Children
 Japan
Project #14117

Soma Children's Orchestra and Chorus

by Friends of El Sistema Japan
Vetted

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!

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.

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.

group photo after the concert
group photo after the concert

Children from two remote countries – Japan and Angola – were blessed with an opportunity to get together and play in an orchestra in Fukushima and Tokyo, Japan, this month. The children from both countries are members of the orchestras nurtured by the El Sistema-inspired music education programs. Following the Great East Japan Earthquake, the Friends of El Sistema Japan launched the Soma Children’s Orchestra in 2013 to equip children in the disaster-affected areas with life skills through music. Kaposoka Symphony Orchestra, on the other hand, started off from the Kaposoka Music School project in 2008 with an aim to support children and youths from poor families in the Samba District of Luanda, Angola, where the aftermaths of colonization and the civil war still impede steady development.  

“Soma has a small town feeling. Air is very fresh here”, said Lourdes, a 19-year old violist, upon arrival in Soma, which is a home ground to the Soma Children’s Orchestra. “I am excited about making new friends because it is fun to play with children from other countries”, commented Katia, an 18-year old violist, with a look of expectancy. The children of Soma and Kaposoka spent only a short time on joint rehearsals but played “Divertimento in D Major, K.136” by Mozart and “Canon in D Major” by Pachelbel in total synchronization. Kazuki, a junior high school bassist, commented, “The way our Angolan peers played music made us smile naturally”. At the end of the concert, the Soma children gave the Soma Children’s Orchestra’s original T-shirts to the Kaposoka children as a token of friendship. Then, the Kaposoka children in turn shared a “gift of music” by playing “Pirates of the Caribbean”. The Soma children sparkled their eyes at the performance, relating themselves to brave pirates who fight against obstacles and open up a new horizon. 

A week later, the Soma and Kaposoka children met in Tokyo for the second round. This time the Kaposoka children attended a rehearsal with the Soma Children’s Orchestra’s T-shirts on. Despite the language barrier, the children from two countries tried to communicate with each other proactively by tapping out the rhythm and conveying messages with gestures. It was clear that they have been brought closer and closer in the process of performing, sharing and creating music together, and, yes, it was culminated when they played “Divertimento in D Major, K.136” on stage. The children demonstrated that there exists no border where music is shared. As they played the final chords, the audience erupted in thunderous applause and cheering with a feeling of unity created by the power of music.

After the concert, the children of Soma and Kaposoka exchanged messages. “I was very happy to play with the friends from Angola today”, said Keigo, a junior high school cellist. Felix, the conductor, then responded with a great smile, “Japan is a wonderful country. Next time, come to Angola, and let’s play Angolan music together”. The children from two countries seem to have become one and continue to be Goodwill Ambassadors.

Thanks to your generous support, we can deliver great programs to children from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. We believe our programs have greatly benefited and will keep benefiting them. We will stick to the policy of making music education available to any child who wishes, regardless of his or her family background, disabilities and nationality. We greatly appreciate your harmonious support in all our endeavors. Thank you!

2nd Children
2nd Children's festival

This year’s March 11 marks the 5th anniversary of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit northeastern Japan and subsequently instigated nuclear accidents along the coast. Many children were then separated from beloved families and friends, lost homes and went through traumatic experiences. Friends of El Sistema Japan was established in 2012, one year after the disaster, to equip children in the affected areas with life skills through music. Specifically, we have been engaging children in El Sistema-inspired inclusive education program – any child, regardless of his or her family background, disabilities and nationality, can participate in a classical orchestra and chorus and receive music education for free, as far as the child wishes. 

The Friends of El Sistema Japan’s program started off with a modest number of children, partly due to lack of resources. However, now the orchestra has grown to a dynamic group of 90 children while the chorus counts over 60 children. Furthermore, by dispatching music teachers to public schools, we are providing indirect support to approximately 2000 children in the earthquake-affected areas. This has all became possible with incredible commitment and support from those who believe in our program for children.

To commemorate the 5th anniversary of the tragedy, we recently organized the El Sistema Children’s Music Festival with the local government of Soma City, Fukushima. Children were so proud to sing and play instruments with their peers. In fact, the orchestra and chorus itself is now like a big family playing the sounds in harmony. “When I first came to Soma City, I was so lonely away from my kindergarten friends”, said 4th grader Nanaka. Following the earthquake, she evacuated from the coastal town in northeastern Japan, which was contaminated by the nuclear power plant accidents. “But now I have many friends here. Singing with them in front of a large audience like today brings me great joy”, she continued with a big smile. 

At the El Sistema Children’s Music Festival, the children demonstrated the power of music by uniting not only themselves but also their families, friends, and the audience at large – which includes the current and potential supporters like yourself. While the reconstruction efforts continue in various forms, we believe our program has benefited and will keep benefiting those children on the ground. Music, together with friends, can create peace of mind. We greatly appreciate your generous support in all our endeavors.

 

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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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