In the wake of the Chaminade

I had my Chaminade lesson with Mr. Takahashi today. I knew it would be an experience, and I was warned that it would be intense. After finally figuring out how to work the microphone for my ipod (and remembering to actually do it) I recorded over 2 hours and 40 minutes of lesson today (including all the tone studies but not the stretches). When I came back to Mrs. Ishii's late this afternoon I was just overcome with this simultaneous feeling of fatigue and overload that made me at once want to practice and also never pick up my flute again.

"It was nice but it sounded like Meret instead of Ceclie Chaminade."


I'm not complaining - this is the reason that I'm here. I just didn't expect to not be able to keep a coherent thought in my head afterwards! I don't know how Mr. T does it.

Since practicing was out of the question, I thought that maybe I'd read or something, but 5 o'clock found me in my room at Mrs. Ishii's staring at the wall, listening to the high school boys play baseball and being perfectly content not to think about anything. I finally turned on This American Life and listened to an episode while lying on the bed. That was right up my alley (plus it was nice to hear some pure, unadulterated American English)

Hopefully tomorrow I'll have the stomach to listen to the recording and actually apply some of the things I was asked to do. But for tonight, I think I'll get ready for bed and that will be fine.

Although the dogs here look American, I doubt they know Fido

Today is the first day I've seen any dogs around Matsumoto. It's probably because it is the first day I'm walking. (every other day I've gotten rides) The school wants me to ride a bike but I took one look at the streets I'd be riding down (very, very narrow with cars careening around corners and no sidewalks - plus they drive on the opposite side of the road) and said "no way, José!" (I don't think they quite appreciated that)

I don't think "wobbly" is in their English/Japanese dictionary either but I also gave that one a try when trying to describe my bicycle riding skills.

Mr. Takahashi really encouraged me to try it - and I may still because the school bicycles are kept in what could best be described as an alleyway - but I highly doubt I'll be brave enough to go far.

Have I mentioned that it's the rainy season?

When it rains everyone here manages to ride with one hand on the handle bars and one hand holding an umbrella. (that can't be legal) I can't see how that is anymore pleasant than walking in the rain, though I concede that it will get you home faster.

It's a pleasant walk between Mrs. Ishii's and the school - I did it in about 30 minutes this morning (and all without getting lost - although there were times I questioned myself!) I get to walk past houses and fields and a big park called Agatanomori Park as well as small and large businesses. Today on my way home I stopped in the park and sat for while. The sun came out after a time and I really walked around - did a little bit of people watching. We Americans love Japanese parks - this wasn't the first one that I've been in, although it was my first one in Japan!

The pigeons here also look the same, but I'm pretty sure they don't understand English any more than the dogs do.

Anyway, here are some pictures of the park and my walk home:

"It's not very brilliant, I think"

Lessons with Mr. Takahashi can be a real trip. It's phenomenal to see myself reverting back into my student self - someone who may have been scared to exert my musical ideas in favor of being a "blank slate" for my teachers. That's a luxury you can't afford when you're teaching. You have to be decisive. But it does make me more compassionate to the students who seem to be intimidated by me and not want to take chances. It turns out I'm one of them!

There are no other flute students here right now. (I thought there would be) Apparently the last one graduated in March and Mr. T didn't like any of the applicants so he just didn't accept anyone! Ha! Now, tell me that's not intimidating.

He also told me that the reason he doesn't care for any of the big flutists right now is because none of them can take "catch" breaths (or at least not the way Marcel Moyse did - barely opening his mouth and taking most of the air in through his nose).

Although he is very demanding he is also quick with a smile or a laugh and an anecdote. That's why I tend to not be offended when he makes statements like the one in the title or yelling "piano, piano, piano, piano" when I've gotten too loud.

We'll see how the Chaminade goes with him. I have actually studied the piece before so it won't be the aforementioned "blank slate" the Tulou was. When Mr. T studied the piece with Moyse he spent 30 minutes on the first 2 measures. (It took them 2 hours to get through the whole piece) He told me he taught it recently and spent more than 4 hours on it total. I shudder to think how long I'll need.

But, that's why I'm here. There is no one alive today who knew and played with these French composers/flutists (except possibly Louis Moyse but that's a whole other kettle of fish) so it's interesting to learn what the performance tradition was at the time. (Much like we do with Baroque music) It seems like only in Japan could you find someone so faithful to one way of playing and to devote his life to carrying on that legacy.

It's unlikely that I'll agree with everything that he has to say, but I'm really glad I have the chance to hear him say it.

I didn't know people still used cassette tapes

It's odd to be in (arguably) the land of technology and yet see so much outdated equipment. Is that just a statement about American consumerism? Although Mrs. Ishii has a very sexy flat screen T.V., she doesn't have a DVD player! (she does, however, have a VCR) The only stereo I've seen in her house is in my room and it has a single tape deck and a record player (there are also some of what I can only guess to be her daughter's records, but I stopped looking after seeing Songs in the Key of Life because I was afraid that I would be too tempted to take something!)

Anyway, Joe and Mayuko also only had a VCR, but that could be chalked up to the fact that they weren't planning on staying forever and they each have computers. The school has a DVD player and a sound system that plays CDs, cassettes, and DAT tapes, but when Mr. Takahashi moved the class to the concert hall the other day he also brought a little Sony tape deck for playing his musical examples.

There's been kind of a big controversy in the Suzuki flute world over the rerecording of our repertoire CDs, but I only now understand Mr. Takahashi's side of it. I'm sure he first heard Moyse's "enchanting" flute tone from a brand new record (they had great sound quality for classical music when new) and a decent system for the time. Unfortunately the recordings that remain from Moyse have not aged well (static-y, etc.), but it was obvious from watching Mr. T react to the degraded recording of Enrico Caruso that he still hears it in his head the way it sounded whenever he first heard it. That's why he's been known to make statements like, "kids don't care about fidelity." Everyone here is just too respectful of him (with good reason) to point out that he could get a Caruso CD with reasonable fidelity for his examples. (This would also eliminate his constant rewinding of the tape which I'm sure is not helping it's condition!)

Confession: I don't listen to the Suzuki CDs much. I did when I first started to help me learn Books 1 & 2 (& a little bit of 3)... but there's a lot of fairly standard repertoire in the method and when I need a recording I can usually find one by a "big name" flutist. A few months ago I wanted a student to hear a Book 1 piece with the accompaniment so I popped in the CD and was a bit shocked to hear that it didn't sound that great. What's even more shocking is that in my lessons Mr. T has a beautiful, rich and flexible tone (and you would never guess that it was coming from a man of his age) How can this be the same person? I can only conclude that it's a technological problem.

The Japanese are notorious for being rooted in tradition and I think these examples of their use of technology proves that. Unfortunately, North American ears demand more and I'm not sure how a compromise will be made. (of course, the real issue will be deciding who the player will be for any new recordings!)

Here's the view from the room where I have lessons:

How do you say "I'm stuffed!" in Japanese?

Mrs. Ishii is an excellent cook. She reminds me of a saying that we used to have about my mother though, she only knows how to cook two amounts: for a large army and for a small army. I don't know how such a tiny person can fit so much food into themselves! Finally tonight even she admitted defeat after serving two salmon fillets and a full plate of stir-fry veggies, plus miso soup, plus a bowl of pickled veggies and squid, plus a bowl of brown rice, and optional soybean stalks and pickled something or other. We both left at least half the second piece of salmon on our plates and I struggled to finish the rest!

Mr. Takahashi was so worried that I would get lost coming home today that he gave me a ride. Another flutist who was here a few years ago got lost coming and going and now everyone's super careful to make sure we know how to get to and from the school. After this car ride I made sure to make myself a little map and I think I'll be okay. However, when we got to Mrs. Ishii's the door was locked! I convinced Mr. T to just leave me and that she would be back soon and began to walk up the street to retrace my steps. I got maybe 1 block away when I see Mr. T's car come tooling along beside me - he changed his mind and wanted to take me to a coffee shop! Everyone stared to see this blonde American just jump into this 43 year old Toyota that was stopping traffic!

We had tea together for about a half an hour until we were sure Mrs. Ishii would be back home. This turned out to be one of the best parts of the trip so far, because I got to hear Mr. T reminisce about Marcel Moyse and studying with him. (and also about the sweet tooth the man had! Mr. T once had to spoon 14 spoonfuls of sugar into Moyse's coffee!) He sounded like a man who really enjoyed life - smoking, drinking and sugar. Is there anything else?

As I finish this post and contemplate going to bed I can hear the running water that follows the road outside the house. I'm not sure why it's there, but there are rice paddies nearby, and it is the rainy season so I guess that has something to do with it. Here's some pics from the windows of my room:

Pink elephant in the room? Oh wait, that's me...

As a white American female it is very rare to be in a room and feel uncomfortable. Especially since I went to public schools, I generally can feel okay in many different ethnic groups. Until today. I participated in Mr. Takahashi's tone class (modeled after Dr. Suzuki's teachings on tone and expression and Marcel Moyse's Tone Development Through Interpretation.) Not only was I the only American and the only flutist, I was also the only native English speaker in the room. Mr. Takahashi had me stand up and wrote my name on the board so they could all sound it out. That was the first time I blushed bright red, but it wouldn't be my last time today.

The students were all very nice to me, but I feel bad since they are making so many exceptions for me (like, usually you have to wait until the morning of to sign out a practice room, and they are letting me use the concert hall every morning this week). Space is extremely limited at the school and everyone's fighting for space most times (it's not unusual to walk into the student lounge and see someone fingering their way through their music). So to take up hours of time in a precious space seems to be an extravagance, but the one whose English was pretty good assured me that they "think you're special." Yikes! (Don't let any of them talk to my students!)

The class was very interesting... It was very telling to witness the Japanese propensity towards philosophy, especially as it applied to musical technique. American practicality versus Japanese philosophy - what a showdown. For example:

"Rhythm expresses performer's life activity, whereas time expresses the performer's soul"


However, for every statement like the one above, there were some that illuminated ideas in a different way and were more easily applied directly. For example, if you consider a good tone to be "violet" or purple, it's a mix of red and blue. Red = warmth and blue = depth. For a forte sound, you want red-violet, or to warm up the sound. In piano playing, if you use a blue-violet, then your softs will have more depth. Or more simply put - don't let your louds get metallic or edgy, and make sure your softs aren't thin or unsupported. Kind of a cool way to say it.

This is my "flute spa"... I'm getting to practice about the same amount that I did in college, except that also I'm getting three private lessons a week. After only two days I can feel myself getting back into shape, but old frustrations are still there - and new ones emerge as deficits are illuminated. It's wonderful to study with someone who has such a clear and direct line to the tradition of French playing that Moyse had, but it's also gratifying to hear some things that I remember getting yelled at about in college and to know that while my former teachers may have had a different background "all roads lead to Rome" (so to speak).

Mr. Takahashi, Mrs. Ishii, and the warmest toilet seat this side of the Mississippi!

I got swindled into taking a lesson today! I thought we were just going to be talking about a schedule and our backgrounds - which we did for quite a long time. Mr. Takahashi spoke about how he met and began studying with Marcel Moyse, and all the other people he had taken lessons with (including my great great grand-teacher, William Kincaid). We talked about what kind of flutes we had and expressive intonation (of course). (Expressive intonation takes the 12 equal tones of the piano and tweaks them back into what they were originally meant to be, especially the half steps) He also showed me some sheets of warm-ups that he wanted me to work on and the next thing I knew I was in the middle of my first lesson with Mr. T! (Of course, by the time I realized it, I couldn't start the ipod recorder.)

Despite the three straight days of travel and a lack of practice beforehand, he got me sounding really good by the end of the lesson. Of course, he pointed out a lot of weaknesses in my playing too, which I guess is to be expected. It's really humbling to become the student again and have to deal with the frustration of not being able to do what your teacher wants you to. Huh, Karma.

Afterwards I was taken to my home-stay, Mrs. Ishii. She's very nice, although she speaks English only mildly better than I speak Japanese. Almost immediately she had me write my name down in her address book afer which she sounded out the English (well, mostly English) characters and wrote their Japanese equivalents above. I'm the 162nd person to stay with her through the Suzuki school here and the book had a real sense of history - people from New Zealand, Austraia, Finland, Italy, and lastly the U.S.

Mrs. Ishii is also an excellent cook - but when I finally got up the nerve to say "Sumimasen, toyre wa doko des ka?" I found the king of all toilets! It opens the lid for you and has a, er, seat warmer, which I have to admit is a nice feature.

What do you mean, Swine Flu???

It never occurred to me that the H1N1 virus might mean that everyone on the plane would be quarantined... but here we were on the runway in Narita filling out health questionnaires and being told to stay seated as someone would be by to check our temperatures. At the last minute, the flight attendant told us that the policy in Japan has changed and they wouldn't have to take our temperature (which, frankly I think was just practical since the plane I was on held 375 people and 344 were on board). So, I managed to work my way through all the health officers and customs and catch the train to Shinjuku station without a hitch.


What good is having a roaming network and paying (albeit $4) extra this month and next if they won't let you make a phone call? I needed to get in touch with two of Mom's former sculpture students, Joe and Mayuko, to let them know that I landed safely so they could meet me in Shinjuku. I only had 10 minutes until the train would depart and my phone wasn't working! After studying a bank of pay phones, I found the only one that took coins and tried Joe's number, but no one answered and then the phone started talking to me in Japanese! Taking a chance, I got on the train anyway and managed to get there in one piece where Joe and Mayuko were waiting for me! Whew!

We went to a nice tempura place for dinner near to the station and then, since it was raining, we took two trains back to their place. By American standards Joe and Mayuko's place would be considered small and spartan. By Tokyo standards, they actually have a lot of space (two separate rooms with sliding doors and then a long, narrow room that ran the length of the apartment that contained the kitchen and access to the toilet, bathroom sink, and bath).

I got to see a bit of their neighborhood in West Tokyo when we walked to a place called "Rain on the Roof" (basically a bar/coffee bar/restaurant). (Ironically enough we found out why it was called that when it started pouring so loudly on the uninsulated roof that conversation was impossible!) The density in the city is incredible - it would make Chicago city planners have a heart attack thinking back to the days of the great fire! Additionally, business crop up in alleyways that snake off in different directions and I guarantee that I would never be able to make it back to "Rain" or J&M's place without substaintial assistance.

It was really nice to get to know the two of them and they really took care of me - even getting up early to make sure I got on the right train to Matsumoto this morning. Mayuko made a really nice breakfast with some Japanese pastries, eggs, and fruit. Hopefully when they move back to the States for grad school I'll be able to return the favor!

Countdown to Japan

I'm sitting here contemplating all of the last minute things I need to do to get ready for my trip to Japan (t-minus 4 days and counting) and really just feeling like there's no such thing as "ready." However, even as I try to mentally check items off my to-do list I can't help but think about the process that got me to this point.

Several of my friends have made this same trip and told me that it's never convenient, it's never economically feasible, it's just something you decide to do. I decided that I wanted to meet and study with the man who created the method I find to be so successful at cultivating great people and great musicians. Selfishly, I know my playing will improve from even short term study with Mr. Takahashi, but I also know that I will gain new insights into the method and teaching as well.

Which leads me to the real reason for the start of this post. Following my studio recital in April my students presented me with a significant monetary gift to aid my studies abroad. I have spent over a month (unsuccessfully) trying to think of the appropriate words to express my gratitude - both for the money (which is a bigger help than most of them know) but also for the gesture itself, which was so important to me. I wanted to write cards to everyone who contributed, but I realized that I would keep saying the same things over and over and that seemed disingenuous. So, for better or for worse, this first posting is my thank you card to all the people who have understood and responded to my need to make this trip.

I take my job very, very seriously. It is a sad truth that the American music higher-education system employs orchestral musicians to teach students to become orchestral musicians and rarely focuses on pedagogy. I knew I wanted to be a teacher (and perform too) but not because it's a last resort but because I may have a chance of passing something truly meaningful on to my students. By coming together to support this trip (and really make it truly possible) my students and their families have given me the gift of knowing that I am doing something right!

So, here I go - say goodbye to my comfort zone. Double-check my toiletries and wonder how everything is going to fit in my suitcase. Matsumoto yuki no densha wa kore desu ka?