By Patrick Peh
At the end of January we had Tsubaki “Matsuri” (meaning Festival), which is a massive festival held at Tsubaki Shrine, marking the coldest day this winter. But what I am going to write about here is not so much about the festival but about a concert band of the same name. In my final year of the JET program, I had the honor and privilege to perform with Brass Band Camellia in Masaki Culture Center. Previously, in Listen to the Japanese School Band I narrated the story of students playing their instruments in band. This time, I will write about their teachers who play their instruments in band.
The flower of Matsuyama
“Camellia” (In Japanese – Tsubaki) is the designated city flower of Matsuyama and the band is a standard British style brass band, which means that they only use brass and percussion instruments. This band is also the first such ensemble in Ehime prefecture, marking its start in April 2004. This year, we had the 17th annual performance and it was broadcast on YouTube on January 29th. The prefecture flower of Ehime is Mikan no hana (mikan flower). Not to be confused with the city flower of Matsuyama which is Tsubaki (camellia).
The weekly training for Camellia is every Sunday at Matsuyama Shimin Kaikan (Civic Center) from 9am to 12pm. If you happen to cycle pass the rehearsal room (on the first floor with beige colored blinds) around that time, you can expect to hear brass instruments being played. I joined the band around May last year as a visitor and then I became a member around September when I felt that I had gotten back my trumpet skills. The band was introduced to me by Saika-sensei, who is a teacher at my current JHS.
Saika-sensei is a dedicated trumpet player and when we have time together, school or Civic Center, she would give me trumpet lessons for free. She helps out with Elementary School Brass Bands at Shiomi and Ishii Higashi, sometimes at Horie as well. For the performance we had in January, she was the principal cornet player as well as the conductor for two of the three songs that the combined Elementary School Band performed. I will never forget my summer band camp with her and Sogabe-sensei in Niihama last August. It was a 3 day 2 night camp with very intensive training all three days. While I was constantly pushed to my limit over all 3 days, I was able to develop my musicality in Trumpet Mirai Juku with Sogabe-sensei and Saika-sensei in Niihama last August.
Featuring Shiomi and Ishii Higashi Elementary School
While the main performance for the day is by Brass Band Camellia, the combined Band of Shiomi and Ishii Higashi Elementary School brought in a larger audience than the main band itself. While I surveyed the seats in the hall, I noticed that everyone is either a family member of a student, or a teacher at the school. I didn’t see Kyoto-sensei but I knew he was there because he gave me omiyage during the intermission – delivered to me by Saika-sensei. The Shiomi and Ishii Higashi band brought us 3 very energetic songs including Odoru Ponpokorin – Chibi Maruko’s theme song. It is impressive to hear the grandeur of the music being played by those little ones and we definitely can’t underestimate their musicianship and commitment for performing at such a big venue.
A well dressed gentleman took the spotlight as he introduced the performing bands for the day. He sounded very familiar and comfortable talking on stage and addressing the audience. The Emcee for the afternoon, Rakusaburo-san, is a renowned TV announcer. He is locally famous and has a YouTube channel by the name of “らくさぶろうの愛媛LOVEチャンネル” . Rakusaburo-san graduated from Yushin Junior High School and during his days in band he played the tuba (I got to know of this in the dressing room while having lunch with the guys) so he has no problem speaking the language of music. Throughout the performance, he interviewed several band members, including our band rep – Tsubota-san, principal cornet player – Saika-sensei and our lead percussionist – Kimura-san.
And he interviewed me.
I was told right before the second half that I was maybe going to be interviewed on stage but all I could think about was not messing up the songs for the second half. They were all my favorite pieces and I wanted to focus and to play them well. Before we performed “Eye of the Tiger ”, Rakusaburo-san spoke to the audience “By the way, did you guys notice a name printed in katakana in the performers list?”.
My mind automatically changed from thinking about the remaining songs to formulating last minute self introductions. Honestly, If I did not have two and a half years of public speaking training and JLPT N2, I would not have survived that day. What’s funny is that while my thoughts were invisible, the reaction I had when I knew he was going ahead to interview me was visible from anywhere in the venue. Even Naoko-san, who was watching the performance through YouTube, saw the panic on my face. Thankfully, Rakusaburo-san was very easy to talk to on stage and I was able to say that I haven’t been playing trumpet for about 7 years now and I wasn’t confident in playing my part until the intensive rehearsal days.
And then I was publicly jouzued for my nihongo.
My last year in Japan as part of the JET program has been blessed with not one but five performances with schools and the band community in Matsuyama. This chapter will be a festive and spirited coda to the entire period of my existence in this city. I will definitely come back and visit these people. I will return to Singapore and be on the lookout for a place to brandish my newly bought Yamaha custom series trumpet. As a final message to the people who read my articles on the Mikan blog, thank you for reading and I hope you have enjoyed these stories as much as I have enjoyed writing them.
Writer’s note: In the context of music, a coda is a musical element at the end of the song or a composition that brings the whole piece to an end.
Patrick Peh is a 5th year ALT from Singapore currently in Matsuyama. After performing with Brass Band Camellia, he performed Cyalume Dance in school with some Junior High School students in February. He won’t be writing about it because this culture is hardly existent in Ehime. Instead, he’ll be going back to his team in Singapore this summer to make videos for their channel.