The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 4, 2008


“It’s a small world, after all”

Friends Yuhki and Alexander. (Photo by Richard Sayde)

It’s 5:30 on a Sunday morning. I’m standing in the cold, wrapped up in an oversized grey fleece, along with about 80 of my fellow band students from Concord-Carlisle High School, loading suitcases and bags into a U-Haul truck and waiting for three yellow school buses to open their doors. Next to each Concord-Carlisle student stands a Japanese girl or boy from Sapporo Shiroishi High School in the Hokkaido region of Japan. Looking around at the crowd, I realize that each of my fellow Americans is not that different from the Japanese guest he or she has housed over the past week as part of the remarkable exchange program between the bands of both of our distant high schools. These students play the same instruments, and read a good deal of the same literature; they laugh at the same jokes, play the same games; they share the same passion for music that has carried them to this spot at this ungodly hour of the morning. As the buses load up with Japanese students and we wave goodbye, some of us chasing after them as they drive away, I call to mind the many memories of the week I have been left with.

Five busy days

The members of the Sapporo Shiroishi Symphonic Wind Ensemble (SSSWE) arrived in Concord in the early evening on Tuesday, March 25, after a short tour of New York City. It feels like it’s been a whole month since they first walked through the doors of CCHS, and for good reason. The five days they spent with us were filled with activity, from lengthened band rehearsals to well-planned events, not to mention the countless exhilarating experiences that stemmed from the immersion of students into Concord and Carlisle families.

Communication challenges

From the very first day, I knew that my homestay guest and I were going to have difficulty communicating. Yuhki Gotoh, 16, is a percussionist and pianist much like myself, so while common interests existed, a common language was far from established. Yuhki knew a fair amount of English, while I only knew a few Japanese phrases and words, so we met somewhere between the two languages with the aid of gestures, a dictionary, and the Internet. Of course, however, the best bridge for our language gap was what is known as the universal language: music.

Yuhki and I shared music in many ways throughout his stay here, and I think that was the point of the entire affair. It was so exciting to realize that these students had been working on a lot of the same pieces in band that we had. They shared the same musical triumphs and the same musical struggles, and playing together felt no different from normal band practice. Truly, this was the greatest thing we had in common. Yuhki and I also exchanged music at home, playing drums and piano for one another and sharing our favorite music on YouTube. He enjoys many American artists, ranging from Stevie Wonder to Michael Jackson, and he introduced me to his favorite Japanese band, Exile.

Despite initial trouble with communication and some other bumps in the road (including missing the bus several times), my homestay visit turned out to be a great success – as did all of my friends’ – and Yuhki and I had a fantastic time together in all the activities we shared. I also had opportunities to spend time with my friends’ and fellow percussionists’ homestay guests. In large groups, we played great universal games, like the ever laughter-provoking “Duck, Duck, Goose,” and “Hide and Seek.” American video games were also a source of entertainment for the Japanese students, as was roasting marshmallows over an open stove.

The musical side of the visit

Amidst all the fun and games, though, there was a serious side to the visit. We had a joint Concord-Carlisle and Shiroishi band practice for two hours every day in preparation for our concert at Symphony Hall on Friday. It was very important that the two bands learn to adjust to one another’s tempos, dynamics and playing style. This went smoothly with the help of our director, Mr. Al Dentino, to whom we owe many thanks for starting this program, and Shibukawa-san, the excitable yet formal director of the SSSWE. Under his direction, their group has won countless awards, including a national all-Japan gold medal, a stellar achievement.

All the rehearsals paid off, with a wonderful concert Friday evening. The hall was packed thanks to publicity from town papers and a blurb on Channel 4 News by Joyce Kulhawik. Nervous but excited, the bands each made their solo debuts. CCHS students wondered at the complexity and overall excellence of the Shiroishi performance before the two bands joined together for a joint program, consisting of a Japanese march, a lyrical Gillingham masterpiece, the satirical “Immer Kleiner,” a medley of sixties rock tunes, and finally the immensely popular and infamous “Stars and Stripes March” by John Philip Sousa.

Wrapping it up

Getting home at 2 a.m. after the spectacular concert, American and Japanese students alike were not yet ready to call it quits. On Saturday we held our closing event: a party for both bands held at the Roxy Club in Boston. With performances from the Taiko Club (a group I am a part of) and the Jazz Band, the event was an excellent recapitulation of everything the entire visit was all about, the stinger to our week-long march.

The best part, in the end, is that the Japanese students bring so much with them – from the tasty Pocky, a popular Japanese candy, to their eccentric clothing, their heavy suitcases, to their multitudes of gifts. Perhaps their greatest gifts were their incredible musical talents and their immense desire to make friends, to make Americans happy, to learn English, and to build a lasting connection between our distant towns.

Before leaving, Yuhki gave my parents a warm handshake and said, “I will never forget!” Watching the buses careen out of the school driveway, packed full of all the friends I made this week, windows open with waving hands and smiling faces, I realize I also will never forget this visit. I look forward to learning more about Japan and its language, exchanging e-mails and forming new memories with my new friends. ∆

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito