Children  Japan Project #14117

Soma Children's Orchestra and Chorus

by Friends of El Sistema Japan Vetted since 2013

Runa is a proud alumna of the Soma Children’s Orchestra. After having experienced the devastating Great East Japan Earthquake in Fukushima, she joined the Soma Children’s Orchestra and found the joy of playing music. She left the small town of Soma last year to pursue her college education in Tokyo but has kept her passion for music – she knows first-hand how music can help heal emotional wounds, make friends and create beautiful harmony with them. 

Runa never forgets how the Soma Children’s Orchestra served “like a school” for her. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, many families in Tamano District, where she grew up, chose to evacuate to other areas. As a result, the number of school children dropped sharply. Having been one of only a handful of students who remained in Tamano District, Runa recalls how excited she was when she found out about the Soma Children’s Orchestra. “I immediately signed up but, learning other children were all younger, I felt insecure. It did not take long to break the ice, however. Everybody was very friendly”, Runa says. The orchestra turned out to be a place where she could not only learn to play the violin but also meet and make new friends from other districts in Soma.

Today Runa and 2 other girls from Soma, Haruka and Momoka, made their debut at a charity concert held in Tokyo. They played as part of the Fellow Orchestra, an amateur orchestra that supports good causes through music. The core members of the Fellow Orchestra, in fact, have been traveling to Fukushima to support the Soma Children’s Orchestra on a pro bono basis. Seizing an opportunity of playing together with big brothers and sisters who used to teach them, the freshman girls could not conceal their excitement. “It’s like a dream.” At the same time, they have become aware of their new role – yes, it is time for them to become big sisters. “I want to further develop my skills and pass it onto the younger generation because that’s the gift I received from the Soma Children’s Orchestra”, Runa describes enthusiastically.

Ticket sales of the charity concert supported by Runa, Haruka and Momoka will partly go to the Soma Children’s Orchestra. It has been nearly 7 years since the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, but we still recognize the need for continuous support for affected children in Soma. The waning donor interest is a major concern for us. Your contribution has been and will continue to be used in a meaningful way. We appreciate your support very much and sincerely hope you will stay with our children – thank you!

Haruka, Runa and Momoka
Haruka, Runa and Momoka

The Soma Children’s Chorus joined the Tokyo White Hands Chorus, an innovative choir of children with hearing impairments, on the occasion of El Sistema Gala Concert held last month. As a new addition to El Sistema Japan family, the Tokyo White Hands Chorus was recently formed with an aim to facilitate children with disabilities to express themselves through art.

It was the day before the concert when the two groups of children met for the first time. The Soma Children’s Chorus has experience of singing with other choirs and orchestras but has never sung with children who cannot hear yet express the world of music through corporal movements – particularly, by the use of the white gloved hands as symbol. So, the children of the Soma Children’s Chorus were excited but at the same time a little anxious when they got together with the Tokyo White Hands Chorus and started practicing “Momiji (Autumn Color of Leaves)”, a very popular nursery rhythm depicting the beauty of the Japanese mountains aflame with autumn color.

“It’s a totally inspiring experience. I’ve never imagined expressing this song in such a way”, said Aya, a mezzosoprano, observing how the children of the Tokyo White Hands Chorus eloquently communicate the vivid autumn colors without using voice but their hands and other body parts. “Depending on how we engage corporal movements, the colors of leaves can change”, describes Hikaru, a hearing-impaired high school student from the Tokyo White Hands Chorus.

The concert represented an opportunity for the two groups of children to interact and learn from each other. They “sang together” 5 songs – the Soma Children’s Chorus with its beautifully resonant voice and the Tokyo White Hands Chorus with its magically flowing body movements. Two pieces put together, the children completed the very unique art of music. 

“Through this experience, I learned we can communicate with each other just by means of gestures”, said Nako, another mezzosoprano, who never had the chance of mingling with hearing-impaired children prior to the concert. It was also meaningful for the members of the Tokyo White Hands Chorus. “Regardless of hearing abilities, we could become friends through music. Now I want to become friends with everybody around the world who may be living with many different types of disabilities”, Misaki, a 3rd grader of the Tokyo White Hands Chorus, shared her passion.

Thanks to the generous supporters like you, we can organize events like this El Sistema Gala Concert and bring together children of different backgrounds. We strongly believe in the value of accepting differences and promoting an inclusive society through music. We assure you that your contribution has been and will continue to be used in a meaningful way. We appreciate your support from the bottom of our hearts – thank you!

It’s a beautiful time of year – the summer. The Soma Children’s Orchestra was joined by the members of the Otsuchi Children’s Orchestra for a joint summer music camp in Soma, Fukushima.

Soma boasts its extensive rice paddies. They become so lush and green in the summer, exhibiting a sense of peacefulness. The town, however, still remains negatively affected by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and the following nuclear accident. Crops sales are not on the up because of the persistent reputational damage caused by the nuclear meltdown. Local fishermen continue suffering from reduced catches of fish and shellfish. Otsuchi, where the Otsuchi Children’s Orchestra was formed nearly 3 years ago, is another coastal town impacted by the 2011 disaster. It has been experiencing a significant population decline, which led to consolidation of local schools. 

Despite the challenges, the children from the two places are striving hard for their dreams. “I enjoy playing in the Soma Children’s Orchestra because we help each other, teach each other and become better players all together”, says Haoto, a 6th grader violinist. She joined the orchestra 4 years ago and has made many friends since then. “In the Soma Children’s Orchestra, it does not matter if you are in different grades or go to different schools or whatever. We grow in connection with others” 

An orchestra is composed of individuals, all performing their own roles yet expected to be in sync with one another. When teamwork is in place, it delivers harmony most beautifully. Michitaro, a 4th grader violinist from Otsuchi, says, “I go to the El Sistema Japan’s string class three times a week. My friends join me there, and we all play together. That’s what I like about it.” At the summer camp, he and other children of the Otsuchi Children’s Orchestra had a chance to play Pachelbel’s Canon D and Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik with the Soma Children’s Orchestra. “Because there were more of us participating in one orchestra, there were more mistakes we made. So, we had to practice again and again, but I liked it. Our music became more sublime”, Michitaro described with enthusiasm. It was a whole different experience from the Otsuchi Children’s Orchestra practicing alone, and the same went for the Soma Children’s Orchestra.

Thanks to the generous supporters like you, we can provide free music education and organize events like this summer retreat for children. We assure you that, despite various hardships, the children are building life skills by the means of creating music with others.

We appreciate your continued support from the bottom of our hearts – thank you!

Walking together in a paddy rice field
Walking together in a paddy rice field

The Soma Children’s Orchestra traveled to Tokyo and participated in “El Sistema Japan Orchestra Festival” late last month. It represented an extraordinary opportunity for the children not only to visit Japan’s metropolis with peers but also to explore and create harmony with those who are coming from different backgrounds.

50 children left Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, for Tokyo early in the morning. Ahead of them was a long bus ride to Tokyo, but the children never seemed to bother. “It’s always fun to travel with friends”, smiled Hinano, a 3rd grader girl who joined the Soma Children’s Orchestra 4 years ago.

As soon as the children arrived in Tokyo, they joined a rehearsal with the members of other orchestras – specifically, the Otsuchi Children’s Orchestra, the Fellow Orchestra and finally the Hands On Orchestra. What is interesting and challenging about “El Sistema Japan Orchestra Festival” is to bring together these orchestras of different backgrounds. To briefly introduce the other orchestras; the Otsuchi Children’s Orchestra is another El Sistema-inspired program from the tsunami-affected small town of Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture. The Fellow Orchestra is a Tokyo-based group of adults, including professional musicians, while the Hands On Orchestra is composed of 7 elderly ladies who just started learning the violins. “This event is all about the participants realizing a sense of unity by overcoming the differences in age, hometown, affiliation, proficiency and life experiences“, said Yutaka Kikugawa, Executive Director of the Friends of El Sistema Japan.

Till the last minute, over 130 members from 4 different orchestras practiced together in search of ‘united music’. The tickets were nearly sold out, and the audience was impatiently waiting for the curtain to be raised. The musicians dressed in black and white appeared on the stage. They all seemed very nervous. Once they started playing, however, they gradually looked uplifted and happy getting into the rhythm of music together with others on the stage.

The differences exist among the participants, but they also have things in common. That is, they all love music and believe in the power of music. “Playing the violin, I was filled with a sense of togetherness. It was such a great feeling”, said Takayuki, a freshman who played the role of Concertmaster at “El Sistema Orchestra Festival”.

Thanks to the generous supporters like you, we can organize events like “El Sistema Orchestra Festival” and let the children in Soma experience and build connections with the outside world. Through this event, the children learned that they can go beyond borders and deepened their appreciation for music. We appreciate your continued support – thank you!

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!

 

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Organization Information

Friends of El Sistema Japan

Location: Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo - Japan
Website: http:/​/​www.elsistemajapan.org/​
Project Leader:
Yutaka Kikugawa
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo Japan

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