Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Plethora of Firsts

As we finish up the Japan concert tour, I wanted to share some of my firsts.

Japan from the Air
Being in Japan
Or in Asia for that matter. It goes without saying that it's very different from home, but I've enjoyed my time here tremendously.

First Sonos Tour
While some of the crew have toured in Japan six times previously, this is my first. I had no idea what to expect: how grueling would the pace be? Will I keep up?

Same Concert 10 Times
It's very different doing the same show over and over. We started getting the whole setup done in barely any time at all; everyone just knew what needed to be done. Even during the show, the tech all went smoother and we all learned the music better than I thought possible. And now with 10 shows done I think we're finally ready to go on tour ;-) 

Playing a Taiko Drum
While the picture isn't of me, I got to bang around on it too... highly recommended!

First One Wounded
No picture of this one (you're welcome). We hadn't been off the aircraft even for 1 minute and I was already bleeding. I don't even know how it happened... something cut my thumb up though.

Hanging With the Empress
Watched the Kiriku concert with the empress. She was looking over my shoulder the entire time.

Kiriku Concert
A few people had been talking about this great (I was told the best, anywhere) handbell group in Tokyo... and since they were having a concert we should go. To put it mildly, Kiriku surpassed even the high expectations I was given. They were amazing! And getting a standing ovation from the empress... not bad. Later on, I even got to meet and have dinner with the Kiriku folks - not sure you could meet a nicer bunch.

My Lust for Crust
One of the most interesting oddities (to me anyway) in Japan is the distinct lack of crust on their sandwiches.  Often, we would be given a pack of sandwiches to eat whilst rehearsing and preparing for a concert, and always these sandwiches lacked crust.  It wasn't that the Japanese figured a way to bake bread crustless, but it was actively being removed.
Thinking this may have been done specially for us, as we were guests, I went on a hunt around the various cities for crust.  Every sandwich I found also was missing its outermost jacket.
It took nearly 3 weeks, but I finally got a crust-laden sandwich.

International Incident
Leave it to Joe...
I was waiting for the elevator at the Keio Plaza hotel and there was a group of guys there. The eldest (probably around 50) said something to me. I recognized the inflection as a question, but I sure didn't understand, so I did what any good American traveling abroad would do and said "sorry, English."
Next thing I knew the guy was yelling at the top of his lungs "Chi-si! Chi-si!" and pointing at me... obviously very angry... then the 20-ish guy in their group comes up to me and asks where I'm from. "Ummm... California...' I managed to mutter. He said something to his elder and the situation seemed to diffuse.
Let me explain to those of you, like me, don't follow the highly charged and often violent world of professional soccer/football... because, let's face it, we just don't care that much in the States. The Brazilian team Corinthians was playing the English team Chelsea in Japan for some tournament. And the man I met was enough of a fan that he flew halfway around the world to watch a single game. And when I said English, he thought I meant the team...
Note to self, check the soccer schedule before traveling abroad.

End of Tour

We had our last concert this afternoon in Koganei, a subburb of Tokyo where they built a new concert hall just a year ago. It's a small, beautiful, wooden hall seating 578 and was almost full. We would love to bring it back to the East Bay. Indeed, we would love to have at home any of the halls we played in in Japan. Beautiful structures with amazing acoustics.

The audience was with us all the way, clapping rhythmically during the famous Viennese Radetzky March and sitting reverentially for almost 2½ minutes after our wonderful cellist, Emil Miland, did an even more amazing performance of Smirti ('Remembrance', played in honor of those who lost their lives and possessions in the Fukushima earthquake/tsunami). 2½ minutes is an incredibly long time for an audience to sit motionless. They only started to clap when the house lights began to come up. It was a very deep magic moment, just the kind we hope for after this work. It's very rewarding to me as the composer to feel that we touch people deeply. Many came up afterwards and told us how much they appreciated the feeling that Smirti generated.

The Sonosians did a terrific job for the whole tour, really putting their bodies, hearts and souls into wonderful performances all over the country. We've played for 6,700 people, bringing them our particular kind of joy.

Three spouses accompanied us on the tour. Lois's hubby David was again our exceedingly capable company manager and photo documentarian; Patti's tall, brilliant and soulful Warren spent time visiting the locales and getting to know the locals in ways we did not have time to; Cheryl's adoring, generous Jan did a Trojan effort schlepping, fixing, fetching, photographing and organizing anything we needed but could not seem to find.

And a word about our 'newbies,' Barbara, Gretchen (who commuted from southern CA for rehearsals with Michèle and Sunghee) and Joe. You have now been initiated into 'Sonoz', the crazy, wacky world of touring with Sonosians. You all survived beautifully, performed with skill, energy and enthusiasm and managed not to kill or be killed by anyone else. On an 18-day tour to a foreign country, that's a remarkable achievement.

Some more thanks are in order:

First to Emil.....this is the first time we have taken a guest artist on our Japanese tours. I knew you would do us proud not only in your music making (of the highest order) but also in your generous and spirited comaraderie. You charmed and moved us and our audiences, what more could we have hoped for. Michèle, Cheryl, Diane and Jason also contributed their flute, percussion and clarinet talents to give so much more variety to our programing.

Tess deserves our thanks (and sympathies) for the huge expenditure of time and energy dealing with the consulate in SF for visas plus managing all of the equipment, a humongous chore with all of the bell cases and other assorted sundries needed to make this handbell beast purr while on tour.

Last, but certainly not least, bankers are held in very low esteem these days, mostly in inverse proportion to their salaries, but Lois as the Chairperson of the Board of the Bank of Sonos (known as the BS) keeps track of the funds (as David disperses) and keeps track of who owes what. In addition she is the quiet ombudsperson who sews, mends, manages the CD sales reconciliation, creates out of nothing anything needed, sweeps the halls for anything left behind and all the while eschews any credit or recognition, the closest thing to a saint of anyone I know (Lois, I know I'll catch it for this but it's true!). She is greatly revered by us all.

If I've left anything or anyone out I can only blame it on the hour being 2:30 AM.


Friday, December 21, 2012


I took the Shinkansen from Fukuoka to Hiroshima on December 19.  The Fukuoka subway station was steps from the hotel and only a couple of stops from the JR station. I bought a reserved seat on the Shinkansen as a hedge against crowds, but my car only had a smattering of passengers.  At 0830 I was off toward Honshu at 180 mph.

Hiroshima weather was changeable, but I had borrowed an umbrella at the hotel desk and set out on the streets to see the city rather than taking the streetcar. I was headed to the central point in the city, the Memorial Peace Park.

The reconstruction of the city to rival any other in Japan should not be surprising, but it felt strange that everywhere I was walking was leveled almost 70 years ago, a situation common to cities visited by Allied bombing in Germany and Japan alike.

The walk to the Memorial Park was not quite an hour, and I immediately arrived at the Genbaku Dome, an icon known throughout the world.  Located midway between the intended target of the weapon and the actual hypocenter 200m away, the building was the only structure left standing, like a testament of human resolve against destruction. Even the rubble left at the building's foundations was carefully preserved.

The park was immediately across the waterway. Various memorials are placed in the wooded areas and walking paths. The most moving was the "Memorial to the Victims of the Atomic Bomb."  The structure resembled the theme of the Vietnam War Memorial, with a indoor path spiraling downward into the earth.  Alcoves on the path explained the story of that day and the victims, leading to a well deep underground.  A large diorama encircled the room, depicting the destroyed city in exquisite mosaic tiles.  Caption stones were inlaid below identifying the different neighborhoods and structures destroyed.  A fountain in the center offered the gentle sound of water, representing the victims who cried for a drink in the aftermath.

Admission to the museum at the south end of the park was only 50 yen.  It presented the history of the city before, during and after the war.  There was no hypocrisy.  The exhibits told the story Japan's imperial past and Hiroshima's vital cultural, industrial and military role over centuries and in the Pacific War. Exhibits meticulously explained the science and geopolitics of the US and Allies leading to the manufacture and use of the weapon.  Elaborate models showed the state of the city before and after the detonation. Posters explained the effects.

I was most overcome by small, personal items.  A tricycle with enamel bubbled and scorched.

A metal lunchbox inscribed with a child's name. The contents were charcoal.

My heart full, I returned to 21st century streets. I passed underneath a busy intersection by an underground shopping passage.  Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride" played in the background.  I smiled.

The Peace Memorial Park is not limited to events surrounding August 6, 1945, but points to a future free of conflicts that lead to weapons of mass destruction. I arrived in Fukuoka that evening for Sonos' performance. They invited the audience on stage to mingle with the performers while trying the bells and chimes. The happiness of two peoples coming together stood in contrast to the stories earlier that day. There truly is hope.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Very Short Visit to Sendai

Our time in Sendai was way too short.  We left Morioka by bullet train on Thursday 12/13.

 Almost all of our sight-seeing opportunities were during the walk from the train station to the hotel.

We stayed at the Hotel Monterey Sendai, which had castle-like decor.  Sorry, but I cannot figure out how to get the pictures to turn upright when entered into this blog.

This is inside the hotel's elevator.  Most hotels nowadays have a digital display.  This one entertained us with its sliding bell-like indicator, as we traveled up to our rooms.

Sendai had another exquisite hall.  This is the Tokyo Electron Hall Miyagi, as we begin to unpack our equipment.

We've still got to find a way to take pictures during the concert, or at least dress for a rehearsal so we can get some performance pictures that way.

Since this was an evening concert, it was straight to bed.  Then we leave the next morning for Shinjuku (Tokyo area).

Madoka Koike Sendai Philharmonic Orchestra Violinist

We were blessed to have an excellent violinist join us for our concert in Sendai.  Madorka Koike is a true professional who brings a lovely tone and sensitivity to her music.  She is also a joy to work with.

Here she is playing with the outstanding cellist Emil Miland and (of course) Sonos.  I believe that they are experiencing one of those special musical moments.

What would a tour be without a group shot?

The Mayans Were Right

It's December 21, and the rumors were wrong.  The world did not end.

Instead, we begin another Mayan calendar.  Today is also the winter solstice - the shortest day and longest night of the year.

So we're off to the Tokyo suburb's fish market.  The call time is 2:30pm for the bus to our 6:30pm performance at Nikkei Hall in Tokyo.

So go have a great day!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

And so it begins...

Day 13: The beginning of the end for us.  Until now, the adventure has been fairly calm and we've yet to attract the gaze of the enemy: sleep, tiredness, lack of focus, stress.  I'm afraid, however, that our halcyon days are coming to an end.

Last night was the first of the grueling marathon we knew we would face at the end of our journey.  We had a wonderful concert in Fukuoka, in another beautiful hall with an enthusiastic and appreciative audience.  We're looking forward to another concert today, hopefully exhibiting those same characteristics.  Then, another concert the next day... and the next... and the next...

The schedule worked out that we had four concerts in the first 12 days of our tour... and then five concerts in a row before we fly home.  Yes, we've reached crunch time, ladies and gentlemen, when we separate the men from the boys, the women from the girls.

While this will be an endurance test, at the same time it's a chance we rarely have - continual, unrelenting performance and opportunities to grow and learn together.  It ain't easy, but damn will we kick butt by the end of this trip.

I know we'll be exhausted by the end.  I know there'll be times we'll wonder "why the heck are we putting ourselves through this?"  But... when you're up on that stage, the spotlights on, sharing your music with your fellow ringers and your audience, and that single, pure moment of joy and expression alights on you... it's all worth it.

This is what we live for.



Our time in Niigata was wonderful!  This time we stayed at the Niigata Grand Hotel, and grand it was!

As is extremely common here, our hotel included a wedding chapel and even a little organ!

 The concert hall was fabulous.  Probably getting tired of me saying that, eh?

 A good portion of the rehearsal time at each hall is working out the lighting.  There's quite a bit going on at the beginning of the show, and it just takes lots of time to get all the lights ready.  We always have to line up for Sonics, spike everything, and make sure the lights are correct:

This is my setup for Sonics.  Michele has a similar setup on her side of the stage.

The stage is completely bare at the beginning of the concert, except for a mass of spikes and the two bell fans.  This is all there is:

I caught Joe fooling around, just banging away and having a ball.

(BTW, I do a heckuva lot of "banging" in Sonics, and I have a ball, too!!)

Before each concert they feed us.  Generally, we get "Bento" boxes, which are prepared, hot trays with rice, usually some meat, lots of fish, and perhaps some veggies.  I'm surprised nobody's taken any Bento pictures - that's usually a staple of the Sonos Japan tour blog. ;)

Here we are getting ready backstage and just centering ourselves for the show:

This is a sweet shot of my honey and our primo celliste, Emil Miland:

Aren't they cute?


Tuesday, December 18, 2012


We went to Kamakura to see temples and Buddhas and to play Sakura Sakura for residents of some senior homes. The weather was gray, but it was a beautiful day.

First stop was a big temple on a hill, not far from the train station. These sake barrels are stacked outside.

Here's Gretchen on the steps.

 We stopped for lunch at a lovely soba noodle restaurant that had room for all of us. Sunghee taught us out to make chopstick rests out of the paper they come in. Warren's hands are at work here making a more creative version.

"This is a shot of the menu. Warren and I both had the one that is described as, "Please enjoy with the soup of the French product wild duck which stewed." It was excellent, and very welcome on a cold day.
 Wandering through the streets was fun. Kamakura is a great shopping place. Lots of locally made specialties. Along the way, we saw the Kamakura personhole cover, and these orchids.
Five of us broke off after lunch, with Tamamura-san and our translator, Miyuko. We walked to one senior home, then took taxis to the next. On the way to the first, we passed several surf shops along the coast. As we were shivering our way along the shore, we saw a bunch of windsurfers out on the water.

The residents really appreciated our playing. They sang along, which always brings on some tears for me. After a short visit to the Daibutsu, Mr. Tamamura wanted a coffee break, so we stopped in a tiny place for dessert and tea or coffee. One woman prepared and served all. Here is the group.

According to Miyuko, the note on the right (which was hanging on the door of the restaurant) says that Barack Obama stopped in here after a visit to the Daibutsu when he was a boy. There is also a city in Japan called Obama. And we saw a news clipping in downtown Kamakura of President Obama on a visit. Where is he from again?

And, one of the highlights of the day was when Warren realized that, after lunch, he had inadvertently zipped his coats together. He said, "Jim, I'm ready for Sonics."

Disney Sea!

Barbara, Gretchen, Tess, Sunghee, Warren and I made our way to Tokyo Disney on Sunday. It was the nicest day we've had weather-wise since we've been here. Good weather + Sunday = Massive Crowds! Loooooong lines. Disappearing Fast Passes. That salmon-swimming-upstream feeling most of the day. But, we had a really great day.

When we arrived, we took some photos outside the park. What was this little girl looking at?

                                     Why, these crazy Americans, of course.

We got on the monorail to head into the park. All were a-bubble with anticipation.

The food was better than I ever remember at Tokyo Disney. For lunch we all had a various curries and naan bread. Dessert for me was a mango mousse cake. At dinner time, we had some good Chinese food. This time dessert was a mango mousse, which was not as mango-y as the lunch version, but was much cuter. Here it is..... the Mango Mickey Mousse.

We were happily, thoroughly, pleasantly pooped when we left the park around 9:30 p.m and made our way back to the Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku.