Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Winding down, Summing up

Winding down:

Our trip is now finished. Although we are excited to be back home, many great memories of China and Japan will forever remain. The people during the trip and the places we visited will not soon be forgotten.

We have been gone from Wartburg College for over a month. It is bittersweet to be home. Many of us have been writing in journals to remember some of those experiences that we don’t want to forget. In my journal, I tried to write less about what we did and more about what we noticed along the way. I hope none of us will forget some of those subtleties that make China and Japan so interesting and remarkable.

While preparing for our trip, we focused more heavily on Japan than we did on China. We were obviously excited to go to China and see many amazing places, but sometimes it was thought of as just a detour on our way to Japan. That was wrong. The incredible places we visited will not be easily forgotten and we soon realized how lucky we were to be in China. For example, playing on the Great Wall of China and seeing David propose to Brittany on the Great Wall was pretty memorable (youtube: 'David and Brittany engagement'). We also witnessed the history and impressive archaeology of the Terra Cotta Warriors. Still, the Silk Museum, Forbidden City/Tiananmen Square, Beijing Zoo, Temple of Heaven, and Jade Buddha temple were very special to us. I hope none of us took those experiences for granted. For many of us, this was a once in a lifetime experience.

Honestly, the history of China was so vast we found ourselves lost and confused quite often. But the fact that this country has so much history was fascinating. We could see this history in the customs, architecture, traditions, ceremonies, and people that we came in contact to.

One of my favorite parts of China was leaving the hotel early in the morning with a small group to go explore. Because we weren't able to have home-stays in China, this was a very exciting part of seeing China. China woke up to a new day. We saw businesses starting up, monks praying, people eating breakfast, vendors selling dumplings and egg sandwiches, father and son de-feathering and cleaning chickens, and people patiently waiting for the perfect moment to cross the eternally busy streets. We did it too and it was an experience that cannot be forgeten.

It would be a shame to forget one of the most influential parts of our visit in China. Our Chinese national tour guides were with us throughout Beijing, Xian, and Shanghai. Many of us mentioned that spending time with them made the trip not just possible but also very memorable and fun. Michael and Anthony were a huge blessing for us. They helped in endless ways and were always happy to teach us about the culture and history. They quickly became a part of the family and were missed very much when we left for Tokyo.

One of the best parts of the trip was recollecting spending time with host families in Japan. We had some unforgettable experiences in Japan because of these amazing people that shared their homes, culture, and values with us. It was hard to express in words how special these families have been. No matter how many times we said “Thank you” or “Arigato Gozaimasu,” it could never come close to conveying our real emotions and gratitude that we felt for these families. In this highly digital world, it will be easier to keep in contact. Thank you World Wide Web, Facebook, Gmail… and blogspot!

Part of what made our performances so special was that we had host families to play for. We also had friends to play for because we were able to meet and get to know the students from the schools that we were performing with. This trip has not just been about touring around and giving performances. We have found it to be so much more about the people that we had the opportunity to meet and friendships that resulted from them.

Looking back on the trip, it is interesting to note that we took just about every form of transportation you can imagine. We rode on planes, trains, cars, subways, trolleys, public bus, private bus, rickshaws, and ferry boats. I’m sure some of us did even more with our specific host families.

It is difficult to say everything that should be said. It would take too long unfortunately. But we don’t want to spoil the surprise of what Asia has to offer. If you can, go and experience some of these things for yourself. Maybe you can write a blog yourself and explain how your eyes have been opened to a whole new culture like ours were. The language barrier was an example. However, no matter what language you speak, we have found smiles, laughter, and music to always be universal languages!

Summing up:

We performed concerts in Beijing, Xian, Shanghai, Ichikawa, Utsonomia, Kumamoto, and Uto.

We visited at least a dozen cities, including: Beijing, Xian, Shanghai, Tokyo, Ichikawa, Nikko, Utsonomia, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Miyajima Island, Kumamoto, and Uto. (I personally want to include Nasu on my list because one of my wonderful host families lived in that town, about an hour north of Utsonomia).

We performed various joint-concerts with local school and community bands, heard performances from some amazing Japanese bands, had the opportunities to have clinics with Japanese school bands and play a couple songs together, played on the Great Wall of China, etc.

We hope you have enjoyed this blog. The Wartburg Wind Ensemble has enjoyed writing about these unforgettable experiences and sharing them with you along the way has been very special. If you have not been to Asia, we hope you will have a better idea of the people, places, and culture that make up China and Japan. Maybe you will have the opportunity to go someday. If you do, don’t forget to make your own blog so your friends and family can see it too! We thank you for taking the time to read and discover parts of asia with us.

Huge thank you to Dr. Craig Hancock, Dr. Eric Wachmann, Kiyoshi Miyamoto, Anthony and Michael from China, our host families in Japan, Concert and Study Tours, donors, family, friends, and everyone that made this trip possible.

Jeremy Idler
Wartburg College Concert Bands
May 2013

Thank You Band - Todd Souhrada

Doc and Eric, I just wanted to take a moment to express my sincere appreciation to both of you  for allowing me to attend your concert in Ichikawa and to spend a couple of days with my daughter.  After being away from home and family for so long I certainly appreciated the time I had to visit with Aren.    It was a fun time and I enjoyed every minute of it. I have been here for nearly a year and I have spent most of my time here alone and working.  Therefore, spending a few days with my daughter and then being blessed with an opportunity to watch, observe and attend your concert was an absolute treat.  I will forever be in your debt for the hospitality you all showed me.

I would also like to take a few moments to tell you how impressed I was with the young men and women that you have playing in your band.  I was absolutely taken back by the polite demeanor and respect that each of them displayed toward me.  I realize that I was an inconvenience to the group as an outsider but never did any of them make me feel that way.  The mature attitude that was displayed throughout my visit was very impressive.  I witnessed a young lady give up her seat on the train for an elderly gentlemen without hesitation, I witnessed their generosity when helping out their fellow band member with money issues and when the work needed to be done everybody pitched in and helped without asking or being told.  Most of all I witnessed a bunch of young people that come from different places work together to make such wonderful music and I have to say that each and everyone of them are truly blessed with a gift.  As a leader of soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines in my Navy career I have worked with many young men and women over my 15 years and I can tell you that I would stack up this bunch with the best of them.  I was truly impressed with their discipline, dedication and loyalty to their band, their director, their fellow members and to their country.  And it gives me a wonderful feeling to know that these individuals are our next generation of leaders in our society.  They are an absolutely wonderful bunch of young people and I cannot say enough good things about all of them.  I truly felt like one of the them even if for only a day or two which made the experience all the better.

Please pass this along for me and thank them for making me feel so comfortable while visiting and intruding on their trip.  I will truly remember those few days forever as they were special time for me and my daughter but also for the wonderful hospitality and generosity you all showed toward me!

I thank you for allowing me to be part of your Wartburg family for a few days and it gives me great comfort to know that my daughter has so many good friends in her life.  Being gone so long from home makes a man worry about his family.  I can tell you that after spending a few days with all of you I can honestly say that I will worry less about who my daughter associates with in her life.  If she picked a nice bunch of kids like you as friends I know she is headed in the right direction.


LCDR Todd Souhrada, USN
COMNAVFORJAPAN N2 Plans, Exercise,
Senior Watch Officer and Senior Military Adviser

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Performance for the Performers; "Hard Work and Dedication" b

From Sunday, May 19th

I cannot believe that this is our last full day in Japan. This has been a wonderful trip; it has been the trip of a lifetime! Alas, all things must come to an end, and this is the end of our group's tour. Today was a free day with our host families. We were free to do what we wanted to do with our host families, but it was highly encouraged that we attend a sporting event and ceremony at the Kakujo Middle School. Several members of the Wind Ensemble came to watch the event; our family stayed for the entirety of the sporting event, as one of their daughters was in the day's events on multiple occasions. The event, from beginning to end, resembled an American track and field meet, however, this meet was much more ceremonious. The day started with the raising of flags, much like an American sporting event would. Then, however, there was a presentation of flags, which I found to be unusual. The flags were of three different colors and were given to three students. Then I noticed that all of the rest of the students were wearing headbands matching the colors of the flags. My host father explained to me that the Middle School was divided into three separate teams by colors, and the school teams competed with each other, and not with other area schools, as would often be the case in the United States. The students also did a lot of bowing on command.


After the presentation of the flags, the opening ceremony took place. The ceremony was extremely impressive on its own, and was made even more impressive by the fact that the students were on a field completely made of sand and the weather was raining very hard. The first of the two halves of the opening ceremony consisted of an all men's group performing acrobatics and movements to the beat of a drummer at the head of the group. The performers went through several poses, formations, and personnel arrangements throughout the course of the ceremony. Most amazing, however, was the final formation in the boy's opening ceremony. Many of the smaller and younger boys were situated almost directly in front of the audience with their arms locked with one another, making what appeared to be waves rippling back and forth. The other boys divided and created three human pyramids, each seven boys high. This feat was made all the more impressive by the fact that the rain made this stunt much more difficult and dangerous. However, the boys and their coaches were dedicated to their hard work and determined to put on a show, and performed the stunt anyway.

After the boys' ceremony came the girls' ceremony. Their portion of the opening events was much more dance-based and was choreographed to a song which was played over the PA system. I asked Megumi-san what the song was, and she told me it was a "Song of the Fishermen," which made perfect sense to me when I looked closer at the girls' movements. They appeared to be sweeping back and forth, much like a fisherman would do while swinging nets ashore. All of the girls wore several different colors of robes, which added to the flare and to the "showiness" of the performance. Their choreography required a great deal of balance and coordination, which was also impacted by the rainy conditions. In spite of the weather, the girls performed their part of the opening festivities well, which then lead straight into the day's sporting events.

Only two events of the several which were scheduled were actually performed due to the rain. First, the students participated in a relay race. This took place like any American track and field relay race would, except that the relay was co-ed, which I found interesting. However, their running track was completely made of sand and, as a result, there were several slips, falls, and unintentional slides over the course of the relay. I felt bad for those who fell down in front of hundreds of people; they couldn't help the fact that the track was so slippery.

After the relay came the cheering squads for each of the three teams. Each team's cheer squad was allotted five minutes to perform their choreographed act. All of these acts were choreographed to a drum, much like the boy's portion of the opening ceremony. Both men and women were equally represented in the cheer squads' acts. Each team had its own squad and its own cheering act. The artistry and precision of these groups was superior to many American cheer squads that I've seen.

After a thirty minute intermission in which the students were able to clean off and reorganize, there was a parade of all of the school's sporting and interest clubs. Among the clubs were the band (which headed the parade with their instruments and music, much like a marching band), choir, softball, tennis, table tennis, running, swimming, and many other groups. As it turns out, one of my host sisters, Jun, was captain of the school's swimming team (which was awesome to find out!).

[Host sister Jun (left) and a friend]

[Jun and the Swimming Club]

The day's events concluded with a closing ceremony, consisting of a final presentation of the three flags and an announcement of the winners. As it turns out, all three teams were considered winners by the judges and there was no single team which won the day. All of the students were rewarded equally for their hard work and dedication. I thought this was good, as I didn't feel that any one team outperformed any of the others. The day's events were very well done and were astounding to say the least. It felt good to watch the fruits of another performing group's hard work, after doing so many performances ourselves. I was happy to have attended the event and was thrilled to have spent the day with my host family at this wonderful showing of talent.

What a great part of our final day in Japan this was.

-Levi Endelman

Saturday, May 18, 2013

It's never "Goodbye", it's always "See You Later"- Mollie Emerson

The time has finally come; we hit our last concert. 

This particular performance was jammed packed with lots of different acts. The concert hall in which we were at, Uto Shimin Kaikan Concert Hall, was beautiful. The acoustics were great and our sound excelled through the audience.
The performance started out with a brief Japanese play about growing rice and praying to the rice gods.

Following that, we witnessed an authentic taiko performance. This was fun to watch, but the taiko outfit was a little short on clothing.. But it was amazing!

After the taiko solo, we watched 6 different traditional Japanese dances by some fantastic women. It was everything that we had been researching in one performance.

Following the dances, there was a brief exchange of gifts and the city of uto gave us 5 plants to bring home. During all this, there was a set change behind the curtain. After the exchange, one of the local middle school bands played 3 songs for the audience. 

Then there was another set change. We were invited to play 3 songs with the community band! Their director conducted the first two pieces we played; Rock Version and Brass Rock: Pomp and Circumstance. Dr. Hancock conducted our last piece, it was a melody of Japanese songs and the community band director sang them while we played. 

Then there was about a 10 minute break while we set up for our final portion of the concert. By this time, we were all already hot and we knew the rest of the concert was going to be rough, but we were ready for the challenge. During the song Yagi-Bushi, all of our percussionist got to play on different taikos! It made the song sound amazing!

Peter and Jessie

During Stars and Stripes forever, Riko, a middle school student came out and directed us! It was fun and I think we made her life!! 

Brittany Manning directed Nearer My God to Thee and The Lord Bless You and tears were flowing. I will admit that I cried twice that night..

These seniors that are graduating are wonderful. They will be greatly miss and I'm glad I had them to look up to. Thank you for your leadership :) 

It is weird to be done performing now, but this group has had a fantastic year and I couldn't have asked for a better group of people to tour Asia!

-Mollie Emerson

Friday, May 17, 2013

Taiko Drums -Siri Hansen

Happi Times

One of the big things we did today, May 18, 2013, was centered around Taiko drums.  This morning I went with my host family to a Taiko drum museum.  We wore happi.  Happi is what you wear when you play Taiko drums.  My host family told me that each of the areas in this town had their own drum a long time ago and each of these drums was in this museum and we got to play them.  When we joined the rest of the students in the auditorium we had a Taiko demonstration done for us.  He played the drums louder and faster than I have ever heard anyone play. We each got a chance to try playing the drums (there were enough for about a third of us at a time) and we performed a small “concert” in three groups for each other.  There were three types of drums also.  One was giant—taller than any of us! Another you sit on the ground and wrap your feet around it and lean back to play.  The last one that was demonstrated was one that had a shoulder strap and a drum head on each side.

Hearing the Taiko demonstration and getting to play the drums was one of my favorite things we have done so far in Japan.  I have had a lot of people be really excited to see me (because I have blonde hair and pale skin) and many people impressed by our concert.  However, this was a great opportunity for us to be not only interested in their culture but also impressed by them.  One of our members tried playing one of the larger drums and broke the stick!  But he wasn’t even playing half as loud as our demonstrator! I was shocked by the amount of force used to play these drums the right way.  I think if we used that much force on the drums we used at our concerts at school they would break or fall over.  I can’t wait to see these Taiko drums used the way we learned today at our concert.

Uto Schools-Katie Aldrich

    This afternoon the wind ensemble traveled to Uto, Kumamoto. This city was founded in 1958 and has a population of about 38,000. Upon arrival in Uto, we split into four smaller groups, each anticipating different destinations for the day's activities. The first group visited with the mayor of Uto and the governor of Kumamoto. The second group went to a performance put on by the Kakujo Middle School.The second group participated in planned activities at the Uto Elementary School. Last, but not least, the group I was fortunate enough to be a part of had an assembly to attend at the Uto Higashi Elementary. 
      Higashi Elementary school houses 291 students grades 1-6. These students welcomed us with the waving of their homemade American flags. The assembly began with an introduction from each of the Wartburg students. Next, the Wartburg senior clarinet quartet (Erika Verberg, Brittany Manning, Chelsea Hill, Stephanie Reinert) performed three selections. The students all watched carefully with big smiles on their faces. On the stage, behind the clarinetists, there were two flags: the flag of the United States of America and the flag of Japan. The purpose of the event was to promote good relationships between countries of different cultures and the power of music as an international language. Therefore, the students of Higashi Elementary presented us with their music next. The students sang their school song and another well-known Japanese song. All of the Wartburg students were impressed with the quality of music that the students presented. The final portion of the program was a gift presentation. Several students of the Higashi Elementary school made each Wartburg student a newspaper helmet. This was a tradition of Children's day, which was celebrated on May 5th. The helmets wished upon us good health, and strength. We wore them very proud. After the conclusion of the assembly, the Wartburg students were bombarded by the Higashi students for pictures. We enjoyed taking photos with them and talking with them. They were incredibly excited about us being at their school, which gave us such a welcoming and heartwarming experience. 

Kindergarteners in Kumamoto!--Catherine Wilcox

Our final activity in Kumamoto was by far one of my favorite parts of the trip. We visited the kindergarten class at a Lutheran school near the Kumamoto Ooe Church. There were dozens of kindergarteners, all excited to see us. Mothers of the kindergarteners sat in the back of the room and watched the class. There were multiple teachers who helped control the restless children. At the beginning of class, the students stood and turned around to welcome us.

It was a very special day for the kindergarteners. Today, the class celebrated all the students' birthdays that were in April and May. Each student was called to the front and wore a hat with the face of Kumamon the panda, who is the mascot of Kumamoto. After all the kindergarteners were called to the front, our own April and May birthdays joined them. Dr. Hancock, having a May birthday, was among those who were recognized. The kindergarteners sang a Japanese birthday song for everybody with April and May birthdays.

The kindergarteners prepared Japanese songs to perform for us. Although we didn't know the words, we clapped and hummed along. Once they had finished, a group of Wartburg students went up front and sang for the children. We sang songs such as "Old McDonald" and "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." For the grand finale, we all sang "The Lord Bless You and Keep You" and the Wartburg College Loyalty song.

As a music education major, I enjoyed the visit very much. The Japanese kindergarteners were very much like American kindergarteners: restless, excitable, and very cute. They all enjoyed singing and dancing to their favorite songs and some joined our actions when we sang. I don't think anybody could help smiling when the kindergarteners greeted us or how much they clapped after we sang for them. This was an enriching experience not just for music educators, but for the entire band.