Marli Gordon: Kyodai Choir Reflection

The first choir practice I attended at Kyodai University held many surprises for me.  That first day, four other KCJS students and I were warmly greeted by three choir members at the entrance to the University.  They then lead us upstairs to a large room where the rest of the choir was assembled.  Members surrounded us and introduced themselves, pointing to their nametags which they all had hanging on strings around their necks.  Every single person I talked to made sure to make us feel like we were part of the group.  As we participated in the warm-up exercises, the moment we looked confused, or even before we had a chance to, someone was always there to help us along.  We went through the routine of stretching, singing while walking, singing while walking backwards and other voice exercises.  The new members had their voices examined and I was placed into the Alto section.  We practiced with our section and then sang the piece as a whole choir.  After practice there was a designated time for people to make
announcements.  I quickly caught on to choir rituals such as the established responses to certain phrases.  Whenever a member was speaking to the choir he or she announced their name and everyone responded: “Whoa!”  If they mentioned a place: “so close!”, a time: “so early!”, a price: “so cheap!”  and so on.  These responses united
the entire club and created a fun atmosphere while listening to numerous ordinary speeches.   Once the announcements were finished we met with our section groups one last time before disbanding.  The Alto leader gave us a recap on practice and there was time for Alto-specific notices.  After some cleaning and a song by the guys,
then girls and finally everyone all together my first practice came to an end.

Before starting my CIP, I had been warned that it can be particularly difficult to engage Japanese in conversation but, instead, I found that I couldn’t get a word in edge-wise and was shocked by the contagious energy that everyone seemed to be bursting with.  After the first day, I left feeling confident that I would quickly make tons of friends.
However, as time passed and our novelty wore off, students stopped approaching us on their own.  I regularly talked to Alto members but otherwise I felt like I was sliding backwards and losing that initial sense of membership.  In retrospect, I think joining the circle with five other KCJS members and having that first overwhelming interaction with the Japanese students gave me a false sense of security that ended up reducing my efforts to socialize.  Another deterring factor was the number of practices.  The students
had most of February off and then when they did meet we were on Spring Break.  Despite these drawbacks I do enjoy being a member of the choir and internalizing Japanese social norms.  I hope to make the most of the last few practices
we have left and solidify the friendships I have made.

2 thoughts on “Marli Gordon: Kyodai Choir Reflection

  1. In general I think a lot of people had problems getting involved in club activities over the spring break, and it’s too bad that you didn’t have more time to integrate yourself into the choir! But you have a natural singing talent and are really friendly, so I think it must have been the perfect place for you. Maybe it would have been better to have been the only foreigner so that you wouldn’t have the safety net of other English-speakers to fall back on and you would have to interact more.
    I’m wondering if any choir experience you’ve had previously was drastically different from the Japanese choir? Like last semester when I was participating in an orchestra all the members would bow before and after a rehearsal. Or did you find choir practice all extremely similar?

  2. I actually just had a really good experience over the weekend that more than made up for all my frustrations. The choir held a Hanami event at 円山公園 (maruyama kouenn) near Gion for the new members. Around 100 people went and ate food made by the 4th year students. The event was meant to give the newbies a chance to get to know the other participants so it was a perfect opportunity for me to plop myself down and introduce myself to tons of people. I talked to so many people that I had only ever seen from a distance. After Hanami was over we had three choices of activities: karaoke, drinking or Karafune. The other KCJS members joined the karaoke group and encouraged me to go too but I thought about my goal and decided against karaoke. I’m so glad I did because my friend and fellow Alto memeber asked me to go to Karafune with her. About 25 of us walked to Karafune and I talked to one guy the whole way there. We hardly had any trouble understanding each other which added to my excitement of finally getting to know the Japanese students. It was a major break-though for me and I’m really looking forward to the next practices.
    The only major differences are the crazy warm-up exercises and funny responses. There may be more but I haven’t participated in many choirs before this.