Natasha Gollin: Kyoto University Gasshoudan

For the past 2 months or so, I have been actively participating in the Kyodai Gasshoudan, or the Kyoto University Mixed Voices Chorus. I have been regularly attending practices twice a week and intend to appear in the annual winter concert on Sunday December 4th.

At first it was not easy—the other members had already learned the songs, so I had to catch up and learn to sing the women’s songs in Japanese. On top of that, the songs for the mixed choir are in Hungarian, which is far harder to pronounce or remember than Japanese. But I persisted, and with the help of some optional long practices, as well as the gasshuku (retreat), which was more work than play, I got a better grip on the lyrics and melody and now intend to sing in the whole concert. I still need to look at the sheet music at times, but I will work hard to be off-book by the concert! At first I may have been a hindrance, but I want to help the choir instead of dragging them down, so I have been practicing all-out. Other than giving it my all, stapling tickets to flyers, and occasionally sharing snacks, there is not much else that I can contribute, but I do what I can.

Through this choir, I realized that singing groups in different countries may share some essential elements, but are ultimately different. Until I joined an a cappella group in sophomore year of college, choir was always a class and not an extracurricular for me. This choir requires an extra time commitment, so the people in it tend to be super-committed to the choir’s activities, not to mention paying its many expenses. Also, like other circles in Japan, people tend to make this their main activity during college, while back in America, people would usually have other activities and choir would not be their main focus. Another difference: this choir has various customs that are, shall we say, different from what I’m used to. This includes various cute and sometimes bizarre nicknames (e.g. Nojinoji, Winter, Zukkii), having long announcements by people in management positions after practice, staying after practice to sing extra songs, and slightly offbeat exercises and warm-ups (such as lip trills and hip-rotating…at the same time). But I suspect that this is not the standard of all choirs in Japan: it is unique to the Kyodai Gasshoudan, a group with a long and distinguished history of excellence and quirkiness.

Being let into this group meant a lot to me. I know that there is already a precedent for KCJS students being in this choir, but even so, the fact that they welcomed me with open arms says a lot about their kind and open-minded spirit. However, that does not necessarily mean everyone is going to talk to me or be my best friend. In a group of about 80 people, it is hard for even native Japanese to get close to each other. Still, through different activities, I was able to socialize and befriend my fellow altos and first-year members, and now my closest friend who helped me from the start (nicknamed Christine or Chris) is even planning on sending me a New Year’s card, which is very flattering if you know how much it means in Japan.

From my CIP, I learned a few new words that I would never have known otherwise, such as gakufu (sheet music) and ensoukai ni noru (to appear in a concert, lit. “ride”). But more importantly, I learned that people will always be there to help me or explain things to me when I need it, so I should not worry and struggle through the music director’s instructions alone. Since they were there for me, I want to be there for them, and I plan to continue participating through next semester and doing what I can for the Gasshoudan.

In order to succeed in your CIP, do not hold back. Even if you are shy or not confident in your language skills, it never hurts to put yourself out there and try to make friends. There may be someone who is outgoing and interested in Western culture who befriends you first, but that is not always the case. So start talking with people, and of course, always do your best, because when your peers see you working hard, they will appreciate your presence and accept you as one of the group. Do not be afraid to ask questions, and most importantly: just have fun!

3 thoughts on “Natasha Gollin: Kyoto University Gasshoudan

  1. Fun, fun, fun, fun! Gotta get down in Kyoto.
    Looking forward to your performance this Sunday! Speaking of making Japanese friends, what kinds of activities did you find most effective in helping to strengthen your bonds with your fellows?

  2. Sorry for the late comment. I completely agree with what you said though – it’s so important to try talking to people despite the language barrier. When they see you working hard, they are usually happy to become friends. And you sang in Hungarian? That is so cool. Of course, you probably pronounce it all with a Japanese accent now, right? Are you continuing next semester?

  3. Erica: It was fun, indeed! Thanks for coming to the show^^ Well, as for bonding with people, I just chatted with them a little during and after practice, and there were sometimes activities outside of that, like the choir picnic and afterparty, and the altos’ “get pumped” nabe gathering the week before the show. Also, suffering together through weird warmups and exercises helps, in a way… haha!

    Courtney: It’s true! Though some people still have no interest in talking…it never hurts to try! Yes, there was a crash course in Hungarian pronunciation, which actually ended up sounding fairly well (not that I would know)…except for the occasional “l” and “r” mix-up. And yes, I plan to continue next semester as a newly-leveled-up second-year, or “新2回生”!