October 23, 2020

Choir shares stage with tsunami survivors

By Hannah Fakhrzadeh

The College’s choir had the opportunity to sing alongside Japanese tsunami survivors on Tuesday, March 29, at New York City’s Lincoln Center to benefit the survivors.

Music Department Chair, Associate Professor and Director of Choirs John Leonard led the choir during its performance in the center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall, which seats 1,300 spectators, according to rosecompanies.com.

In an nj.com article from Tuesday, March 29, Leonard said that around 90 of his students joined 130 Japanese teenagers on stage to sing during the concert.

Among the students from the College that sang on stage was sophomore music education major Ryan Price.

“We sang Gustav Mahler’s second symphony, otherwise known as the ‘Resurrection Symphony,’ as well as Mozart’s ‘Ave Verum Corpus’ and the ‘Hand in Hand Theme Song,’” Price said.

The choir performed with high school students from Fukushima, Japan, according to sophomore violin music education major Lorena LiMato.

A little over five years ago, “the Great East Japan earthquake shook the country’s pacific coast, causing 133-foot tsunami waves and a slew of death and destruction,” according to the same nj.com article.

As with any concert of this magnitude, there was a lot of preparation.

“It was a little monotonous at first — going to extra rehearsals, amongst all of the other classes I’m taking as a music major,” LiMato said. “But I feel that the week before the concert, we started getting more excited because it was more tangible.”

LiMato described the experience of being able to work with the Japanese students in person.

“Once the Japanese students came and we ran through it with them, it got more intense because we finally got to meet and work with them face-to-face,” she said. “Even though there was a language barrier, there was definitely a sense of camaraderie amongst everyone because we all felt strongly about this performance.”

The concert not only paid respect to those whose lives were affected by the earthquake and tsunami, but also allowed for both the College and Japanese students to form friendships through a shared talent.

“This concert was just one of many that united American and Japanese students together to bond and make friendships over music, which has no cultural or linguistic boundaries,” Price said. “These Japanese students have probably seen more terror and pain than any of us will ever see. These students are from the region of Japan that suffered from earthquakes and tsunamis and watched family members (get) washed away. Yet they were so enthusiastic and excited to sing with us. This performance connected us in a way that no other medium of expression could ever do.”

The choir was excited to perform at a such an iconic place like Lincoln Center with friends from the College and new friends from Japan, freshman history major Kyle Elphick said.

“It doesn’t get much bigger than performing at Lincoln Center and I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to sing on such a stage,” Elphick said.

Along with excitement came a lot of nerves, as the choir knew the pressure was on.

“I was most nervous about making sure our pieces sounded professional,” Elphick said. “Our group, of course, had the ability to master the notes and rhythms, but I hoped that we would sound like we belonged at a venue like Lincoln Center. We definitely met that challenge.”

In addition to the prestigious venue, part of the song, “Hand in Hand,” was in Japanese.

“I was definitely most nervous about the diction,” LiMato said. “It was a little intimidating to make sure I knew all the correct words and syllables and how they fit into the rhythms of the musical phrases.” 

Overall, junior music education major Joanna Ju believes the concert was a great success and opportunity.

“Despite the language barriers, Japanese and American students were able to work together and create beautiful music,” Ju said. “I think that says a lot about how powerful music is in bringing people from diverse backgrounds together. These types of experiences create a sense of unity, which can give people the hope and strength they need to move forward.”

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