Schola Tour 2013 | Japan, Singapore, Myanmar
We asked students to help us chronicle the Schola tour to Asia. Enjoy these narratives compiled by Knox Sutterfield (‘MM 14), with reflections from Knox, Kathleen Allan (MM ’14), Andrew Padgett (MM ’14) and Sara Couden (AD ’14):
When our jetlagged group arrived in the Shinjuku ward of Tokyo, a smiling Masaaki Suzuki was at the hotel to greet us and warmlywelcome us to his native country. Though we were in a fog of fatigue and circadian confusion, tour director Mark Kasulen encouraged us totake in the lights and crowds surrounding the world’s busiest train station, Shinjuku Station, as we sought dinner on our own. The following day, we wisely pushed through the jetlag with stimulating visits to such sites as the Tokyo Tower, Imperial Palace, and Asakusa Kannon Temple. With free time for the remainder of the day, we scattered throughout the world’s largest metropolis to explore everything ranging from museums, temples, and parks, to markets, shops, and cat cafés. We all learned quickly that Tokyo is a city with an overwhelming amount to offer andnew experiences to be had around every corner.
The business of the tour began with a rehearsal at Tokyo Opera City, aptly named for the all-inclusive facilities situated in a high-rise atop the concert halls. Nearly five weeks had elapsed since our three performances of the Mass in B Minor back in the States, so it was exciting to brush off some of the dust in preparation for our four tour performances. That night we reconvened at Opera City, in the audience this time, for a concert by Bach Collegium Japan. For those of us who performed with them and the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center in March, it was a chance to see and hear some friends; for all of us, it was a tremendous musical treat.
The following day’s rehearsal setting was the Tokyo National University of the Arts. If the first rehearsal had been about dusting off music we had already performed and working out the kinks after travel, this one was all about exploring the maturity that comes from returning to a piece after having already performed it – a luxury for Schola, whose busy concert schedule rarely affords the opportunity to present a program more than once or twice. It was already apparent in this rehearsal that the chorus and orchestra had all come to know and understand the music more deeply than before, and there was palpable excitement all around as we heard and felt things coming together in ways that they had not in our first performances. This early sense would only grow throughout the tour. Particularly with a work as massive and complex as the Mass in B Minor, there is always more for performers and listeners alike to discover about the music through continued exposure, analysis, and absorption. It was a great privilege to be guided through the process by Masaaki Suzuki, who knows and understands this music better than almost anyone. Furthermore, he balances well the roles of sharing his own insights into the music with encouraging personal responsibility and musicianship from everyone involved, working toward a cohesively nuanced, vibrant performance, received with great enthusiasm by the Tokyo audience.
Afterward, we were invited to a reception by some of the faculty and students of the university, including Masaaki’s brother (and cellist for BCJ) Hidemi. It was a great way to conclude our stay in Tokyo before moving on to Sendai and Ishinomaki. ~Knox Sutterfield
“It was hard to know what to expect when we were driving towards Ishinomaki for a day of lectures, tours, and a school concert. A group of young volunteers had met us in Sendai, and joined us on the bus ride towards the small city where many of them had helped with clean-up in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami. They spread among us on the buses and, during the long ride, told us personal stories of their experience the day of the tsunami.
I sat with a 20-year-old volunteer named Ayaka, who told me of how her mother had been at her work near the coast when the earthquake hit. Her mother suggested to her boss that they evacuate in case of a tsunami, but her boss refused, and she left without permission. She picked Ayaka up from school, and went to their home on higher ground. I was shocked by the calmness and poise with which Ayaka recounted the story, especially when she told me of how they later learned how several of her mother’s colleagues were lost when the ocean overwhelmed the office building where she worked. She also told me of how cold they were when they had to go without power for days on end, and how difficult it was to get food and fresh water. Suddenly, before we had even reached our destination, the images and stories I had observed on television two years ago became tangible, and doubly chilling.
These images came into even sharper focus when a member of the Ishinomaki city council gave us a presentation about his experience as a city leader during the tsunami and its aftermath. With graceful poise and heartfelt sadness, and without censorship, he described the numbers of bodies (hundreds in his district alone), the temporary burial sites, the distraught family members of missing persons, the destruction of homes and schools, the floating fires, and absolute turmoil that flooded the city. Even more striking, however, was the pervading thread of hope woven through his story, and in the tone of all of the survivors we met. For every tragic story, we heard two stories of miraculous survival or reunion.
Our day in Ishinomaki ended with a concert at a middle school, the most uplifting part of my tour experience. Our tour guides provided us with neon-colored slippers to wear inside the gymnasium, including Sensei Suzuki, who sported fluffy bright green ones for the performance. They gave enormous ovations for the excerpts from Bach’s Mass in B Minor that we performed, as well as the African-American spirituals that the choir performed a cappella. The best part of the day for me, however, was when the entire gymnasium full of children stood and performed their school song for us at the end of the assembly. Though most of us couldn’t understand a word, the pride in their spirited performance was unmistakable. At that moment I was sure that if any community of people can overcome such hardship, it is the strong and compassionate people of Ishinomaki.” ~Kathleen Allan
From Ishinomaki, we headed south on several Shinkansen trains (“Bullet trains”) to Kyoto. Home to the Emperor for over a thousand years, Kyoto offers visitors a chance to see and learn about Japan’s ancient history and culture more than anywhere else we visited. From the Golden Pavillion to the countless shrines and temples and the Shogun’s castle, we had more than enough options to choose from as we explored the city.
Our final stop in Japan was Osaka, where we gave a concert in Izumi Hall, notably the site of Bach Collegium Japan’s inaugural concert over twenty years ago. Another tremendous success, we celebrated the conclusion of our Japanese tour with a post-concert dinner party before repacking for Singapore.
To those who know how far Singapore is from Japan (about 3000 miles), or have an idea about what Singapore’s climate might do to Baroque instruments (at only 1° in latitude, it’s hot!), its inclusion on the tour might seem puzzling, but Yale is about to open a campus in partnership with the National University of Singapore. The very first class enters this August, and the campus was still under construction .
Yale-NUS was just one of many fascinating sites to visit: from Chinatown and Little India to the ultra-modern Marina Bay Gardens or the historic Raffles Hotel. For almost all of us, visiting Singapore was a first, one of Schola’s basses, it was quite the opposite.
“For as long as I can remember I’ve had a difficult time figuring out what “home” meant for me. I’m an American citizen, born in San Francisco. My father is from San Diego, my mother is from Hong Kong. Their careers eventually brought our family to Singapore, where I lived for ten years before starting college, and where my parents and my brother still live.
Singapore would be as good a place as any to call home, if every visit back weren’t somehow subtly distressing. Our tour visit was mostly unexceptional in that regard: I felt time-warped showing friends from my Yale life my old haunts from almost a decade ago. When I was growing up, I rarely strayed outside the expatriate community, and nowadays I feel like an outsider among local Singaporeans. Even the city itself seems foreign, as Singapore continues to build new malls, casinos, condos, and offices at a breakneck pace. Every time I visit, there’s a new landmark or two, and my old city feels a little less familiar.
The Esplanade Theatres by the Bay were built close to the end of my residence in Singapore, so in my mind they seem quite new. Within, the striking Esplanade Concert Hall— where we performed—is an architectural and acoustical marvel, a meticulous, state-of-the-art unity of form and function. Admittedly, I was anxious when I discovered I’d be singing solos to this 1600-seat, sold-out house. But the experience of performing in that hall was exhilarating, making music with the finest colleagues I’ve known and with my family and friends in attendance. It was life-affirming, proof that the years I’d poured into music were well-spent. I felt humbled and triumphant, more alive than ever. As we took our bows to thunderous applause after the final, rapturous “Dona nobis pacem,” I felt a strange sensation: for a few, brief moments I felt like I’d come home.” ~ Andrew Padgett
While most of us then headed to our respective homes after a very full journey, the Voxtet with a few instrumentalists, faculty, and staff visited Myanmar (formerly Burma) for a musical and cultural exchange.
One of the most striking sites we visited in Myanmar was Shwegadon Pagoda, a giant, thick-based, golden spire, said to house a relic of Buddha. Surrounding it were hundreds of temples of various sizes—some of them intricately mirrored, others with inlaid floors, each with its own detailed, unique beauty. We walked barefoot in the rain on slippery marble, wide-eyed, with our cameras out, and surrounded by a mixture worshippers in modern dress, monks of various ages, and women sweeping the compound with brightly colored brooms.
In Bogyoke Market, we found gorgeous things to buy and the chance to attempt bargaining. (If you go to a shoe store and agree to pay full price, our tour guide’s anecdote ran, you’ll end up with one shoe, but if you ask for 50% of the cost, you’ll get two.). It was fascinating to be in downtown Yangon, seeing—if from a very outside perspective—something of how people make their lives in Myanmar.
But the most moving and life-changing aspect of our experience in Myanmar was meeting and singing with the Gitameit Music Center choir. Myanmar’s culture is historically, traditionally, and economically very different from what I know, but going to the Gitameit Center, being welcomed by the students and faculty there, and then singing Mozart’s Ave verum corpus with such excellent and dedicated musicians confirmed for me at a very fundamental level that cultural differences are not as important as the immense power of human experience and empathy. One hears over and over that music has the power to bring people together; I never really understood what that meant before singing with the Gitameit students and feeling—knowing—that though the spaces our lives inhabit are different, our lives themselves—the relationships that form and shape them, and the emotions that make them worthwhile—are not at all different. ~Sara Couden
From New Haven, New York, and Virginia to cities halfway around the world, Schola Cantorum and Juilliard415 explored some of the greatest music ever written and witnessed the growth that comes from continued collaboration and shared experiences. This tour brought the artistry of the two ensembles to people thousands of miles away and brought to its participants an appreciation of cultures and history both distinct from and connected to our own. It was a tour that highlighted both the transcendent and connective natures of music and celebrated many of the ISM’s principles.