitori (grilled chicken) place.  We spent several hours sitting around the table together while the waiter brought more and more food, all seemingly prepared by one man behind the counter.  At one point Mr.Piovano started speaking about how lucky we are to always be surrounded by beautiful things in our lives.  He contrasted it with all the terrible violence that is happening in the world, people killing one another at such a young age; and always we musicians are surrounded by beautiful things, work to create beautiful things.  He seemed so content to be sitting at the table with us, to be sharing the evening with us, watching others talk to one another.

What does it take to find beauty in life?  Are there those that see it and those that go through life without it?  I've lived several ways in life, but always within such a narrow spectrum of privilege; I think I have no idea.  But to realize that where one is, right now, is really perfect, and searching for its beauty–perhaps it just takes looking to see it.  

Friday, September 19, 2014

Liberating Burden

For a moment in the grocery store this evening I forgot myself.  I had finished putting away my groceries in the bagging area and was just beginning to pull my backpack from the counter when the woman next to me dropped her plastic bag.  Something about the position of my body at that instant, something about my upbringing, or perhaps it was just my absent-mindedness, beckoned me to reach down and pick it up for her.  And I did so, without hesitation.  "Gomenasai," she said meekly, trying to race me to the floor to get it herself.  But I was closer, just by the fate of time and circumstance. I picked it up and gave it to her, having realized in the process my error:  I had caused her to cause me to do something on her behalf.  Such is the danger of a favor.  And then I apologized for my interference, saying, "Sumimasen," and realizing in that breath that it might have been better for me to carry the final burden of causation than shed myself of it.

But upon realizing that I still carry some of the burden of the experience, I think I'm entitled to a bit of liberation.  Perhaps I'll create more liberating burdens more often.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Allegro Vivace

My day started with a lesson with Luigi.  Responsibility demanded that I play Dvorak concerto for him and at least one excerpt, and I obliged.  I played through the exposition (longer than I had prepared for the day) and he had me go back to the top and start again.  For the next 40 minutes he played with me, showed me different fingerings, made some suggestions here and there.  I then played Heldenleben and he offered some comments on sound in various parts, use of vibrato and bow, trills.

I looked up at the clock and saw that we had ten minutes left.  I could either continue on the responsible route of the Beethoven 5 excerpt that is asked on every cello audition, or I could do the exposition of Brahms F Major Sonata which I had just started the night before.  When I mentioned the choice of the Brahms, he said in his emphatic Italian voice, "Ah, is so beautiful!"  and started playing the opening.  There was no turning back,  it would have been the least musical thing to do.

And so we purged forth into Brahms, playing together, him singing or playing the piano part on his cello, and both of us smiling in the fun of it.   "But don't rush," he said, "Is Allegro Vivace.  Vivace is character.  People think it is speed but is character."  Vivace, with life.  The thrill of playing.  What's in a lesson?

Later that day we spent 4 hours rehearsing–and taking breaks from the rehearsal–to prepare for an evening TV recording.  We played the first movement of Bruckner 4 with only the introduction and the recap, which gave a very strange false sense of victory.  We also played a similarly cut 4th movement of the same piece;  all in all, an hour of music reduced to the fifteen loudest minutes.   The majority of the time we spent sitting on stage while the MC and Sado-san and various other important and unknown-to-me famous people talked to one another about the earthquake memorial this year.  At one point in each of the two programs, we all had to raise our left hand and pretend to turn a huge page, saying, "Mekurimashou," which means, "Let's turn the page."  I think this was similar to the Monty Python, "And now for something completely different."  Or at least a way of moving the conversation forward.  I would have been happy to do this more often.  I started to wonder if talking lasts as long in English. Perhaps it's just my lack of comprehension.

It's unusual to have an evening performance and it means a night ride home, always something that demands more energy of activation.  But like most things that are that way, it is often more than worth the effort.  The days are long and getting shorter.  So many experiences, so many things to see, hear, and do.  Allegro Vivace.  

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

On the Closing Edge of Summer

The rice is fragrant again and the paddies become shorn without warning: it's harvest time.  The air is getting cooler, life is becoming more still, but at this moment it is perfect and the crickets are still chirping outside open windows.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Luigi Rehearses the String Orchestra Version of Death and the Maiden

What is music made of?  Pitches, rhythm, dynamics, articulations, various expressive markings–these all come together to convey something.  But they are just little elements on a page.  It takes humans to give them life, to speak them, to create their expression.  And what is the limit of the depth that human experience can breathe into them?  How much can we find in a note, in a phrase?  How much can we empathize with the composer and understand something from, and of, our own existence?

The landscape of Luigi's imagination is breathtaking.  There is no way to do it justice.  Today as he was working with the violins, he explained the nature of an accent at the end of a phrase in his empathic Italian voice: "It's like saying "Ppplease!'" He drew out the "p" in such a longing exhalation and crushed his shoulders together in such despair that I was immediately taken to a time of irretrievable loss and impossible wanting.  The vacuum of it sucked the air out of me and I could feel the emptiness and yearning.  So this is what that accent is about.  Ah, now I understand.

Throughout the course of rehearsal he created so many metaphors and illusions.  Arrows for each step of a sequence, knowing how many we had, giving blood for each, but then really giving blood at the climax.  He spoke of a fire in the second violins' motive, and a fire inside of that fire in the basses.  Then you put a small piece of paper on it, and arrive at the recap.  So this is the feeling of terrifying arrival.  A pulling out of something deeply burning.

Music has to breathe.  Somehow it has to be our mission as musicians to find that breath.  We spend so much time, necessary as it is, trying to get things in tune and in time.  Trying to have a good sound.  And it's true that without them,  the inner drama cannot unfold.  But the inner need to has to fuel our drive for perfection.  There are those musicians, perhaps from the way life's events have fallen upon them, that have a very deep empathy for that drama, and are not afraid to speak it, and have learned the language to do so.  It is a very, very great pleasure to work with them.

Monday, September 15, 2014

An Hour Away

Today, a free day.  Gradually learning to take that seriously with my first trip to Suma beach in Kobe with some friends this afternoon.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Mock Auditions

"You just keep doing it and doing it, collecting more and more experience, and then one day it all just comes together."  That was one of the many things that David Kim, concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra, had to say about auditions, today.

HPAC hosted screened mock auditions this morning with a panel consisting of Mr.Kim, his colleagues in the Philadelphia Orchestra violist Che-Hung Chen and trombonist Matthew Vaughn,  cellist Luigi Piovano (my amazing stand partner–an active soloist, chamber musician, and conductor), percussionist Michael Vladar from the Vienna Symphony, and Mizushima Aiko, a former violinist of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.  The crew at HPAC created a huge screen to block the view of the stage from the audience and put down carpet leading to a chair behind it.  These are a part of every major audition, at least in America, making it completely anonymous–even high heels can't give away your gender.  We were given a number and a proctor controlled our entrance and exit from the stage.  Almost everything about the experience was like a normal audition.

One major difference, though, was that we were to sit with the panelist afterwards and hear comments about our playing and about the audition process.  And then were able–if we wished–to go back into the hall and listen to the next group of mock auditions from the house.

We spend so much time trying to become the musician that will win an audition.  What does it take?  What do we need to do?  Who do we need to be?  To those of us not yet in a major orchestra, it seems like a mystery.  But the panelists made it sound very simple: play in tune and in time, have a good sound, keep it simple.  They spoke about playing for the hall, being a soloist in the space.  They gave our group so many wonderful comments, but it was not until I went back into the audience to listen that I really understood what they were saying.

Intonation.  Every single note counts, and it really counts.  It cannot be out of tune.  There is nothing to hide it.  When we play in the practice room with no one listening, it is possible to lose such heightened awareness of it.  It's similar to the way that thoughts can wander when one is alone, but when one gives a speech, everything counts.  

And playing for the hall.  It's incredible how different the sound is from the audience, how long it takes for a single note to reach the space.  And how much the performer must accomodate, must take more time and make musical ideas really large and explicit.  It's like playing for Paul Bunyan.  

I could hear my colleagues playing beautifully and yet understood how it still wasn't enough.  It was possible to get a glimpse of just how much it takes, the goal towards which we are training.  And yes, it takes a lot.  But perhaps there needn't be such mystery to it, other than to do it.  To train for it, to gain experience.  A long way to go, but going the way.

Saturday, September 13, 2014


I woke up this morning to the smell of incense but I'm still not sure if it was real or imagined.  Sometimes the past and present blend together so seamlessly; often it seems at the change of seasons, when growth is so easy to see.  The sun is starting to migrate south and all that flourished in its presence is lingering and starting to let go; is it possible not to mark the passing?  I was transported to my high school bedroom, watching the smoke rise and swirl, sinking into all my clothes and books.  A time of knowing differently, and a subtle change with every season that has brought me to here, saying goodbye to a "before" as I've done so many times, so many times that I've become familiar with the coming and going, something to which I used to be completely naïve.

And now the smell of incense catches me as I round a corner to the river.  I smell it on the clothes of my shodo teacher, I burn it in my tatami room.  How close I am to another time.  I could easily slip into that different knowing, where the world is so much newer and full of mystery.  So many years we spend looking for greater self-knowledge, banishing uncertainty, seeking greater control.  Before shedding another layer, that time makes itself known again, reminding the value of youth.  I'm still there and always will be, poised between "before" and "what is to come."

Towards what are we moving?  Sometimes it seems so absurd and the world so full of life.  So full of life.  The trees in the wind; even the clouds are moving in the sky.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Bruckner Bias

The first time I started to listen to Bruckner's Fourth Symphony in preparation for this concert, I couldn't get through it.  Quite often, it's difficult for me to listen to Bruckner; I feared the amount of time we would spend with the piece and wondered how I would commit to it for over an hour for three concerts.

And yet somehow, this week has cleared the haze and the harmonies have started to emerge, the beautiful Mahler-like dancing in stasis.  There is a subtle magic to it underneath the blaring brass which always seems to overpower Bruckner's identity to me.  I've started to love playing the pizzicato bass lines which accompany the upper strings, to find color in a single note change and new harmony suggestions.  I've even started to enjoy some of the quirky orchestrations, such as the viola section competing against a huge brass choral.

Perhaps it's the incredible leadership we are enjoying this week with members from the Philadelphia Orchestra and others who are helping to shape the sound and purpose of the work.  Perhaps there is something fundamentally fun about playing music.  Whatever it is, I'm a fan, and happy to welcome the conversion.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Presenting the 2014-2015 HPAC Cello Section!

One of the really cool things about being at HPAC is coming into contact with so many people from around the world.  There are so many ways of being open, of sharing and receiving, of trusting and interacting with one another.   It's great to have the opportunity to learn from those that are around me, who have grown up in different cultures.

But that is just a passing musing, an appreciation that I've reflected upon today and want to have in the records of my time here.  The really important news of today cannot be explained in words.  That's why we have pictures.  

We play the cello.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Until November

The first committee meeting of the season.  I can feel my years behind me weighted heavily against the diminishing year to come.  It takes a lot of work to change things, a lot of work to build trust through a translator.  It's work that comes more easily when there is time ahead in which to create change, when there is time ahead in which to establish a relationship that will last for awhile.  I enjoy the work, I enjoy building the trust and looking for more and more ways to create change that will be beneficial for everyone.  But perhaps it is time to give another with a better time-balance the opportunity.  There are so many new members here, excited for all the possibilities to come; and I look forward to handing them the torch to bring that potential to fruition, however they may wish to make it happen.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Closing Time

It wasn't enough to sit by the river tonight, watching the moon phase in and out of the hazy clouds, the long blades of grass dancing in the gentle breeze.  Surely this scene could exist elsewhere in the world, but the muted nostalgia that seems to accompany such hours in Japan is unique.

Yet in my peaceful sitting, a voice in my head started to overtake me.  "Soy milk," it said, "the store will be closing soon, and then no more soy milk."  The moon generously departed behind some clouds, giving me a grace period to take my leave, but I knew I had to bike fast to make it.

As I walked quickly through the store to get my soy milk, eggs, and tofu, my ears met with another one of Japan's everyday sentimental customs: the playing of Auld Lang Syne to signal closing time.  It was breaking my heart, the end of this store's working day–if only this moment of pondering cheese could last forever!

Sometimes, it's a wonder that time moves forward, but even in Japan, it does.  The moon is higher in the sky now, and the workers have all gone home.  Tomorrow will be another day, and we'll be one of the first to see it.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Last Tsukimi

I spoke with a friend this morning who has moved back to the states and taken up residence in the northeast to play in an orchestra for the year.  She gave me a tour of her apartment, showed me the yard outside, and told me about her first few adventures back in America; how she had driven from Tucson up through California and Oregon in her newly purchased car, seen waves of grain and huge skies, found an apartment in a few days, moved in, and started rehearsals.   And she told me about meeting new people in the orchestra, about listening to the radio in English, about going to orchards and wineries and breweries as her new friends showed her the town and surrounding area.  She told me about a social gathering where others were smoking marijuana, because it's legal in that state.  She's also in the midst of figuring out health insurance options, looking for students, thrift store shopping for all her furniture and clothing needs, and finding the public library which will be full of books that she can read.  And she told me how it was so hard not to constantly talk about Japan.  Such a recent memory, the place of experiences for the past three years, and a contrast by which to measure the novelty of her new home.

It's incredible to hear about the transition.  I spoke with her about things in Japan as well and we reflected on the bearing that the last year brings to each season.  The weight of the realization: this will be the last time for fall leaves, the last time for flower viewing.  The ephemeral sense of these experiences becomes even more heightened.

Circumstances of the day deposited me on a bike ride home past dark.  The air is perfect these days for biking and the path was quiet, mostly empty; the moon was bright in the sky over a river whose banks were recently redesigned by a typhoon, barren in places, sandy, pooled water reflecting the clear night sky.

It wasn't until I got home that a Google widget suggested that today was a special day in Japan.  Today was tsukimi, or "moon-viewing," the time of the year when one views the full moon, taking advantage of its brilliance in the clear fall sky.  I had no idea it was my last.  So naturally it fell upon me to be biking the river tonight.  Sometimes fate has such a way of guiding us.  Of course it will be there again tomorrow, and perhaps knowingly I will guide myself to return.  But what can such knowledge bring to the river?  There's no holding it.  It will never be the same.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Smiley, Speedy, Service at the Asahi Bike Shop

I merely walked in the door of the Asahi bike shop and they knew who I was.  Smiling, one of the workers took my bike and told me to come back in thirty minutes.  When I returned it was ready and they asked me to take it for a spin around the lot to check the new gear shifter, smiling as I dismounted.  One more check through and it was done.  

They took my repair papers to the register- only 1130 yen, a little over ten dollars.  As I pulled out my money and looked at the repair papers on the desk, I noticed a note stuck to the front of them with bits in Japanese and this interspersed, written in English: "This is the bicycle shop."  "The part is here." "Please come anytime."  

I remembered my conversation last night, how at the end the woman had said in English, "Anytime."  Someone had prepared this speech before calling to help our communication, had written it on this paper on my behalf.  Or rather, on our behalves.  Or maybe rather, on behalf of good service.  Because it wasn't done in such a way that I would know about it, I'm left with pent-up gratitude that needs an outlet.  Japan is giving forward these days.  Should probably go with flow.  Regardless, thank you, Asahi.  Happy Bicycle to You, too.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Shorinji Outreach in Izushi

The day ended with me bravely returning a missed call from an unknown number.  (I choose the word "bravely"  but I often wonder if there is much difference between "brave," and "naïve.")  Regardless I managed to piece together context clues from my life to determine that it was the bike shop informing me that the part for my bike had arrived and that I could come at anytime to get it fixed.

Rainy rice fields, rivers, and mountains from a bus window, and an outreach concert in a temple this afternoon preceded my evening communication success.  Japan is such a beautiful place.

when we arrived there was tea and water waiting for us
 in the tatami room overlooking the Japanese garden

Keita and Toshiyuki 

dress rehearsal

view from the stage

Chihiro and my cello

a walk around the temple;
ice cream!

Chihiro and tampopo (dandelion)

on a hill near the temple

more exploring with the quartet

climbing up a little higher 

shrine at the top

bento lunch at the temple

waiting to perform

the concert
(no shoes)

Friday, September 5, 2014


Tonight was the official opening of the season.  It's so much fun to play with other people and for other people.  My last first opening festival concert.

This morning I took a train to a nearby town that is famous for its natural hot springs and onsen, Kinosaki. I didn't have time to actually go to an onsen, but I walked around the picturesque streets and climbed halfway up the green hill that overlooks the town.  The city is filled with water and it nourishes beautiful willows and moss and seems to cleanse the whole space.  Apparently it is incredibly picturesque in the winter, and fall, and spring, and also the summer.  Well, probably just about anytime.

wearing yukatas and walking from onsen to onsen

two HPAC friends that were on their way to onsen;
enjoying the hot springs drinking water, which was hot and salty

one of the onsen buildings 

inside the courtyard 

hot water coming up onto a rock near the center of town

ascending the hill
(in sandals and yukata)


view of Kinosaki

one tree-lined stream

and another

willows with carp

shoes waiting for bathers 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Season Opening Festival Reception

It's hard not to experience these things and not think about how they are my last.  But tonight was the last Season Opening Festival Reception.  Every year HPAC goes somewhere in Hyogo to open the season and every year there is a reception with a cultural exchange.  My first year it was incredible Taiko drumming, last year a dance of Awaji Island, and this year, a combination of different things.  I'm glad I took the opportunity to join the dancers this time.

edible flower

children Taiko drumming (with their teacher)

tea ceremony sweet (filled with red bean paste)

matcha green tea 

tea ceremony setting 


traditional dancing 

we were invited to join and learn with them

a small but incredibly demonstrative speech maker speaks with Sado-san;
she spoke mostly in Japanese but still convinced me