With an approximate population of 520,000, Utsunomiya (宇都宮市) is the most populous city in the Tochigi Prefecture of Japan and is also its capital. Due to its capital status, the city of Utsunomiya is not only the center of government in the Tochigi Prefecture, but it is also a center of finance and culture. Only 100km (62 miles) away from Tokyo, Utsunomiya is also a heavily visited tourist destination.
Before playing in the Utsunomiya Concert Hall, I was nervous to be around the building. While researching the city of Utsunomiya and the Concert Hall before our trip, I discovered that on Monday, April 8th 2013, a twenty-one year old man emailed a bomb threat to the hall stating “I will bomb the Utsunomiya Cultural Hall during the entrance ceremony.” He was referring to a vocational college entrance ceremony scheduled for that following Tuesday. On Wednesday, April 10th, police arrested the man after tracing his email.
With tensions caused by North Korea’s angst and the treat of H7N9 avian flu, hearing that a site where we will perform received a bomb threat was the cherry on top of an apprehension filled sundae both my parents and I had. It’s quite an endeavor traveling so far away from home and an even greater undertaking when the people you’re visiting do not speak the same language as you.
Our concert at the Utsunomiya Concert Hall was a dual concert with students from Sakushin Gakuin playing during the first half of the concert and the Wartburg College Wind Ensemble playing during the second half. The band from Sakushin Gakuin was a movement band. For certain songs, musicians would make motions from their chairs (i.e. head bobbing, instrument swinging). Some students even danced in front of the band with pom-poms. They looked like they were having a blast, loving every minute of their performance. I loved their performance! The energy the students' portrayed connected with me and I even recognized some of the songs in their final medley. In the back of my mind, I secretly wished that the WCCB would incorporate a song with motions into a concert. When the Sakushin Gakuin students completed their portion of the concert. Immediately, I wanted to jump up and give them a standing ovation. However, the clapping sounded to be of average enthusiasm. I turned around and no one seemed to be motioning for a standing ovation. I didn't stand out of fear of being awkward and I regret not standing after the fact.
Our portion of the concert went off without a hitch, or at least a strikingly noticeable one. The Utsunomiya Concert Hall is an acoustically superior hall in which an audience member could discern whether a single player was out of tune or missed an entrance on time. When listening to Sakushin Gakuin, I did not pick up on this acoustical feature. Despite not being able to notice a difference, playing in such a hall was a great challenge for all. It forced us to be crisp and unified as a band.
As I scanned the audience during the breaks in my music and noticed most students of Sakushin Gakuin had all their attention fixed on us. Their intrigue and amazement only increased after Black Dog. While he was playing, students' mouths fell open in amazement and a couple clarinet players were trying to understand the fingerings to no avail. When it came time for Yagi Bushi, an "Ooooooooo" of interest spread across the crowd when Doc announce the piece. Even though two percussionists had to play on an awkward Yamaha bass drum, I felt like everyone did a great job and the audience was very receptive of our performance of the traditional Japanese folk song.
To finish the concert, the WCCB and Sakushin Gakuin joined forces to play two final songs as a large ensemble. Under the direction of the Sakushin Gaukin band director, we played a march entitled Now That's Entertainment and then we played The Stars and Stripes Forever with Dr. Hancock conducting.
Overall, the concert was wonderful. I met up with my host parents after the concert and they were so excited! The performance was better than they had anticipated and they were so amazed by the professional nature of our music. As we were driving home, I realized that the email threat I perseverated on during pre-tour never crossed my mind during the day. In more ways than one, it had been a successful day and concert, as well as an excellent experience.