Natasha Gollin: Kyoto University Gasshoudan

I have been attending choir practice regularly since I first joined the Kyoudai Gasshoudan, or the Kyoto University Mixed Voices Chorus, early in fall semester. There was a break for approximately a month this semester, but other than that, I have usually been going to practices twice a week, and if all works out I intend to appear in part of the annual spring mini-concert/happyoukai on April 28th.

Starting choir last semester was hard because I did not know anyone there, save for one classmate. Additionally, the others had a head start on the songs, and I even had to learn how to pronounce some Hungarian! There were also some choir traditions and routines that I had to get used to—staying after for announcements and optional singing time, for one. But now, not only do I understand a lot of the musical terms (such as gakufu, “sheet music” and ensoukai ni noru, “to appear in a concert, lit. ‘ride’”) and find the music easier to learn, but I have several fellow KCJSers there with me! I feel like my decision to continue choir had a large influence on the decision of not just one, but FIVE other students to join as well. I am also used to the routine of things, though it gets tiring at times going over the same part in the music ad nauseam, or doing exercises for reasons unclear to me.

Due to the costs and time involved, this time I also passed on a couple of major choir happenings that I had participated in last semester: the retreat (which cost far more than last time, and even included some school days), and appearing in the full concert (which costs around 10,000 yen, but I decided to at least be in the E-ru (theme/fight song?) and encore, which only costs 2000 yen—not cheap, but at least I perform at all). However, because of this and the time off, I feel a little less connected to choir this semester. There is less motivation to keep attending each practice when I will not actually be performing the songs.

At first I may have been a hindrance, but now I feel like more of a “real member” than before. For one, since the end of the winter concert, I have graduated from a chorus first-year to a shin-nikaisei (“new” second year)! Also, I have been part of a planning team for a fun Christmas event with party games and song performances for each other. I have also performed an English song (Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours”) with two other KCJSers at this semester’s version of that event…and it was a huge hit. One person didn’t even care about looking up the actual song—he just wished he could hear OUR version again.  We found out a few weeks later that our act had won the grand prize by popular choice! I haven’t been so pleasantly shocked in a while.

After my time with the Gasshoudan, I came to see that its members are committed in a different way from typical American choruses—perhaps more at the same level as a college a cappella group. Because of the choir’s many expenses and hours of practice per week, the members have a high degree of loyalty and commitment to the group—often it is their only extracurricular activity.  Also, as I mentioned in my blog last semester, this choir certainly has its traditions, or shall I say quirks—odd nicknames, staying after practice for announcements where people in various leadership positions run up in front of the crowd and say things in unison, singing extra songs after that, and an array of unusual warm-ups, such as forming large concentric circles and doing scales while marching quickly backwards around the conductor. I am still fairly sure that this does not represent Japanese choirs as a whole…as I said last semester, the Kyodai Gasshoudan is just “a group with a long and distinguished history of excellence and quirkiness.”

From my CIP, 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 felt the desire to continue in choir and keep working with them to make lovely music—which is, in the end, the objective here.

Though the Gasshoudan was socially out of my comfort zone, I learned that while in a foreign country, it’s always good to put yourself out there and try to bond with your peers—to start talking with people, work hard at what you’re doing, keep a cheerful and approachable demeanor, and do not be afraid to ask questions. You will get a lot out of your experience, trust me.

3 thoughts on “Natasha Gollin: Kyoto University Gasshoudan

  1. Just want to say that it has been a pleasure being in the choir with you this semester. I definitely agree with you about how the gasshoudan feel more like a cappella group. It was really too bad that lot of the major group activities were a no go this semester. Did last semester had more social activities than this semester?

  2. Natasha! Your choir experiences always sound so amazing! If I was actually capable of singing, I would have loved to join the circle with you. Would you say the Japanese college students you have made friends with in the circle are the kind of friends you’ll be able to keep in touch with, even when you return to the US? I’ve made several great Japanese friends while here, but I am not always sure how easy it will be for me to keep in touch with them :'(

  3. Angel: Thanks, same here! By being a “no go,” do you mean being too expensive, like the retreat? Or not fitting with your schedule? Come to think of it, we weren’t able to go to a lot of the same events (parfaits, sotsudanon, hanami etc.) 🙁 Did you get to do any? As for activities last semester, there were probably just as many–there was a “団ピク” picnic with a scavenger hunt and stuff, plus a couple of parties, another retreat (which was more work than play), an alto “気合い入れ/get pumped for the concert!” informal thing where we ate infinite amounts of Umaibo snacks as a challenge in Miyako’s apartment, plus a first-years-only 交流会kouryuukai bonding at Caravan (that little restaurant). There were also a couple extra “catch-up” practices on the weekend.

    Trisha: Yes they are! I’ve definitely had my share of silly experiences, conversations, etc. there, and I’m not sure if it’s a silliness unique to the Kyodai choir or if it’s because….Japan. Yeah it would have been fun to do it together, though you’re so busy already!! Hmm…well, I may have mentioned I’m not great at keeping in touch with people, but I think there are 2 main people I can see myself keeping up with even in America. (One of them is very outgoing/Westernized and would surely enjoy the US, so there’s a standing invitation for her to come stay with me if she ever goes to America. :P) Not many of them have Facebook, so keeping contact would be less convenient. I’ll miss all my buddies from choir, though!