In Utsunomiya, the Wind Ensemble shared two concerts with the Sakushin Gaukin high school band. In each of the concerts, the Sakushin Gaukin band was featured first alone, the Wartburg Wind Ensemble followed them, and then the two bands combined and played two pieces.
The first concert was held in the gymnasium of Sakushin Gaukin high school. They started the concert with an indoor marching band show, or as they call it, movement band. Just like marching band as we know it, they had a color guard, a drum major, a pit, and of course, they moved while they played. The performance they put on was phenomenal! It was unlike any marching band that I had ever seen. The color guard was dressed in traditional Japanese outfits, and there were times when they did not have flags and were just dancing. Typically, in marching band, the players have trouble staying together because they are so far apart, but this was not a problem at all for this band. On top of that, they had all of their music memorized, and there were many featured soloists, including Saki, a trumpet player that the Wartburg trumpet section got to know the night before at our section bonding. Overall, this band was very impressive, and what I was most awestruck by was their dynamic contrast. After the movement band performance, they got into a concert set and played more music in a traditional concert band setting. Once again, I was floored; I cannot recall a time hearing a high school band playing music that difficult and that well.
After their performance, we formed the set for our concert. Before every rehearsal and concert, one student will stand in front of the band and give a devotion. These devotions can be motivational, funny, creative, or all of the above. At this concert, Alex Harrison (the birthday boy) gave a devotion in front of the band and the audience. In his devotion, he reminded us of the concert in Schaumburg, Illinois, where certain elderly audience members were so moved by the music that they started dancing. To make his point clearer, Alex demonstrated a dance that one audience member did. Some of the female students enjoyed Alex’s dancing and gave him some encouragement by whistling at him. Our portion of the concert went very well, despite being in a gymnasium. The conductor of Nearer My God to Thee and The Lord Bless You and Keep You was Chelsea Hill, a clarinet player.
Then, the Sakushin Gaukin students helped us add chairs and stands into the set so we could combine. We played two pieces: Entertainment March, conducted by the Sakushin Gaukin director, and Stars and Stripes Forever, conducted by Dr. Hancock.
The next day, we played a similar concert at the Utsunomiya-Shi Cultural Hall. Once again, the Sakushin Gaukin band played first. The only difference between their performance at the high school and the performance at the Cultural Hall was that they did not do the movements at the Cultural Hall. They played the same songs, sitting in a concert set, and the dancers performed in front of the director. Like the concert at the high school, there was a devotion before our portion of the concert, this time by Katelynn Schwennen. Our portion of the concert was better than the day before. The stage at the Cultural Hall had such spectacular acoustics that an audience member could single any one person out if they were not on time for an entrance or if they were even the slightest bit out of tune. While this showed off our talents in some pieces, it was certainly a hefty challenge for others. The conductor of Nearer My God to Thee and The Lord Bless You and Keep You was Liz McElligott, a flute player. It was definitely a good experience for us all to play on a stage like that. The concert ended with the combined bands again and then each director presented the other with gifts. It was a very heart-warming experience.
The students at Sakushin Gaukin were so welcoming to us. Even though there were language and cultural barriers, there were so many similarities between the students in the Sakushin Gaukin band and the Wartburg Wind Ensemble. Through this experience, we have many Japanese friends that we hope to keep in contact with when we return to the U.S.