The Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta
About the orchestra: Fukushima, London, Tokyo
The FUKUSHIMA YOUTH SINFONIETTA (福島青年管弦楽団) is an youth orchestra based in Fukushima developed out of the aftermath of the disasters of 2011.
Keys of Change and concert pianist Panos Karan are largely responsible for the creation of the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta in March 2012, responding to requests of young middle-school students in Fukushima to come together for a performance at the Fukushima Ongakudo Hall. The Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta demonstrates how important music can be as an agent of healing in times of great emotional upheaval and future uncertainty. The mere preparation for a concert can bring varied communities together for the common purpose of playing or listening to music together – an act that is so simple and powerful –and yet so under-appreciated.
Queen Elizabeth Hall
In April 2014, Keys of Change invited 37 Japanese teen-age musicians from the FYS to London for a concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall, to present a program of international standing including a new musical work composed for the FYS by composer Ronald Corp, and coordinated the FYS workshops and exchanges with young British musicians. For the Queen Elizabeth Hall performance the FYS collaborated with professional British musicians of the Orpheus Sinfonia and their performance received a standing ovation. While in the UK, the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta also performed for Treehouse, a local London organisation looking after children at need, giving a chance to the young Fukushima musicians to use music to help others. They also performed at BBC Newsnight. This musical visit was the accumulation of projects by Greek/British pianist Panos Karan, founder of Keys of Change. Together with fellow musician Zach Tarpagos (flutist), Karan has visited the Fukushima area eight times since 2011, each time working intensively with music students from ten Fukushima schools, helping them develop their musical skills, coaching them, performing with them, and encouraging their leadership potential both musically and socially.
Tokyo Opera City
In August of 2015, Keys of Change invited more than 50 young Fukushima instrumentalists in the FYS to Tokyo for a concert marking the ensemble’s Tokyo debut. This concert, at Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall, was attended by Her Imperial Majesty the Empress Michiko of Japan, who came backstage to personally congratulate the young musicians. The FYS benefited from the collaboration of a number of young American and European musicians, invited by Keys of Change, as well as by the participation of advanced music students from Toho Gakuen School of Music and several professional musicians from the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of conductor Tetsuji Honna. In preparation for the Tokyo concert, Keys of Change had organized and coordinated daily rehearsals in Fukushima, a concert at Fukushima Ongakudo, as well as all travel arrangements and accommodations in Tokyo for the members of the student orchestra.
Boston Symphony Hall
In April 2016 the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta has been invited to Boston for a week of music workshops and exchange programs with American youth orchestras, culminating in a major concert at Boston’s renowned Boston Symphony Hall on April 3, 2016. The Boston visit by the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta is presented by the Japan Society of Boston, with the cooperation of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Consulate General of Japan in Boston, will commemorate the fifth anniversary of the disasters of 2011. This is a program of the U.S.-Japan “Tomodachi Initiative,” supported by the U.S.-Japan Council and the American Embassy in Tokyo.
Why is this important
The core of the FYS program is self-expression and personal improvement through music. The Japanese students constantly develop their individual musical skills in collaboration with other students from different schools. At the same time, they are encouraged to take responsibility for helping other students do better and for fostering assistance to the younger or less skilled members of the ensemble. The young musicians of the FYS speak frequently about how their musical activities have strengthened their self-confidence and their personal identities, enabling them to grow and face with hope, courage and confidence the challenges of their daily lives following the disasters of 3-11-2011.
As numerous testimonies from the Fukushima students, teachers, and parents have indicated, the FYS programs have been a life-changing experience for many of the Fukushima students. Playing music and developing individual musical skills helped greatly with each child’s healing process as he or she emerged from the traumas of 2011. Working together to create the orchestra and then to rehearse and perform with it brought scores of students closer together, helping them express themselves freely and overcome their inner fears, contributing hugely to their musical and personal maturity. In addition, the experience helped positively in the recovery of parents, teachers, and friends of the young musicians. In numerous ways the work of the FYS has strengthened families, schools, and communities in the Fukushima area. This sense of unity and collaboration to overcome personal or social tragedies is unmistakably communicated to anyone who hears the students perform.
The long-term goals of the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta and Keys of Change are to keep this group of musicians active for many years, with performances in Japan and abroad whenever opportunities arise. Such activity, it is hoped, will eventually erase the terrible memories of March 2011. Some of the members of FYS may go on to become professional musicians; many will not. But the experience of making music together in these early years will enlighten their lives and help make them better people.
In the near future, the FYS is planning to involve more schools in Fukushima, in order to include more young people in the experience of music. It also plans to enlarge its scope by including more international members. Keys of Change is also hoping to invite more international soloists of all ages to Fukushima to perform with the orchestra.
A good symphony orchestra is a living and dynamic creature: there is always room to improve and room to learn and experience more. There is new repertory to master, and new conductors and soloists to collaborate with. As members of the present generation of students grow older, the FYS will bring in more and more children to share in the incredible formative experience of making music together. We hope that this process will also permit more international performance tours and more international exchanges through music. The people of the FYS, Keys of Change, and all their supporters remain convinced that “Music can change the world – for the better!” and the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta will remain dedicated to leading such change: in Fukushima, in Japan, and far beyond!