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Greetings from Nara, Japan! This is a clean, lovely (and a bit chilly) town near Osaka in the beautiful country of Japan. I am here with my old friend Kazuhisa Hashimoto who is a music teacher and band director at a primary school here. We marched in the 2006 and 2007 Cavaliers together – he was a robot soloist for the 2006 Machine show which won the DCI World Championships.
I visited his campus to learn more about how music programs in Japan are set up and his school is one of the most amazing performing ensembles I have seen. These students play music from memory, have great tone, dynamics, and technique. The instrumentation is that of a British style brass band. They did a concert portion in the concert hall, a marching portion, and a jazz portion. And did I mention…THIS IS AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL!! Grades 2-6 are in this band and honestly, they perform better than many high school bands I’ve seen in the USA!
Here, student leaders are taking their kids through some basic physical strengthening exercises. Planking helps to build ab strength for breath control.
Student leaders once again progress the band through one hour of warm-ups every single day – including concert day. They use a metronome, mouthpiece buzz, play lip slurs, articulations, chordal studies and scales. They also use a keyboard as a pitch reference.
The band performed very well competitively this year and their field show “Riverdance” was and amazing feat with brass choral moments, soloists, strong driving percussion, moments where the winds played percussion and moments where the winds used guard equipment. Here they are practicing in the school gym. Note the show costumes – colorful skirts, and there was a parent group in the back of the gym helping to organize things. The show is a full-length marching band show and was cleaner than any High School bands I have judged in the USA. I’ll say it again – these are elementary band kids.
The students here are playing some very challenging music from memory- note there are no music stands. Their classical repertoire included “The Great Gate of Kiev” and Holst Second Suite. I got the privilege to perform the Haydn trumpet concerto with them, arranged by their director Hashimoto Sensai – this is how students great their teachers “last name” + Sensai. I would be Gillespie Sensai. Their jazz set featured some great blues riffs and solid drum set player and their pop set included many Japanese anime selections in an audience participation portion as well as Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.
My friend, Hashimoto Sensai, has done an incredible job making a group of elementary students sound better than most High School ensembles. To do this he works every Saturday and the kids adore him. The parents have great respect for him and he is held in high esteem among his team of colleagues. Thank you Hashimoto Sensai for the inspiration!
The Japanese written form “hiragana” which phonetically sounds out the Solfeggio of a major scale.