Music is a universal language that connects people even when there is a language barrier. Coming to Japan, I knew that I wanted to relate my Community Involvement Project to music. I have been singing ever since elementary school and have participated in school choruses, musicals, a cappella groups and other performance opportunities. Through those experiences, I have also made life long friends. Therefore, I was determined that by joining a musical singing community, I would be able to further connect with local Japanese University students.
From the CIPs of past KCJS students, I was able to contact the Kyoto University (Kyodai) Chorus Circle. Because Japanese students end their school year around mid-February, it was a little nerve wrecking to find a circle that was still active. Fortunately, I was one of the first few people who started their CIP the second week of the program.
The Kyodai Chorus Circle is located across the Kyoto University Main Campus, where others circles, such as dance groups and orchestras, also hold meetings and rehearsals. The chorus is a coed group, where there are about 25 men and 15 women. The group sings both English and Japanese classic songs. In addition, a typical rehearsal day consists of Songs of the Day, Warm Up, Sectional Rehearsal, Ensemble Rehearsal, and ends with another Songs of the Day. Members are free to choose whichever songs they like to sing for Songs of the Day. The Warm Up session consists of physical, breathing, and vocal warm ups. Rehearsals are 3 times a week: mixed voices, individual voices, and men only rehearsals. Each rehearsal lasts 3 hours. The Kyodai Chorus Circle continued to have rehearsals throughout Japanese students’ spring break, with only a three-weeks vacation at the end of February to the beginning of March.
Japanese Chorus Circle is definitely different from choirs or musical groups in America. Although no auditions were required to join the group, I was surprised how professional everyone was. Many people had basic knowledge and background on music. However, vocal ability ranged. Japanese chorus students were very serious about their circle, and they were focused and work very hard during rehearsals. The girls rarely goofed off or took any breaks, and no one talked when the conductor was conducting or teaching. With the amount of focus, time, and effort put into the rehearsals, the chorus sounded wonderful. Moreover, there was no apparent senpai and kohai division in the chorus. After each rehearsal, members would have dinner together at near by restaurants or the cafeteria. The group dynamic was harmonious and pleasant.
Towards the end of April, the Kyodai Chorus has an annual Spring concert, which is where they introduce their new members. If you would like to perform with the Chorus at the concerts, I would advice you to go to more than 1 rehearsal sessions per week. This circle will definitely improve your personal musical ability and help you make some friends. However, if you are looking for a more active social environment, perhaps, another circle would be a better fit.
It sounds like Chorus Circle was a great opportunity for you, Frances! How did the other circle members act towards you? Were they welcoming from the start, or did it take a while to become accepted as a member of the circle? A student last semester joined a university a cappella group and said that because the other students had already been rehearsing those songs and parts had been assigned, she wasn’t able to participate in singing all of the songs with the group. Did you have any similar problems this semester, or was a chorus easier to join?
The circle members were very welcoming right from the start! They “initiated” and introduced me in front of the whole choir and they sang a welcome song. There were some songs that they always sing, which I did not know how to sing, but I was able to catch up soon after. Compare to the an a cappella group, I think the chorus was easier to join.
Sounds like you had an excellent time, Frances! You mention that there are no auditions required to get into the group, but that everyone still seemed very professional and pretty serious about singing and music in general. How wide was that range of vocal ability that you mentioned? In my head, when I think of a music circle here in Japan I think more of a group of people who really enjoy choral concerts who meet up occasionally, but it sounds like everyone was more or less pretty musically inclined. What was it like being part of a group with people of differing musical abilities?