Feb 21, 2017

Children's Music Festival Presented Harmony for Tomorrow in Fukushima

The Nutcracker, Jingle Bells, White Christmas … the small coastal town of Soma in Fukushima was not covered with snow, but its civic hall was filled with a collection of heart-warming Christmas treasures called “music”. 

After the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, the Friends of El Sistema Japan have been providing free music education to children in partnership with the local government of Soma. Specifically, the children learn strings and chorus with peers in an inclusive group setting. It was meant to support and help them overcome distress caused by the devastating earthquake and tsunami. As you may know, Fukushima has suffered not only from the direct loss of people’s lives and houses but also from the ongoing misery associated with the 2011 nuclear power accident.

The Soma Children’s Orchestra & Chorus was formed with an aim to nurture life skills of the affected children through music. Our El Sistema-inspired orchestra and chorus is a microcosm of the world, which is composed of preschoolers to high school students, children from both single-parent and big families, disabled and so on. These children achieve musical excellence together by learning about each other and growing as a team.    

The Children’s Music Festival was first held in March 2015. It served as a venue for the Soma Children’s Orchestra and Chorus to present music to their families and local residents. Soma once gained musical fame with its folk songs and has a long tradition of playing and appreciating music, so the event has met with high expectations from the local community.

The 3rd Children’s Music Festival organized last Christmas was also joined by the local junior high school and high school brass bands. The two-day festival boasted a wide variety of music by children and culminated with Finlandia, a masterpiece by Sibelius. “Music synchronizes with an array of emotions. Happy music can lead you to smile no matter if you are playing or listening to it”, says Kurumiko, a junior from Soma High School.

Thanks to the generous supporters like you, we can continue to provide free music education and organize events like the Children’s Music Festival for the children in Soma. We can assure you that they have gained and are still steadily gaining life skills through music. Furthermore, our program helps not only the children but also the community itself with positive ripple effects.

Music grows children. Music unites everybody. We appreciate your continued support in our endeavor. Thank you!

Nov 28, 2016

Friendship with A Little Cellist in Fukushima

Risa and Marek
Risa and Marek

Risa first met “Marek-san”, a tall, fair-haired American cellist of Polish origin, in her hometown of Soma, Fukushima, in 2014. Having first-hand experienced the tragedy of the nuclear reactor meltdown in Chernobyl at the age of 16, “Marek-san”, was firmly determined to stand up for the children of Fukushima. It was the site of the aftermath of the 2011 Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami struggling for recovery and reconstruction.    

Soma is a small coastal town with an estimated population of 35,800. Parts of the town were engulfed, destroyed and swept away by the devastating tsunami, which reportedly rose up to 9.3 meters or higher and claimed the lives of 458 people. Despite the town’s proximity to the very site of the nuclear power accident, the level of radiation exposure in Soma was considered to be not serious enough for its residents to evacuate. However, the stigmatized image of Fukushima being contaminated with radiation ripped apart the hearts of local people and further cast a shadow of uncertainty toward the future. The Soma Children’s Orchestra & Chorus was formed with an aim to nurture life skills of the affected children through music.

Marek discovered the Soma Children’s Orchestra and extended assistance by contributing the funds raised by his cello recitals. “Without music, I would not have been able to overcome the fear of Chernobyl as well as the difficult life in Poland under the Soviet Union’s communist regime. I sincerely hope that music will help the children in Soma find answers in life as well”, he conveyed.

In November 2014, Marek visited Soma and played music with the Soma Children’s Orchestra. During the lesson, Marek noticed that Risa, a then-3rd-grade girl, was struggling with the cello that was unfittingly big for her height. Back then we could only afford one half-size cello, which Risa had had to give up to another child. She had been advised to pick up another instrument instead but could not let go her dream of playing the cello. Having learned of this, Marek purchased another half-size cello for Risa with the proceeds from his recital 4 months later. Needless to say, Risa was very pleased with the gift. Her dream came true.

Risa was so determined that she can now play Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. “Your progress is remarkable”, Marek praised Risa at the recent reunion. Then, much to everyone’s astonishment, he gave her a 3/4 size cello this time – expecting that Risa has grown up over the course of 2 years and would be fit for a little bigger cello now. “I am happy and thankful because Marek-san extended a helping hand again”, Risa smiled.

Marek chose the instruments and bows carefully with the hope that Risa and other members of the orchestra would be able to enjoy them for a long time to come. Risa says the cellos from “Marek-san” play with a gentle, deep sound. She knows it is not just about the cellos, but they stand for friendship. It resonates with Marek abiding heart for the children in Soma. 

Thanks to supporters like you and Marek we have been able to continue providing the gift of music to children in the disaster-affected areas. In addition to our work in Soma, we have been making free music education available to the children in Otsuchi, another coastal town severely challenged by the 2011 Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami. While Japan has the world’s third-largest economy, the gap between the privileged and the underprivileged is widening. The children are no exception. We have continued witnessing this trend as we implement activities on the ground,

Your continuous support is indispensable in keeping our program running and to make sure no child is left behind. Once received, your donation will be used to purchase and maintain instruments as well as to organize regular music lessons for children. We appreciate your continued passion. Please contact us if you have any questions or suggestions.  

Thank you.

Aug 25, 2016

Winning Our Own Prize

While the typhoon was fast approaching and gray clouds brooded over the city of Soma in northeastern Japan, the members of the Soma Children’s Chorus were practicing “Our Echo”, a set piece for the upcoming chorus contest.

The voice walks, the voice runs

It's alright that everyone has a different voice

The voice, you become a mountain! The voice, you become the sea!

The voice, the voice, you go over it!

The children were singing liberally under the guidance of Mr. Fujio Furuhashi, Music Director of the Soma Children’s Chorus. Experienced in coaching children’s chorus groups as well as serving as a judge at musical contests, he can foresee how the Soma Children’s Chorus will be evaluated at the upcoming contest. “What we are aiming at is not a so-called gold medal. If that was what we wanted, then we could only draw on good, upper grade students to enter the contest”, says Mr. Furuhashi.

In the Soma Children’s Chorus, the children from as young as second graders through high school seniors learn chorus together. You can often observe the older students taking care of the little ones like siblings. They guide group lessons, make sure no one is left behind and even find a way to distribute differently flavored candies in a fair and peaceful manner. “We are like one big family. In this kind of environment, there is no bullying. Our children will grow into caring and responsible adults”, Mr. Furuhashi hints at what may be considered the ‘gold medal’.

“We are not playing for competitions”, Mr. Yohei Asaoka, Music Director of the Soma Children’s Orchestra, also emphasizes. “By immersing themselves in the music created by the world’s greatest composers, the children will be able to relive the very beauty that the composers pursued in human beings. It is an invaluable experience. I just would like the children to get their hands on the great sensation arising from the experience”, Mr. Asaoka speaks enthusiastically about the goal he has set forth with the children.  

The Soma Children’s Orchestra is, of course, trying to achieve musical excellence, but what the children are picking up along the way is equally or even more important. Haruka, a first year junior high school violinist, gained self-confidence by participating in the Soma Children’s Orchestra where children of different ages and grades gather from different schools. “I used to be very shy, but now I can talk to and make new friends of different backgrounds”, she smiles.

Akari, another first year junior high school student with a visual impairment, seems to have found a place for herself in the Soma Children’s Orchestra. She started at a boarding school in Tokyo from the spring but comes back to Soma every weekend to practice and play with the other children. “It’s fun to play the violin in an orchestra setting”, she talks like a real music lover.       

Whether it is the Soma Children’s Chorus or the Soma Children’s Orchestra, it is our unchanged and unchallenged policy to accept and support any child with free music education. The child may gain first-hand experience in music and be awoken by its beauty, learn the pleasure of expressing themselves through music or simply be happy with the friendships and bonds built through playing music together. Everybody has a different voice. Everybody has different dreams and aspirations. So, everybody’s prize will be a little different.

Friends of El Sistema Japan is dedicated to delivering programs that nurture life skills for children. We appreciate your continued support in all our endeavors.

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