Friday, May 4, 2007
CCHS Band makes a memorable trip to Japan
On April 10 in Narita Airport outside of Tokyo, more than one Japanese traveler must have gaped at the 105 dazed members of the newly-arrived American delegation. Despite the fact that many of the CCHS Band and Sci-Fi Club members had been awake for more than 24 hours, the overwhelming feeling of being half way around the world took hold of everyone. While waiting for the next flight to Sapporo on the island of Hokkaido, the students flooded the airport stores. The cashier girls seemed awestruck by the foreign children that suddenly filled their store, but their smiles never left their faces, and the kindness never left their voices. Unfortunately, even adolescent adrenaline and energy have their limits, and almost everyone was asleep by the time we arrived in Sapporo. After a quick shower, we retired to our rooms at the youth hostel, only to be awakened seven hours later, at 6 a.m.
This was the third CCHS Concert Band trip to Japan, the first of which was in 1998. These trips are a result of the Concord-Hokkaido relationship that has formed over the last two decades. Concord has a special bond with its sister city of Nanae. Eighty-nine students and 16 chaperones spent a total of ten days in Japan. This time, the Sci-Fi Club joined the band. They participated in all of the home-stays and visited the Sapporo Designer College where they met the assistant to anime icon, Hayao Miyazaki.
"We're not in Kansas any more"
The next day, our groggy delegation boarded the bus at 8 o'clock for our trip to the State House. Students were constantly pointing at things, laughing with friends and taking in the new culture. Whether it was the businessmen riding to work on bicycles, or the cartoons on the storefronts, the students all knew that "they weren't in Kansas anymore."
The State House was really the first time that everyone realized how much bigger this trip was than just Japan. Speeches were made by numerous members of the Japanese government and by Mr. Alfred Dentino, CCHS band conductor; CCHS Vice Principal Dr. Alan Weinstein; retired CCHS guidance counselor and Vice-Chair of the Concord-Nanae Network Dr. Thomas Curtin; and Band President Emily Fritz-Endres. We were all surprised when Emily delivered her speech in perfect Japanese. Then gifts were exchanged. On behalf of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick sent a baseball signed by him and by Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima, both newly acquired from the Japanese baseball league, as well as a Paul Revere silver bowl. The Vice Governor of Hokkaido presented us with gifts including a Japanese painting. Adam Johnson summed up the band's feeling by saying, "This is a part of history."
After some sightseeing, we finally got our first look at the kids from Shiroishi, the first high school we were to visit. As we entered the practice hall, we could hear the students practicing arguably the hardest song on our program, Heart and Voice. The Shiroishi kids, who practice 30 hours a week compared to our four, blew us away. What followed was a grueling practice where many of the C-C students really began to feel the repercussions of the 13-hour time difference. But the rehearsal was a cultural experience in itself. Almost everyone tried to talk to their stand partner, whether it was in English or basic Japanese from our Japanese phrasebooks.
Meeting the home-stays
After the rehearsal, once again we boarded the bus and headed over to the Shiroishi High School to meet our home-stays. Everyone waited anxiously for their name to be called. When Luke Siebert, my home-stay partner, and I were called, we immediately saw a very short woman rush over to us. She began speaking to us quickly in Japanese and then led us to her car. We met her son in the car, a bassoon player whom we recognized from the rehearsal.
We went to a restaurant where we met Raffi Hsieh and Eric Luby, who were also to stay with us, as well as another woman and her three children. Imagine how surprised we were that they all lived together in one small apartment! The food was delicious, and it was captivating to see the grills in the table where we cooked our own meat and vegetables. The rest of the evening was equally exciting, but understandably we were all happy to get to sleep.
The next morning we rehearsed with the Japanese students in preparation for the concert that day. One could see the relationships forming throughout the band as there were smiles on almost every face. And of course, everyone was awestruck by the astonishing Kitara Hall. Before the concert, many C-C students were nervous about proving ourselves worthy to play on the same stage as the magnificent Japanese students. From our performance everyone agreed that we, as one of our MICCA adjudicators had promised we would, "did America proud." But as soon as we took the stage with the Shiroishi students, we began to realize that it wasn't about "proving ourselves;" it was about joining students from halfway around the world to make music. The Carlisle members were thrilled to be conducted by Mr. Tom O'Halloran (Mr. "O") again as he was a guest conductor at all three concerts.
Afterwards, we all relaxed and enjoyed a Japanese-style barbeque at the Kirin Beer Hall. Every table had mingled groups of Japanese and American students. The entire hall was filled with chatter and laughter. Picture after picture was taken with everyone, of course, making the peace sign. The dinner went on until about 9 o'clock, but as our Japanese home-stay promised, the night was still young. All ten of us joined Ashley Morgan and her host family at an entertainment center which included bowling and karaoke. After some embarrassing gutter-balls, and some even more embarrassing singing, we finally arrived back at their apartment. One thing that almost everyone noticed was that Japanese people never turned off their televisions, and they never seemed to sleep. We (the American students) all finally went to sleep at 12:30, but our hosts showed no signs of stopping.
The next day was one of the highlights of the trip. We went to the Shiroishi High School and took part in social events and arts and crafts. That day was also filled with sorrowful good-byes as some students, both American and Japanese, shared teary farewells. Band President Emily Fritz-Endres commented, "Whether it was pointing at words in a dictionary, doodling, laughing at chopstick skills or making faces, we understood each other, and became so close." The event ended with apanese students running after our bus as we left. Although we were all sad to leave, as Mr. David Nurenberg, CCHS teacher and Sci-Fi club advisor said, "We are going to do it all over again in Nanae." After some amazing sightseeing, we went back to the hostel in anticipation of the next day's trip to Nanae.
Concord's sister city, Nanae
After a four-hour bus ride the next morning, we finally arrived in Nanae. Once again we were greeted with a warm welcome as everyone met their new host families and enjoyed a wonderful lunch filled with speeches and Taiko drum performances. Everyone left with their new home-stay families, ready to make more memories.
After a relaxing day with our home-stays and shopping, we had our first rehearsal with the Nanae students. Evan Scarlett remarked, "The people were very hospitable. It surprised me how quickly they welcomed us into their community." It was almost like déjà vu to see all of the students talking and laughing with each other. That day included two amazing concerts, one for the Nanae schools, and one for the rest of the town. The program was filled with performances by CCHS, the Nanae High School, the Nanae Middle School and a combined performance. We were lucky enough to see the Nanae Middle School perform, and the first thing we noticed was, "they don't have any music stands!" They had memorized their entire performance, which not only included playing but also some choreography.
The next day was filled with a Global Warming conference which reinforced the idea of how much bigger than us this trip was. Unfortunately, we also had the sad experience of saying good-bye to our friends in Nanae to whom, over the course of four days, we had become extremely close.
"Awesome" Narita Temple
Our last day was spent mostly in Narita where we visited the Narita Temple. It was an awesome experience as one could feel the site give off a spiritual relaxation. It was a powerful ending to an amazing trip to hear the echoing bells of the temple ring at 6 o'clock.
Our trip was an unforgettable experience and, although it was sad to leave, we were all ecstatic to hear that the Shiroishi students will be coming to Concord and Carlisle next March. We all hope that our towns will be able to recreate the hospitality and kindness that we were shown in Japan. For the Carlisle students, it was wonderful to spend time with Mr. "O." We were honored to play with him again, and we all thank him deeply.
Overall, the trip exceeded all my expectations, but what I really didn't expect was forming deep bonds with students from halfway around a world which now seems so much smaller.
© 2007 The Carlisle Mosquito