Hai Anh Pham: Kyoto University's Chorus

The emails that I exchanged with the Chorus’s representative gave me an impression that the circle was an all-accepting space where even the non-experienced are welcomed: “Thank you for your interest. We await you at the first practice. And yes, we are thrilled that you are bringing friends. Bring them all, be it 5 or 10 people!!” 

And really, the people were as nice as I had pictured them to be. On the first day, a guy came all the way to where I and Yuki got lost to pick us up. After the first practice was over, we newcomers were put into the spotlight, so all the members could get to know us and sing their welcoming song. Throughout my time with them, I continued to feel the circle’s attempt to create a sense of belonging for all its members: free after-practice meals, weekend gatherings, and the funnest of all, the exaggerated, variety show-like reaction words we always give together when someone is doing an announcement. I wish I had more time to interact and make friends with everyone. My host family was far away from Kyodai, so I couldn’t participate much in the bonding activities that the circle created for its members.

Joining a circle where everyone was welcomed first gave me the assumption that the quality of real practices would be mediocre. I was wrong. Even though the songs we had to sing were really difficult, the conductor, part leaders, and most people really knew what they were doing. Not only that, they went out of their way to guide newbies like me, whether it was the breathing and diaphragm training exercises at the beginning, or the melody, beats, and nuances of each music bar. At first, it was a bit irritating to me, because their over-guidance indicated that they thought I knew absolutely nothing. However, I realized after a while that they were just fulfilling their roles of senpai, to welcome and help and instruct, especially considering my barriers not being a Japanese. And after months of going to the Chorus, although I did not have much opportunities to interact with the members outside of practice, the care that they showed toward me really made me feel like a kouhai myself, that I belonged as part of this Chorus.

6 thoughts on “Hai Anh Pham: Kyoto University's Chorus

  1. I am really happy to hear that the senpai-koupai relationship in Japanese culture helped you fit into the group and enjoy your CIP. Also, would you please also introduce a few things that surprised you at the chorus group? What you would have done different to make the transition from outsider to insider more smoothly?

    • Thanks for the comment! Well, I was surprised that although the group is 100% student run, it is really professional, and all the members dedicate their time and effort into what they are doing.
      I wish I had had time to bond with people outside practice. As a foreigner studying in a different university and having a much longer commute than anyone else, it is really difficult. But it would have been possible if I had used LINE and other means to communicate with the members.

  2. Hi! It’s great to hear that you had a nice and warming experience with the Chorus Circle! Especially the senpai-kouhai experience, which I believe not many of us actually ever had the chance to experience it! Were all the students in the circle from Kyoto University? Do you know if they ever had another exchange or foreign student join them in the past? Have you ever joined a Chorus group in the past in another country? If you did, were there any differences that really came to you as surprising or interesting?

    • Thanks for the comment! The KCJS students seemed to be the only ones not from Kyodai. But there were some other foreign students in the group too.
      I did a bit of a cappella in high school. But whereas in high school, people chose songs from various sources, some even pop songs, all the songs I sang in my CIP were from a book dedicated to choir singing, and are super long and difficult.

  3. What, lucky!! Sounds like you found an awesome circle to join for your CIP. That’s so amazing how welcoming and nice everyone was; especially the guy who came to find you when you got lost. That’s some warm hospitality. What kinds of songs did you sing? Was it hard to sing in Japanese or did you jump right into it and get the hang of it pretty quickly?

    • Thanks for commenting! I hope you had a good time with your CIP too.

      All the songs were in hiragana, so language barrier was not a problem. Although, they required high technical skills in terms of melody and rhythm, so it was challenging to sing.