So here I was, finally... Otaru! Mission accomplished. I had visited Jun and her family quite a few times in the past,and never fail to be impressed with the charm and culture of Otaru
In Otaru, that is certainly the case..
Here is Shuji Yonezawa and a very jet lagged me by the Sea of Japan.
This is a view from M. Tenguyama, just above where I live with the family. In this pic, note the bandages on my hands... I had just had long overdue hand surgery in Sapporo, and was healing up. Thankfully,I had a great surgeon there and all turned out well, just in time for my concerts in October.
In 2019, I started composing music for a very special show,a one person recitation of the novel, "Night Train to the MilkyWay" by Kenji Miyazawa. In collaboration withJun Yonezawa's artwork, I wrote 7 atmospheric pieces for small ensemble and piano. Of course, during the pandemic, while 11 performances were taking place in Saitama, Kyoto and Sapporo, I could only receive reports as to how everything was going, and how the music was working for the production. My fondest hope was that I would get a chance to see and hear a production, and in September in Morioka City, (Miyazawa-san's hometown) I finally witnessed the performance, and saw the fruit of our labors...such a beautiful show!
It was really a treat to spend some time In Morioka City. It has the most peculiar vibe, in a good way. There is something in the air, that speaks to unseen influences, another-worldli-ness...something from the past. Walking through the parks and along the river, one feels a sense, a presence, of Miyazawa-san, and the rather surreal, enigmatic perspective that shines in his narratives.
The Miyazawa museum in Morioka
The site of the theatre, a converted sake distillery
The Yonezawa family have a very cool establishment in Otaru, a fast- becoming iconic restaurant that not only offers wonderful food, but often features musical performances of various types. It is appropriately named, "Muse" . Folded snugly into the funky laid-back atmosphere is a quite nice piano, and naturally, me doing a small concert there was a happy choice for me.
What surprised me was another opportunity which came at the same time, by way of one of Jun's friends, Yukie. She is a masterful classical pianist and a lovely person, and she arranged for me to play at another concert venue, this one in BiBai, Hokkaido, about one hour drive from Sapporo. "Arte Piazza BiBai" is a beautiful outdoor sculpture museum showcasing the amazing marble and bronze forms of the artist, Yasuda Kan. It is a setting which speaks of silence, subtlety, and reverence for nature in all it's creative form. I was fortunate to see, and quite humbled by, such a warm and receptive audience.This was rather special for me - my first solo concert in many years, one I could only imaginally prepare for during the pandemic. The piano was great, the sound system was wonderful and the reception was all I could have hoped for. ( And not one of the seemingly hundreds of kamemushi flew into my mouth!) My great thanks to Yukie for allowing me such a special musical re-birth here in Japan!
Concert hall and grounds
A welcome respite from the anxious activities leading up to the concerts was avisit to Kourakuen onsen in Otaru, arriving at the perfect time of year. The autumn foliage was just starting to color, providing the perfect backdrop to a classic Japanese garden... It really has to be seen to be appreciated, but here are a few images.
One of my strongest intentions, if I ever got to Japan again, was to do some music recording. Way back in 2019, In Tokyo, I had met and played with two very exceptional musicians, Satoshi Ishikawa on drums, and Ryoji Orihara on bass. Iwas totally blown away by our instantaneous chemistry , and what I wanted to do was spend more time playing together and hear how some new original songs of mine might shape up. Well, what happened was two days of rehearsal and 2 days of recording later , we had pulled together the rhythm tracks for 6 new songsthat I will feature on my new album, hopefully completed by the Spring/Summer 2023.
It was very gratifying to witness this dream of mine actually manifest. The uniquestyles of Satoshi-san and Ryoji-san complemented my songs beautifully,and I'm so looking forward to playing together again in live settings.
And hey, what's better than recording original music on your BIRTHDAY? Thank you guys for being so thoughtful..
Ofcourse, that "71" is simply a tribute to one of my older songs... no really, it is. Right...?
Just as that project was finishing up, Jun Yonezawa was starting an exhibition ofher work at the Keio Hotel in Shinjuku, Tokyo which was to run for 9 days. As with many of her previous shows, Jun featured my music as a sound-track to the exhibition. I had been composing short ensemble works and piano improvisations inspired by her artwork for many years, but like everything the pandemic constrained, I had never had the chance to be physically present, and had been limited to digital recordings. But my stay here now allowed for in person collaboration.
We had started to discuss a new perspective on creating together that we were calling, 'The Synesthesia Project'. Synesthesia is an inherent trait shared by many people whereby a blending of sense impressions occurs; Synesthetes hear colors, and some see sounds and music. Jun had always created artwork as a response to my music, and I had always created music in response to her art.What we could now do was to try to create in real time improvisational response to each other. So, as she created, I would respond to her art musically, and then she would respond to that, and so on; similar to a 'call and response' dynamic in jazz, where two musicians dialogue with each other. Except we were doing it in two different mediums. The Keio exhibition was a great success and the premier presentation of our first Synesthesia work, "One"
Soin truth, I was prepared for the snow in Otaru. I had seen pictures over the years, had even been here for a light dusting in 2019, so picturesque... And I do enjoy winter, and live in a very rural area of NY which get's a lot of snow.I'm so used to snow shoveling, and digging out cars... I was ready for whatever came down in December. In fact, I was looking forward to it!
When we say snow, I'm not convinced so far that that is the most accurate word for what happens here in Hokkaido, when white stuff starts falling from the sky.
This phenomenon seems to deserve another appellation; snow it is, but more like snow on steroids.
It is quite impressive the amount that has accumulated over the last month.Pretty much daily, with some occasional breaks, it is just what happens here,and Otaru residents are equally impressive in their adaption to what this timeof the year demands. What in New York would be a major blizzard, grumbled about and suffered through for days, impacting power and heat, and making driving impossible, here is just another day... requiring some adjustment, but life simply goes on. Everyone continues to drive over the snow packed roads, take the on-time busses and trains, as in any other season. No complaints, just start shoveling.
But honestly, once I got used to it, I began to deeply appreciate the spectacular depth of beauty that is contained within this natural environment. It is not an image one usually holds when thinking of Japan, at least not me. Northern Japan is quite like another country entirely. Proximity to Russia is no accident; parts of the USA of course will see major snow as well. I think for me what makes this environment so unique is that it is still Japan, with all the cultural accouterments that go along. Tokyo and Sapporo share the same national DNA... it is just so interesting and admirable to see that portrayed in this environment. It is the spirit of Ganbaru, to endure. I continue to be impressed with the resiliency of the Japanese people.
And as far as the shoveling goes, I actually do need more exercise.
Wishing Everyone a Warm and cozy Winter!