THEIR PLACE IN THE GLOBAL COMMUNITY WITH BAMBOO INSTRUMENTS
made their own percussion and wind instruments, with which
to jam with Japanese musicians in a Lincoln Center concert
expressing Japan's gratitude for the world's support during
its Earthquake and Tsunami.
this is going to drive my mom crazy!," exclaimed
Safouane Chestnut, age 8, celebrating his new-found ability
to make tones on the hora. Photo by Lee Wexler/Images
from the children," declared Mitsuo Tamura, director
of the concert, "Overcoming the Disaster: Gratitude from
Japan to the World." The event was about to be presented
by The Japan Foundation at Frederick P. Rose Hall, home of
Jazz at Lincoln Center on Tuesday, March 6. It is one of a
worldwide series of free concerts that has been dispatched
by the Japan Foundation to convey the Japanese people's sincere
gratitude to the global community for its tremendous outpouring
of support during the Great Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami.
Now it was March 4, the Sunday before the performance, and
13 children, ages six to 13, all from Manhattan's Lower East
Side, had joined musicians from the concert--all from Japan--at
Avenue C Studios, 55 Ave. C (near E. 4th Street) for a Bamboo
Instrument Making Workshop.
Kitamura guides Charley Forgeois (yes, her name's Charley)
in filing a take bera. Photo by Lee Wexler/Images
The job of the
day was to fabricate the very instruments the kids would play
in the actual concert Tuesday night at Lincoln Center. A spacious,
white-walled dance studio in Manhattan's East Village was
set up with work tables, a gigantic bamboo marimba and a large
taiko drum that would be played by Ondekoza, Japan's premiere
taiko orchestra. Musicians from Ondekoza were in attendance,
as were other musicians from the concert: Umezu Chibi Brass
(a quartet of two saxophones, trombone and tuba); Ochi Brothers
(a percussion duo), Sizzle Ohtaka (a vocalist ), Suguru Ikeda
(a stringed instrument player from Okinawa) and Kimihiro Kitamura
(originator of "Bamboo Orchestra" and specialist
in the fabrication of bamboo instruments). It was Kimihiro
Kitamura, dressed in a denim shirt, who primarily instructed
the kids, translated by Kanako Hiyama, who was born in Japan
but now lives in Brooklyn.
There were thirteen
work stations laid out, each equipped with notched rails into
which the bamboo stalks would fit for cutting and finishing.
Bamboo from Japan had been flown in for the job, both green
stalks, young and wide, and aged stalks, pre-cut into slats.
Protective gloves were issued to prevent against splinters.
Kids were coached in using the tools by the Japanese musicians,
with a little help from their parents, who were encouraged
to join in.
The kids had seen
bamboo before (some said, in the zoo) but none could say they
had touched it. They were surprised to learn about the bamboo's
life: it's a grass, not a tree, and it can grow to about sixty
feet high in about a month. Each piece of bamboo, it was explained,
is an individual: its tone changes as it ages. The young musicians
were to give voice to the bamboo.
Kitamura guides the kids in making take bera, or musical
sticks. Photo by Lee Wexler/Images for Innovation.
Their first job
was to create take bera, or musical sticks. First, you had
to pick out nearly matching sticks from a pre-cut supply.
The better ones, Mr. Kitamura explained, have a wide section
above the rib. You had to match them as well as you could,
then cut them to equal lengths by trimming with a Japanese
Fitting the sticks
into the notched rails (sugi), the kids cut them with a bamboo
saw (take nokogiri) and smoothed them them with a file (yasuri)
and sandpaper (kami yasuri). Knocking their curved sides together,
take bera make a sound that's a lot like the wooden blocks
you hear in western orchestras.
sound. It starts in silence," taught Ondekoza's Raiki
Machida, who speaks perfect English because he was actually
was born in Boston. "By breathing in and creating sounds,
we all make sound together." And they did. A surprising
unity and harmony emerged among the young ensemble. Machida
conducted them, through gestures and pantomime, into first
loud, then soft sounds. The Umezu Chibi Brass joined in. It
age 9, plays piano but had never played anything like bamboo
sticks before. "I liked it best when we were all playing
fast," she declared. Milo Webster, age 6, said he felt
proud. Lila Meretzky, age 13, felt like there was a "big
connection in the room." She was not nervous. None of
Schmidt cuts out a hora pipe. Photo by Eva Ostrowska.
After a snack break
came construction of a large wind instrument called the bamboo
hora. Hora means conch, like those large seashells that become
Neptune's horn in Greek mythology. The hora is made from a
wide section of bamboo, three to four inches wide. Bamboo
grows in sections, each separated by a fushi, or separation
between the cells. The stalk is cut so the fushi remains on
one side and what you get is a tube that is closed at one
end by the fushi. On the open side, a one-inch hole is drilled
and then smoothed with a file and sandpaper. To play the hora,
it helps to have experience on the trumpet, because you blow
into the hole as you would into a trumpet's mouthpiece. The
tones don't vary much in pitch, but you make music by varying
the length of the bursts. A wind instrument is not as easy
to work as striking two sticks together, so naturally it was
a longer process for the kids to feel able with the hora.
is going to drive my mom crazy!," exclaimed Safouane
Chestnut, age 8, celebrating his new-found ability to make
tones. Indeed, every little boy blew his hora into his mom's
ear, if she was there. (It was not a pleasure I saw them inflict
on their dads.)
At the final part
of the workshop, there was an ensemble-building exercise and
a rehearsal of how they would perform in the concert Tuesday
night. The kids struck their take bera in surprising synchrony.
Improvising with the Ochi Brothers' drums, they were drawn
into complex rhythms, sometimes answering a riff with three
sharp raps, other times, seeming to exchange rhythms like
a question-and-answer session. Ondekoza joined on the giant
marimba, backed up by a large taiko drum. The kids, conducted
by Raiki Machida, answered on their hora pipes, pleased with
their new mastery of their big green horns. Umezu Chibi Brass
joined in for a full orchestra effect.
rehearse on their take bera, or musical sticks.
Photo by Lee Wexler/Images for Innovation.
The show's director,
Mitsuo Tamura, explained that when kids play music, there
is no right or wrong way, just as there is no right or wrong
in music. Sometimes music is an emotion, sometimes it is a
prayer or a yearning. The kids are considered collaborators.
They are also a prism into the community. "Overcoming
the Disaster: Gratitude from Japan to the World" is an
expression of Japan's bonds of friendship with the entire
international community for its support during the 2011 Earthquake
and Tsunami. The emphasis is on community, like with a capital
Before now, the
workshop has not been held in conjunction with the worldwide
concert series, but it has been pioneered in workshops in
Soweto, Congo and Prague. "You understand a community
through its children," said Tamura. "At other places
where we did this, like Congo, it was hard to meet the community.
There, it was was because of politics, there were barriers.
Here it is different, of course. But in each case, we take
the community by the hand through its children, and we will
do it again here."
The kids were students
of East Village