On Tuesday, my daughter participated in a Suzuki Association of Japan concert to benefit the Tohoku region. The whole thing was done with typical Japanese style and organization, and it was a wonderful experience (mostly) that we won’t soon forget.
Forget for a moment that Sydney is 9, and I burst with pride with whatever she does. (No photos allowed in and around the hall, by the way, so no pics of her this time) She’s my kid – I’m a typical parent. It took guts to be one of only 3 white kids in a group of about 200 kids in her group. Sydney is accustomed to such situations, though, and my amazement didn’t cause her to even blink twice. But that’s not my point.
Rehearsals for this major undertaking began in late February, on a Sunday. Marc took Sydney to a hall in Ikebukuro, about an hour from our house, for a 1-hour rehearsal with the group and the conductors. I took her again two Sundays later and again last Tuesday, but to a closer hall in Okubo, only 30 minutes on the train. The first hall, where Marc took her, was normal sized and could accommodate the crowd, but the place I went with Sydney was too small, in a basement, airless, and hot. There were no seats for either kids or parents. In addition, Okubo is Korea-town, which is wildly popular right now. The swarms of people in the streets and crowding the sidewalks caused us to walk with a straight-armed shuffle. We probably could have lifted our feet and been swept by the group, that’s how crowded it was on a sunny Sunday and a National holiday Tuesday. Needless to say, not a great experience on the rehearsal thing. Luckily, Sydney is speaking enough Japanese these days to understand enough of what the conductor was telling her, so she was able to follow the expectations of the group, making it less painful for her than me, watching her amid the other 100 or so Tiger Moms poised to jump at the smallest sign of stress.
And it is indeed the Tiger Mother concept that intrigued me the most about all this. Living here in Japan, I come into contact with it peripherally sometimes, but every now and then it hits me smack in the face. There were real rules and regulations for this thing that the mommies were expected to acknowledge and follow. First of all, we were told we had to attend all 3 rehearsals or not go to the concert. Then we were given a little tag for Sydney to wear, showing her group number on it. We had to fill out the back. I got my own tag, as Sydney’s mother, to accompany her to rehearsals. We were warned 3 times to make sure we had safety pins with us for the tags. Clearly, as evidenced by the lack of fathers in sight, it was the mommies who were dealing with this. Well, that and I kept hearing the Japanese word for “mother” from the conductor’s mouth as she explained everything.
Then there was a form to put into the violin case, lest it get lost. It didn’t just have a name and address on it, but also the teacher’s name. There was a form to buy the DVD, because of course there is no filming or even photography at Suntory Hall. Sydney had to wear a white blouse, black bottoms and black shoes with preferably white socks. We were to arrive at Suntory Hall at precisely 11:20, having both fed and pottied our children. These rules were told to me in perfect Japanese, of which I understood little, and then repeated in multiple forms, given to me multiple times, and then finally translated for me by our teacher. The regimentation of everything, and the strict rules, not to mention the strict adherence to those rules, sometimes makes me, a Westerner, a little batty. But I’ve been doing it long enough that I have learned to roll with it, and do my best.
All that being said, the concert itself was majestic. There were cellists and flutists as well. There were beautiful ensemble pieces played by what amounted to a string orchestra. All of the pieces – and it was a two-hour concert – were played by children between the ages of 3 and 18. None had yet graduated from high school, and each piece was played with the love and care of a master. And being Suzuki children, there was not a single piece of sheet music in sight. While Suzuki kids can read music after the first few years, they play by ear, always memorizing their pieces. These were remarkable children.
The most moving part of the concert was when they brought out eight children who had traveled to Tokyo from their home in Sendai, an area badly affected by the earthquake and Tsunami. The children spoke of their homes and their violin playing – and their hope for the future. They were happy to be in Tokyo and playing at Suntory Hall, the Carnegie Hall of Tokyo.
The entire afternoon – and between the rehearsals and concert itself, it was a whole day, pretty much – was a very Japanese experience. It was organized, regimented, proscribed, somewhat annoying, and in the end, just lovely.