Asahikawaband concert was a winner

Published on Thu, Apr 7, 2005 by ichard Clark

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Asahikawa band concert was a winner

By Richard Clark

Japan’s Asahikawa high school band presented a big evening of music at Blaine school’s little gym Thursday evening. “The Star-Spangled Banner,” a traditional patriotic opener performed with as much drama as dignity would allow, brought an audience of more than 600 to its feet.
Immediately following the anthem was “The Cowboys” by John Williams, born on Long Island, New York in 1932. He’s well known as a film score composer, bringing to mind “Jaws,” “Jurassic Park” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

Needless to say, this composition is a showpiece designed to bring out the best in the brass, woodwind and percussion sections. Five double basses added enrichment, and five stars go to the oboe soloist. You can’t have a mud turtle’s embouchure if you want a French horn to sound well. There weren’t any turtles in that band, believe me.

Just as exciting was a band arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s famous “1812 Overture,” a work written nearly 70 years after Napoleon was coldly defeated during a Russian winter that mustn’t be confused with the War of 1812 between the United States and British Canada. Although Tchaikovsky’s work was composed for the Moscow Exhibition of Arts and Crafts, Asahikawa’s drums and chimes brought the Russian cannons and bells of Moscow right into the little gym. I think the finale nearly frightened the little kids sitting on the floor near the percussionists.

Bob Gray, Blaine high school’s band instructor, noted the overture had been played in its entirety. “Their technique blows me away,” he said. “It’s something special.”

Under the batons of Jun Satoh and Hiroshi Fukase, the concert was an evening of contrasts. “Amazing Grace,” performed with bells and marimba while figured bass and light percussion accompanied it, was also sung with enough feeling to dampen dry eyes.

Really, you had to be there to capture the spirit of the evening. Variety was the rule, and it was backed by a psychology designed to thrill an audience. The band, with its professional orchestral sound, was costumed and choreographed to move with the music, sometimes standing or thrusting instruments skyward, singing and swinging. Soloists and ensembles stepped forward, showering the audience with music.

The encores created a feeling that the best was yet to come. Sousa crashed the party with “Stars and Stripes Forever,” and the piccolos pulled off their pretty countermelody with verve. And there was more. Beyond belief, three xylophone players were blindfolded before performing. It was a rousing conclusion.

“Our mutual love of music builds a bridge between our cultures and countries,” said superintendent Dr. Mary Lynne Derrington. “Music is a language we can all speak and understand. It was a joy to see the smiles from both the audience and the performers.”

“I loved their energy, the variety of music, types of performances and the dances they demonstrated,” said Leslee Smith, former president of the Blaine Fine Arts Association. “They enjoyed their music and they were playing from their hearts.” And immediately before their departure, when the young visitors sang a farewell song for Bob, Dorita Gray and Leslee, they were deeply moved.

I asked conductor Satoh how much the band practiced. Two hours per day, seven days per week, he replied. I think he said the time is cut to one hour during national holidays. It’s extracurricular; they practice after school.

Three Asahikawa concerts were held in North Vancouver, two in Delta, and one at the Squamish First Nations School, but Blaine was favored with the only concert south of the border. It followed our high school wind ensemble’s visit to the 2003 Funabashi Music Festival.
During the winter of 2002, retired Vancouver educator John Montgomery and coordinator Yumi Sudo had proposed that the Blaine ensemble visit Japan. Gray thanked them and Smith for arranging Thursday’s event. The 78-member band returned to Japan Friday.
Concerts of this caliber transcend “entertainment,” a word too often used to summarize music. In a world starving for peace, these young musicians spread friendship and goodwill wherever they perform.