Stage One: Fukushima

16th - 29th March 2014

 

In rehearsal 

Panos Karan (left) and Zach Tarpagos (right) rehearsed with the young musicians from Fukushima several hours every day, offering coaching and advice that would help them advance their musical skills. 

Apart from the musical goals, the students were reminded daily, that the emphasis was on the process of the rehearsal, not the result,  as well as working together with students from different schools, helping each other, and using music as a tool for bringing out thoughts and emotions. 

“I am greatly honoured to perform in this distinguished concert hall and meet the audience in London. Although I am a little nervous, I would love to do my best to show my appreciation for those who have worked very hard to make this concert happen. Please enjoy our music. I hope this concert will be a bridge of friendship between London and Fukushima.”

Mayu Takano, First Violin

Panos Karan, Zach Tarpagos (flautist) and Fumiko Tanaka (administrator) spent two weeks in Fukushima City in order to prepare students from the four middle schools for the upcoming London concert. With the kind support of the Fukushima Board of Education, daily rehearsals were arranged in various venues, giving a chance for all students to work on the music an average of 4-8 hours per day. Zach and Panos led the rehearsals, in which students participated as a whole group (entire orchestra), sectionals (strings and wind/brass) and individual lessons/coaching.

 

PREPARATION AND CHALLENGES

 

It became obvious that while the students had participated in two or three rehearsals prior to KoC arrival, a lot more work was needed than initially planned. Fumiko had to scramble through available venues around the city to increase rehearsal time to almost double the length that was initially planned. This incurred some extra costs, although most of the additional space was covered by the Fukushima Board of Education. Also, Zach and Panos had to find creative ways to encourage the students to participate in as many rehearsals as possible, since participation was not obligatory because of existing school commitments. 

 

Some students were far less advanced than others and needed substantially more attention to help them learn the music. These students were encouraged to come daily before rehearsal for individual coaching. Panos and Zach divided the responsibilities between the two sections of the orchestra: Panos worked mainly with the strings, while Zach rehearsed daily with the wind and brass. It became clear, also, that while the teachers tried to be present at most rehearsals and help, this was not always possible because of their teaching commitments. Panos and Zach therefore had to base the preparation mainly on their own efforts. The structure of separate sectional rehearsals was maintained for several days, before the first attempt was made to bring the whole orchestra together. 

 

 

 

Fukushima Concert Hall

27 March 2014

 

The first goal for the students and KoC was a concert in the Fukushima Concert Hall. This was planned as a run-through of the London programme, in the friendly setting of a familiar concert hall and with a supportive audience of parents, family and friends. 

 

Decisions had to be made for the position of concertmeister and for sectional leaders. Students with a high attendance record at rehearsals, ones who worked well with other members of the group, as well as exhibiting high levels of musical performance (including aptitude for improvement during these two weeks) were given the leading roles. Miss Akane Yuda, 1st year, was chosen as the concertmeister. The leaders from the five string sections formed a distinct group (string quintet) that rehearsed daily separately, before the joining the main group, in preparation for ensemble performances in London. Under the leadership of concertmeister Miss Yuda, the musicians in the group, achieved significant levels of musicianship, given their age and experience, and learned very crucial elements of ensemble playing, including listening to each other (team work), individual and ensemble balance (leadership), and correcting each other’s mistakes (collaboration).

 

The concert in Fukushima was very successful. Panos and Zach conducted most of the programme, while, at the last minute, two of the teachers (Suda-sensei and Sato-sensei) also participated, conducting two of the shorter works. Four students volunteered to talk, expressing their thoughts and emotions about the forthcoming London trip. This was the best performance the students had displayed to date, and, according to their teachers, the best performance they had ever heard from students of these middle schools.

“Only music gave me courage and strength when I changed school from my home town, Minami Soma, because of the radiation. I feel very nervous to play in such a prestigious hall, but I would like to convey my appreciation to music. I have been practicing hard with my friends, aiming to become a symbol of restoration of Fukushima. I wish the audience today will share our excitement.”

Kyosuke Takano, Cello 

Final Preparations

 

The students displayed incredible determination to improve their musical skills, and worked individually and as a group extremely hard, surpassing any expectations from KoC as well as their teachers. There were instances when students refused to go home, after an 8-hour long rehearsal, because they wanted to stay and continue practicing individually. There was an instance of a girl who was very ill but refused to stop playing until she had to be sent home. The students were reminded every day that everyone in the group was equal, and the main purpose of the rehearsals and the overall preparation was to find ways to express thoughts and emotions, individually and as a group. They were told several times that one of the most important elements was to care for the weaker players in the group, as the whole orchestra can only be as good as the weakest player. Students, amongst themselves, constantly helped each other. Confidence throughout the group improved tremendously: while in the beginning being asked to play a passage individually in order to improve, in front of the whole group, was an almost impossible task, by the end of the two weeks, nearly all the students were confident enough to play a passage alone in front of everyone. Many new friendships were created across the four schools. In certain cases, such as that of the cellist Mr. Kyosuke Takano, being given the responsibility of section leader boosted confidence and social skills amongst the group. As his playing improved and as he increasing helped and led the cello section, it was obvious that his personality was becoming more open, courageous and communicative.  

In concert

The Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta performing on the stage of the Fukushima Concert Hall on March 27th. 

(Panos Karan conducting, Zach Tarpagos, flute)

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