The Sawanoya Ryokan that has been my home for these last 10 days is committed to educating its foreign guests about Japanese life. Yesterday it offered a kimono-wearing shamisen-playing experience at a house a bus ride away. A host came to meet myself and another guest from Switzerland and we ended up conversing in Spanish walking to the bus—our Japanese host had lived in Colombia, the young Swiss spoke five languages and I got my stripes teaching workshops in Spain these past 20 years. Still, a bit odd to walk into the home where other tourists were being dressed in kimonos speaking Spanish!
After the kimono-dressing, our hosts gave a short demonstration on the shamisen, the Japanese three-string equivalent of the banjo. They then invited us to learn the song Sakura, a pretty hilarious music lesson without knowing anything of our musical background. Not surprisingly, I emerged as the Spanish-speaking San-Franciscan shamisen-Sakura superstar and even plucked out a little blues. In many places, there would be a punch-line—buy this kimono, our CD, join our mailing list—but this was simply a sincere delight these five women took in opening their home and sharing a bit of their culture.
With some time before my 2 o’clock class, I wandered around Ueno Station looking for lunch. Time to confess. A bit weary of trying to decipher Japanese menus and wonder if there were fish or pork in the pictured dish, I went to —gasp!—Starbucks and got a sandwich. I can report that Japanese Starbuck “talls” are significantly smaller and more interesting, when you order, the person sings it out, another down the line echoes and then all the workers sing it yet once more. Really quite lovely and just as I decided to record it, there was a lull in the ordering.
Off then to my friend, the subway, arrived 15 minutes before 2 o’clock happy to meet this group again, and the first person I see says, “Where were you? We’ve been waiting since 10 am!!!” I was stunned. I assumed the schedule was the same for all three days, but apparently not. Imagine my shame. Never in over thirty years of giving workshops and Orff courses had this happened. I told them that when I used to play casual golf with my brother-in-law, we agreed that each was allowed one “mulligan”— a flubbed shot that you could do over and wouldn’t count on your score. So here was my career mulligan. Never before and never again!
We quickly scrambled to see where we could add time, I walked around the circle with my hands out inviting people to hit me for punishment (all very timid, except one!) and off we went. I gave an extra hour to about half the group that could stay and we had a class with the Orff instruments. Half the instruments were the usual, but the other half where just the chromatics (ie, black notes on the piano). So we did an entire session based on bi-tonality—Stravinsky would have loved it. And a good example of what I’m always stressing in workshops. We’re trying to model what it’s like to encounter every situation with a flexible mind, meet novelty with the full range of our imagination, listen and respond to what’s happening in the moment with every skill we have prepared so diligently. That is to say, it’s good and in fact, necessary, to have a plan and prepare yourself accordingly and equally necessary to know how to adjust and respond when the inevitable surprises come. A class mixing Gb and C pentatonic scale was certainly new to me—and we managed to make some pretty interesting music.
The next day, I arrived at the appointed 10 am time, ending the day with the students applying new ideas and techniques they learned to Japanese games or folk songs and creating little performances. They results were impressive and a perfect summary of the three days. A closing circle with two songs, the usual moist eyes, and off to dinner with four students I had taught in Salzburg in 2003. Such a pleasure to get to connect with former students, especially with such musical names! Ayako, Ikuko, Noriko, Nobuko. Say it out loud and you’ll see what I mean.
My last subway ride back to Nezu, my first taste of light rain and packing back in my room, I found the printed schedule. Imagine my surprise—it DID have all three days listed as 2:00 to 8:00! Perhaps there was another more updated sheet somewhere, but that indeed was the one I had glanced at. So I still have a mulligan coming to me. And I hope I never need to use it.