Wednesday, December 31, 2014


There is such a feeling of anticipation on New Year's Eve in Japan.  Something is coming.  The minutes seem to be counting down from the middle of the afternoon, the seconds begin somewhere in mid-evening.  It's coming.  And it came.  Towards the end of a perfectly timed concert of arias from all the past years of HPAC, after a song featuring Sado-san playing pianoca, the New Year fell upon us with shiny streamers and balloons which threatened to attack us during Pomp and Circumstance.  We concluded with Radetzky March with the Tiger's theme song in the middle of it.  And now it's 2015.

Happy New Year's from Japan!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Listening Past Loneliness

Today was a step forward in playing with one another.  It is a terribly preoccupying thing for a musician; to play together means to be truly listening and understanding.  In some ways, it is a measure of overcoming that impossible reality in life, loneliness.  Is there someone who understands me, is there someone I can trust?  And to what extent can that be true?  To the degree that each of us is truly unique, it is difficult to find an understanding of one another.  But if two people can find an understanding of time and pitch and all the characters and colors that come from it, something has been overcome, some unity in the face of nature's diversity.  It is a sense of comfort to come so close to others.  One must allow a certain degree of vulnerability to share such a space; to be willing to be understood and to understand at the same time.  There is no end to searching for it.  It can feel as simple and as good as tapping one's foot in time to a recording, or singing with others; and can become as complicated as coordinating oneself to perform the fine motor skills required to play an orchestral instrument expressively and sensitively with seventy other people.

And that such a thing can be taught and refined seems a miracle.  Today, in my desire to understand the components of yesterday's wanting, I discovered a new focus, that of the concertmaster's sense of time.  Each person has a unique way of anticipating and reacting to events in time, and one can observe another and become better at assessing how they do so.  Our concertmaster plays very close to his own cues, but quite late to the conductor's.  This is a unique expression of time that isn't shared by everyone, but can be learned if one is willing to see it and accept it.  But in order to make use of the information, it is also important to know one's own sense of anticipation and reaction, something that would seem inherent, but isn't necessarily so.  How does my sense of time fit with another's?  How does my sense of perception and reaction work with another's?  Coming to know oneself, coming to know another, practicing respect of both so that one can clearly see what is there and approach it and play with it.  Is it possible to overcome the barrier of self?  I think there are moments.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Learning Timing

It was nice to play my cello again, today.  And it was good to be back in the orchestra.  We're preparing a program of arias for the New Year's concert, and these can require a bit of coordination and sense of timing that we haven't quite yet achieved.  Some moments today were a little perplexing and it once again reminded me of what a highly trained skill orchestral playing is.  And what a gift it is to be able to learn another's sense of timing and to work with that.  But with an orchestra, there are so many people, and all of these subjective ways of perceiving the beat and the character and the direction of a phrase can lead to a lot of confusion and ambiguity.  It's difficult to get 15 or 30 people to play a series of slow pizzicato together as the music slows even further; it's a question of trust, of hearing and understanding the phrase in exactly the same way, and any uncertainty can ruin that, any one person can be the one to unsettle it.  Added to this is the (sometimes) tradition of playing behind the conductor.  In most cases we follow the concertmaster, but each concertmaster can interpret a conductor differently.  Because our orchestra gets to work with many different conductors and concertmasters, it means that these variables change a lot and we have the challenge of learning how to communicate for every project.  There's a lot of learning going on, and it's great to be able to see how much development it takes to do it.  I hope the experience can help me when I teach again; and perhaps for my future students and for myself, I might just make more clear the variables that are at work and hope that it can clarify the process.  But as with any at of creation, performance included, there will always be elements of mystery.  May there always be.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Return to Japan (and the internet)

The internet left my parents' home in the middle of Christmas morning.  The excitement of the youtube fireplace my brothers had put on the tv was suddenly disrupted.  We carried on, but for the past few days of my time in America, I haven't been able to write, or check email.  It's been a time purely of family. 

And now I'm in the Tokyo airport, waiting for my final connecting flight to Osaka.  The time with family is fading and I'm preparing to put on my Japan lifestyle again.  It's a more solitary one, one that gives me the space to focus on myself, one in which I have control over my personal schedule.  In many ways, being alone is more simple, more efficient.  But somehow it doesn't seem as sustainable.  Regardless, it will be good to get back into the swing of things in Japan, and it will be good, so good to see my family again, when the time comes.  

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve

It's the first Christmas Eve in two years that I have been home.  Two years ago I was in Japan, and last year I was with extended family in San Francisco.  I'd forgotten the preparation involved before Christmas; the wrapping, the care in wrapping, the care in selecting gifts and balancing the amount given to various members of the family.  There is a lot of work that goes into a Christmas.  And a lot of food that goes into people.  But it is really cool to be able to have a day of nothing, a true holiday of rest and family.  And our stockings are empty tonight, waiting for a visitor that comes every year.  

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Holidays Begin

After several days of recitals and travel, tomorrow is a relative day of rest.  Finally to begin the holiday season for two days before the return to Japan.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Concert in Lexington, Kentucky

Today was our final official concert in Lexington, Kentucky.   I wonder what it does to one's memories and sense of self to return to a place time and again after having lived and created memories there for three years.  It was a different time in life, a certain group of friends, a certain shade of living and discovering.  It was a part of bringing me to where I am today, who I am, how I live.  To revisit it is to remember a part of the path a little more specifically.  

And in the audience was one of my former professors and two former students.  And I realized how intimidating it is to perform for one's students.  I thought of all that I might hope for them, and looked into myself to see if it was there, if I could demonstrate what I might teach.  It is very difficult to hold oneself to one's ideals.  And intimidating to face it.  And so I focused on making mistakes, on making them as gracefully and with as little disruption as possible.  Imperfection is a part of every performance, and perhaps this is the best place to teach the acceptance of that, at that time.  Of course we always strive for perfection, but there must be a point when we forget it and remember the larger goal which it must ultimately serve.  

So there was more to learn in this place.  Wonderful to step back into another time, to be in touch with it and all it continues to give.  

Sunday, December 21, 2014

One Another

It makes such a difference to be surrounded by the love of friends and family.  There are so many things I'm learning from my experience in Japan, and the absence of this simple thing--so easy to take for granted, so easy to forget in the midst of the accommodations one must make in order to live with one another--has made it so much stronger when I suddenly become bathed in its warmth.  Right now, I'm so open to it having been so removed from it.  People are people, and sometimes the accommodations we must make for one another can be difficult and we can become impatient, offended, disappointed, hurt.  These things can simmer below the surface, they can flare up and the pain can last for a long time.  What a strange dance it is to learn to be with one another, to learn to feel that love which is the absolution of fear, which gives us the confidence, the calm, the peace to do and live as we search to live.  Beyond the irritations, beyond the assaults to the ego of our personalities, there is another way, but it can be so hard to find it, to feel it, to practice it. Right now I'm living in the glow of possibility of ideal love.  But it is only one side of the reality of life, of being a living human being.  It is a very real challenge to learn to live with one another.  And Japan is helping me learn this.  It is helping me learn to live in a place that feels cold to me and to overcome that.  It is helping me to see the warmth that might be taken for granted were I constantly to enjoy it.  How lucky we are to have one another, if only we give ourselves to another to have.  

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Day of Performances

Not only did we get to play a recital this afternoon, but this evening we attended a wonderful production of the Nutcracker from the Cincinnati Ballet.  It is such a traditional piece, and yet this production took several risks: hip-hop choreography for the battle scene, flying effects, and the addition of a Clara's imaginary pet poodle.  Several traditional roles had newly interpreted costumes and choreographies and yet some of the standard favorites remained, well-timed and beautifully executed. It was such a thrill to be able to see it live with a live orchestra; something intangible and beautiful.  And so too to be able to play for the small audience today, to enjoy performing chamber music in an intimate setting.  It's been a rich day of performances.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Quartet Opportunity

Today, from across the ocean, I heard that our quartet has passed an application to work with the Japan String Quartet in a series of lessons, masterclasses, and concerts in March.  It's exciting to think of being able to work so closely with the quartet to prepare for this.  It's exciting to think about being able to learn from this experienced quartet, to be able to have this opportunity in Japan.  A big thank you to the members of my quartet for helping make the application possible.  Very exciting!

Thursday, December 18, 2014


After spending so much time in orchestra rehearsals it is really, really exciting to get to rehearse sonata music.  Because of illness we have about two days to put together this program, and that in itself is a welcome challenge.  Another day of becoming more familiar with this program and then three days in a row of performances.  Motivation is cooking.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Missing Home

Andrew is quite sick and so this morning I took a short walk to the grocery store to get some sports drinks and sherbet.  Winter walks in Cincinnati, like and unlike winter walks any and everywhere else.  The bare trees, the gray sky, terrain I've known my entire life only a little smaller than memory.  I somehow seem to continue to grow bigger than it.  

And along the way I met other early morning people.  A man doing Tai Chi in the woods, a person walking, someone taking care of the abandoned grocery store carts on the path.  Some things are still in Japan, how to say "Good morning,"  and what side of the path I should walk along.  But they easily come back and there is something so comforting about saying "Good morning," to another in English.  Those are my words.

Last night I had a dream about remembering Japan.  Driving in America, navigating a car through the streets while remembering the trains of Japan that take one so effortlessly where one needs to go.  The ease of moving and living, the peacefulness of it.  Perhaps a few days home I'm missing Japan in some ways.  And yet still, it is so comforting to be surrounded by familiarity, where the basic social interactions are natural and known.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Very Unfortunate News

Our family is mourning the loss of my cousin, who passed away this past weekend.  It is hard to imagine a life ending, of ceasing to continue as it had been.  Perhaps especially so when so young.  I keep thinking that it must not be true, that it will be different tomorrow.  My heart goes out to his parents.  It is a reminder to practice love as much as possible in this life.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Arrival in Cincinnati

It's been a long day of travel but I am happy to be home with my family in Cincinnati.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

From Tomorrow to Today (and Tomorrow to Yesterday)

Today was spent preparing for returning home tomorrow.  I've shortened a long list of things to do, added others that were never written, and crossed them off for the sake of doing-things-efficacy.  I missed the chore of practicing, such a calming, energizing, focusing energy.  But in a day or two that will return.

In the course of doing some of my other things-to-do I realized that I had misread the required excerpts on an audition list and needed to print them before I left.  Alas, I don't have a printer and turned to the all-powerful conbeni store to help.  One of the online angels of living in Japan had catalogued all the features of printing and copying services available at different chains of convenient stores, including language options for each.  And from this, I learned that it would be possible to take a USB storage device to the newly opened 7-11 a block away and print the music.  Of course the successful end of this story could not have been reached without several well-meaning but confused Japanese convenient store clerks and one mystical gentlemen who spoke English and happened to be using the ATM at the same moment I needed his help.  And now, a few stops later, I have the music thanks to the endless convenience of the Japanese conbeni.

And so tomorrow I depart for America.  I've completed my shopping, cooked the potatoes, broccoli, carrot, and tomatoes in a stew to freeze, gathered and organized most of my music, have my e-ticket and passport and a few dollars, and just have to get up to catch the bus in the morning.  On to a day of travel to the land of yesterday.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

HPAC Departure

I left HPAC today with the feeling of winter break in my heals.  I have one day before going to America, but today I said goodbye to colleagues for the next two weeks and gathered the things I would need for the return home.  HPAC cannot help but be a family.  Sometimes it's overwhelming, but I do miss them already.  And so to rest and prepare for departure, for a busy time home with another family.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Snap Election's Snap Season

Japan is about to have a Snap Election.  A few weeks ago, in response to the rapidly weakening yen, Shinzo Abe dissolved the lower house of the Diet.  This is incredible to me; that a leader can just dismiss the legislative body and call for a new election.  Poof!  But so it is, and on December 14th there will be another election in Japan, one which will hopefully reflect the current sentiments of the Japanese population and help steer the country to a better place economically.

Another thing that is incredible about this, is that despite the announcement of the Snap Election in mid-November, the official campaign season didn't start until December 2nd.  And so now, in a matter of less than two weeks, candidates are in a flurry to promote themselves.  According to Wikipedia, candidate advertising is quite restricted in Japan.  There is a narrow time window, it is exclusively government funded, and there are rules about the length of the ad and the space it occupies in print.  Negative advertising is discouraged.  Amazing.  It's hard to imagine something more different than the American system.  I can now understand why the Japanese were so amazed at our involvement in the last American presidential election, how we all gathered around the television in the lounge at break, watching the votes counted on CNN.  They took pictures of us with their cell phones.

With all of the restrictions, it makes a little more sense that one of the most prevalent means of advertising are vans with loud speakers that drive through the streets making announcements promoting the candidates.  Apparently this is quite alright.  Occasionally the vans stop somewhere and have speeches in front of groups of people.  One of the them stopped outside the Hankyu Gardens Department Store near HPAC earlier today and I had a chance to watch Japanese people get involved in their election.  It was refreshing to see.  Again, democracy–or at least the elections that we believe to stand for democracy–are a big deal in America, and sometimes I miss the passion here; even if American elections are overly dramatic, media mired, manipulative, and questionably funded.  But everyone really cares!

So it was warming to see the crowds surrounding the vans today.  A far more subdued version of America's democracy, but one that seemed civil and full of interest.

Candidates in a parking lot across the street from the department store

Shoppers and passers by stop to listen and show their support

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Fukunari-sensei's Mother

A friend of mine at HPAC who also studies with Fukunari-sensei, told me last week that her mother had passed away.  She had had to cancel his lesson at the last minute and explained the sudden illness and passing in an email to him.  My lesson schedule had a natural hiatus last week, and therefore had no interruptions.  She didn't cancel this week's lesson, nor email me to let me know.  

Regardless, since I knew, I wanted to at least give her a condolence card.  But writing condolence cards in one's own language with some understanding of cultural precedence is hard enough.  How to go about it in Japan, but from a foreigner, seemed quite difficult.  I managed to get enough information from the internet to write the basic phrase used to express condolence: okuyami moushi agemasu.  But after that, it was hard to know how to really phrase something so that it didn't sound really clunky, or at the very worst, offensive.  So I simply wrote in English as clearly as possible, hoping that the vague meaning of it would trickle through.  

When I arrived today for my lesson, she seemed unchanged, greeting me warmly as usual, running off to the kitchen to get the tea and snack that she always serves.  When she came back I said, "Okaasan," mother, to let her know that I'd heard and was sorry.  And she continued as though I were a child, explaining the existence of death to me for the first time, trying to soften it and make it seem less scary.  Her mother was 87 years old, and the gods had looked after her for a long time and now she would be going to heaven.  And then she told me about the ways to say that someone has passed away, taught me how to offer condolences in Japanese.  It was a lesson like any other.  She said she thought her mother was happy, and so Fukunari-sensei said it was ok, though she did admit she was a little sad.  

And knowing Fukunari-sensei as I know her, I believe that her mother was likely a happy person and had a good life.  I'm happy to have Fukunari-sensei in my life and grateful to her mother and her mother's memory.  

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Mozart Sound

From a force of over ten thousand people performing Beethoven 9 to a small chamber orchestra playing an all-Mozart program, we are on to another world of music.  The conductor is asking us to make a certain sound, one that is different than last week's, and asking for a different sound can be one of the most challenging things a conductor requests.  Sound is so personal.  It's shaped from years of listening, years of learning, and years of playing in a certain way.  One's sound is a combination of all the sounds they've encountered and maybe something else that they give it.  Or at least I imagine it to be so.  There are orchestras that have sounds; in fact most major orchestras do.  And it is quite easy to distinguish between European orchestras and American ones.  But at HPAC, an amalgamation of traditions which invites conductors and guest players from around the world leaves us somewhat undefined.  It can be a good starting point, something that can be molded, and this is often the comment that I get from guests: everyone here is so willing to try something new.

So this week are trying a Mozart sound as requested by this conductor.  Trying for a sound that includes a certain emphasis in phrasing, a certain articulation.  Everyone is trying, shaking off the colossal Beethoven in exchange for something a little lighter.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Perplexing Plastics (De-sorting Garbage)

Not too long ago, someone let me in on a disappointing secret: our plastics are not recycled, they're burned.  I haven't found more details about paper, but based on the sorting in Nishinomiya, a different municipal district from where I live, I would guess the same is true.  It is a little perplexing to me.  Why?  Why do we sort these from the "burnables" if they are burnable?  I would have guessed that they have a separate burning process, however, if they are dirty (for example, a pizza box, or the wrapper from butter) they are put in the regular burnables.  So the regular burnables are able to handle them.  So then they are burnable.  I just don't really understand how this works.  Or why it works.  Apparently Japan only recycles about 21% of it's waste.  PET bottles, cans, and glass.  Why all this sorting???  Should I continue to put in the effort of cleaning my plastics to make them plastic worthy?  Does it matter?  I live in a world where I must abide by rules that don't make sense to me.  I need an existential director to give me my motivation.  Why do I put the plastic container in the plastics?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Santa in Japan

As I left the reception last night, I noticed this on a Santa hut in the lobby of the hotel.  What questions do you have?

The caption in the lower right corner reads:
"The Greenland International Santa Claus Association sends an authorized Santa Claus to the HOTEL NEW OTANI OSAKA every year.  The authorized Santas are appointed by the oldest Santa Claus now living in the northern part of Greenland.  There are only 120 authorized Santas in the world."
(A few of mine:  What would it be like to be a Santa and come to Japan for the holidays?  What would it be like to have hundreds of Japanese children sit on your lap and tell you what they want for Christmas in Japanese?  What would it be like to be a Japanese child and meet Santa?  To where else in the world does the Greenland International Santa Claus Association export Santas?  For how much, under what conditions?  How does one become an authorized Santa?  Is "the oldest Santa Claus now living in the northern part of Greenland" the real deal?  Is this how he has built his empire of Christmas and feeds his reindeer?  Is Japan's importation of Santa Clauses responsible for the financial viability of Christmas?)  

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Believable Spring (Beethoven 10,000, Ducks, Aikido, Suntory, and Woman on the Bus)

Today I rehearsed and performed Beethoven 9 with 10,000 singers; I walked to Osaka Castle during our break, passing a samurai museum, some people drinking wine from a bottle, and a poorly acted ninja demonstration.  On the way I stopped on the bridge over the mote and watched the ducks for awhile, entranced by how long they could stay under water, and curious about the one duck that always surfaced at a distance from the other two ducks, and only joined the full group slowly and reluctantly.  An outlier.  I wondered about the life of that duck and stared at the intersecting ripples.  After pulling myself away from them, the Asian man with the hat attached to his backpack that said, "F****** Yeah," that had been lingering around me, finally felt comfortable asking me to take his picture with the castle in the background.  Sometimes I don't understand people.  I felt a kinship with that solitary duck.

I continued past the castle, and the crowds of tourists, the food stands, and saw more and more people in the familiar white pants.  I was getting closer.  When I arrived at the budokan, I saw a lot of people leaving and thought perhaps I had missed whatever event had been occurring.  But I took my chances and went in anyway, finding an Aikido tournament in full swing.  The numbers were so great that people could come and go freely and their sum total would hardly be effected.  It's a remarkable gem, this facility.  There are always lots of family and friends and observers in plain clothes watching, so it isn't a problem to come in and watch.  It's quite natural.  And there is almost always some tournament or meet occurring there.  It's the best part of Osaka Castle, but it isn't a tourist attraction.

There were many matches occurring at once, and I moved my attention among them.  Two girls, probably in junior high or high school working together, two more experienced practitioners, and then a group of men practicing one specific throw, all being watched and guided by teachers.  In Aikido, one person attacks the other, and the one defending executes a technique that swiftly throws the attacker to the ground, usually by grabbing the hand or wrist in some way that flips them onto their back.  And the one thrown learns how to gracefully fall, how to relinquish their power so that they can roll and get up again easily. The moves are practiced and prescribed, but the speed and ease of them is remarkable, perhaps lasting only a few seconds.  The sound of bodies hitting the mat filled the space, as did the feeling of peace and ease.  People smiled; there was a lot of trust.  Aikido works with energy flow, and watching these people move with one another's energy was beautiful.

I walked back to the hall and played the 10,000 concert.  Sometimes things are, and sometimes they seem to be.  I'm not sure how to believe when I don't believe; but afterwards, despite generally enjoying the experience and enjoying playing with my stand partner, I just wanted to go home and decompress.  Unfortunately, so did 10,000 other people.  I waylaid from the train rush in the annual reception that Suntory hosts for this concert (they are the sponsors for it) and found myself overwhelmed with another room full of unbelievable.  It's hard to be on the outside of believing.  I'm not sure how it happens; perhaps alcohol or the lack thereof has something to do with it.  I wish I could just extend the connections-making kindness that others so effortlessly do, but when I don't know how to believe, it's hard to do so.  I left once I thought the crowds had cleared.

And at the end of my commute, while I sat on the bus, parked at the station and waiting for departure, a woman stepped on and asked another Japanese passenger if the bus went to Akuradanchi.  The other woman didn't know but I intervened and said, "Yes, it does.  I live in Akuradanchi.  I'm going there.  You can follow me."  She was very grateful and very friendly, a kindness in which I could believe because I knew there was nothing more wanting in it that what I had already agreed to give her.  And I had no reason to be nice to her, which is very a good and believable reason to be.  It turned out that she had come to the concert that day, that her daughter was one of the new violists, and that she was staying at her daughter's apartment for a day or two to come to this concert.  I could see where her daughter had learned her sincere smile and happiness.

It's been a day with many chapters.  There are so many worlds in this world.  Sometimes the world is one thing, and a few minutes later, it is another.  I came home and binged on the past few days of the Writer's Almanac, discovering a poem about lambs born in winter, how they have no idea that spring exists and is about to happen.  What don't we know is possible?  Perhaps our beliefs are waiting for us, in some other world, one in which we actually live.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Enter 10,000 People

We had our first rehearsal with all the singers today.  10,000 of them, likely give or take a few due to uncontrollable factors.  After playing this concert twice previously, some of the novelty has admittedly worn off, but it is still incredible to see so many people surround us, to hear so many Japanese voices singing in German, to watch so many Japanese hands applaud, glittering the coliseum.  And they all are so happy and grateful to be there.  There is a lottery for the opportunity, and these two days are a culmination of a long process for them.  They are happy to laugh at jokes, to acknowledge introductions, to quickly correct any slight blemish of their performance.  It's great to be in the middle of 10,000 happy people, singing together, and to play with them.  Tomorrow will be my final day in the ring.  Looking forward to it.

Friday, December 5, 2014

ANA Exchange

I called All Nippon Airways this morning to book a flight from Osaka.  Their English call center is located in Los Angeles but their staff is still always Japanese, speaking very good English.  The call was extremely formal and polite as I would expect, very routine in every way.  And so at the end it caught me off guard when she asked me, "So you're living in Japan?"  I thought perhaps this was related to visa issues and purpose of travel; information that she needed to complete the reservation.  I explained a little to her about my status here, hoping it would clarify, and came to realize she simply wanted to ask me about Japan.  "It's getting cold in Japan now, isn't it?" she said, "Here it is still warm."  Yes, it is getting cold here.  But it's always warm in L.A. isn't it?  I wonder what she must be experiencing, learning to live in America.  How long since she's been home.  If she has any plans to return.  Why she left.  But there was no time for that, or rather, our lives were not meant to be opened to one another so fully in such a way.  Only a few bits and pieces to remind one another that we are humans, not just players in one of life's many transactions.  I was grateful for her unexpected breach of protocol.  We left with a cordial ending, an unexpressed understanding of missing what the other has.

Something that I carried to rehearsal today.  Our guest players are not from Japan, nor are they accustomed to the amount  of rehearsal or the pacing that is normal here.  There is more of it, and it is much slower with lots of repetition.  Nothing is left to chance, there is no danger of it being under-rehearsed.  Compared to the western pacing, it can be a little tedious, but one sort of gets used to it.  And in Japan, this is just how it works.  And the Japanese orchestra members never seem to become impatient.  They are always so respectful of the process.  But this group of middle-aged men from Germany, principals in their sections there and seasoned musicians, are noticeably irritated.  It's such a clash of cultures and I can feel the dissension.  But where does such an attitude go?  What can be gained by sighing or making comments to colleagues?  Japan seems so pure of this sort of attitude and egoism.  There seems to be no irritation in orchestra playing, whereas in the states it is normal to have some skepticism of a conductor.  It is a difference.  I wonder if the Japanese members are aware of frustration of the German guests, if they know what these underhanded facial expressions mean.  Do they have a basis for interpreting this type of expression?  Unfortunately, I think they do.

In many ways, it isn't easy to be a foreigner in Japan, likely because of this sort of clash.  There is a lot of anti-foreign sentiment in tradition and practice.  But at the very least, there is the face of courtesy.  Perhaps that isn't always a good thing, but it is at least gentle to meet it.  I wonder how it must be to be Japanese and meet the difficulties of America.  I miss my country very much, I miss the feeling of belonging in a place where there really isn't such a thing as belonging in the same way that there is in Japan–but I imagine it must be quite hard to come to America.  As much as I don't feel that I belong here, I have respect for those that do and for the way that this culture has found to live together.  I wish my friend at All Nippon Airways all the best as she learns to live with a winterless winter.  I will try to take care of her country in her absence for as long as I'm here.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Momentous Rehearsing

This year's Beethoven 9 concert is assisted by members of the Cologne Symphony Orchestra.  All the principal strings, winds, brass, and timpani are from the orchestra.  It's exciting to have a solid block of tradition in our midst, a uniform way of playing together and of playing this piece, which is so familiar to them.  Every year, Sado-san leads our orchestra for this concert, and he can't help but bring his own unique energy to the work in a similar way.  But this year there is a new shade to the piece, provided by these musicians.  I've become familiar with Sado-san's expectations and preferences in certain sections and now those are being mixed with slightly different expectations and preferences.  Such is making music, meeting one another somewhere in the middle (or in the winner's court!) and creating a new version never made before and never repeated again, for ears that will perceive it just this once.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Preparing for Beethoven 9

I spent a large part of the day preparing for the Beethoven 9 project that begins tomorrow.  It is (I think) my sixth time playing this symphony but today was the first time that I put in fingerings for the full first and last movements, the most difficult.  It's interesting how devotion can grow.  One might think that I would have become tired of the piece, too familiar to bother.  It's possible to play a part without planning all of the fingerings, it's the way I've spent most of my orchestral career.  But sitting next to Luigi earlier this year, who put a fingering over almost every note despite being a phenomenal cellist, influenced me.  It's becoming more worth it to me to choose how I play something, rather than rely on habit or impulse.  It's becoming more worth it to me to be more fully prepared.  But it takes a lot of time right now.  Eventually I hope my preferences become more solid, that I can implement them as quickly as I read.  I have a lot of respect for this symphony.  I'm still excited to play it again.  It awakens a devotion that spreads to other things, to my own playing, to my own eduction.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Face of Winter

The fervent winds of yesterday seem to have finally coerced winter to join December.  The snap of the air is winter, the light, the bundling of bodies and the exclamation of coldness.  It's exciting in some way, but everyone knows there is more to come.  It will get colder, and the length of the cold will beg the endurance of our internal warmth, especially in this country with little central heating.  To come home is to still be cold.

But there are hot water bottles, and space heaters, and kotatsu tables, and soups, and onsen, and the Christmas lights are beautiful in the HPAC square.  For now the magic of winter's cold is exciting and welcome.  A new face of living.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Visit to the Doctor's Clinic

A very kind friend of mine–one that made me some ginger and lemon tea and happens to speak Japanese–offered to take me and another ailing colleague to the clinic this morning.  We arrived shortly after 9am and put our names on the list to be seen by the doctor (numbers 17 and 18) and then sat in the lobby of the clinic for the next hour-and-a-half watching various television programs and commercials, and contemplating the machine that accepted used slippers from those leaving and ejected new ones to those entering the clinic–one of the many things in Japan that has no market in America.

After awhile the nurse said, "Kureesateru-san" and it was my turn.  My friends and I sat in another hallway on small stools outside an open door until it was our turn to go in.  I sat in front of the doctor,  an older gentleman with a face mask who actually spoke a little English, and he asked few questions then checked my throat and nose.  "Ahh!" he said as he looked up my nostrils, "You have inflamed sinuses from allergies."  This seemed very wrong to me since I don't really have allergies and the onset was quite fast and there a number of people sick at HPAC.  But I didn't really know what to say, how to argue with his medical training.  After going back to the lobby, my friend suggested we go back and try to better understand.  He said that I probably got allergies after coming to Japan (maybe?) and that the stress of the move (he seemed not to realize I didn't just move) kept them from appearing (unlikely, but maybe being busy at HPAC could count).  Regardless of his diagnosis or reasons for it, I agree that my sinuses seem to be inflamed, and that perhaps I also have a cold which won't go away, and I'm happy to try something other than antibiotics first.

The next step was to acquire the prescribed nasal spray.  The pharmacy next door welcomed us.  After handing them our prescriptions and health insurance cards, we waited for a much shorter time on their cushioned benches in front of another television.  My previous trips to a different pharmacy had always resulted in a little confusion when they asked me if I had a little booklet.  No I didn't it; and the matter, being filled with confusion, seemed to drop there.  In retrospect perhaps they had given me one; I don't remember and probably threw it away.  But this time I realized, with the help of my friend, that this little booklet is a medicine passport, with stamps for every prescription one has filled.  If only I had known!  I could have been accruing stamps every time I went to the doctor.  And maybe even trying to get more of them and more interesting ones, filling my pages with a history of prescriptions.

But for now, there is only one.  It is for a nasal spray that should at least reduce the inflammation of my sinuses and hopefully help me recover.  The doctor said I'd need to use it every morning for a month.  I'm hoping things improve before then.  The doctor mentioned that he'd been having problems with allergies for the past 5 years, that it is something common to the city life in Japan, that in rural areas it isn't such an issue.  Perhaps so.  It takes a small leap of faith to trust in a foreign medical professional's advice, but I'm happy to try for a bit, and there is little else I can do.  The human body is the human body, and he knows the ailments of Japan far better than I.  So hopefully, a step to health.