I saw a truly wonderful movie on the plane flying home from visiting family over Thanksgiving called Golden Orchestra!. It’s a Japanese movie (original title オケ老人! Oke Roujin!) that has not been released internationally, so I don’t know if I’ll be able to see it anywhere that’s not a Delta flight in the next few months. But I still find myself thinking about it weeks later.
It’s the story of junior-high math teacher Chizuru (played by Anne Watanabe), formerly a violinist in her student days, whose passion for the instrument is reawakened after viewing a performance by the Umegaoka Philharmonic Orchestra. Later she looks them up on the Internet to find out more about them, but misremembering the name of the group, types in “Umegaoka Symphony Orchestra” into the search box instead. Seeing that they are looking for new members, she eagerly calls them up to request an audition, only to find out upon her arrival that this is not the orchestra she was looking for.
I couldn’t find any English-subbed clips or trailers on YouTube, but it’s pretty easy to figure out what’s going on in the clip at the beginning of this one:
Chizuru finds herself torn between the earnest-but-disorganized “Ume-sym” and her desire to join the straitlaced, elite “Ume-phil,” and her journey is further complicated by an unexpected opportunity to become conductor of Ume-sym and the arrival of a famous French conductor to perform with Ume-phil. It’s a sweet film with something to say about pursuing your passion, plus some truly funny moments with the geriatric members of Ume-sym.
I worry that with my myriad musical interests I’m naught more than a dilettante; a “filthy casual,” if you will. I’m not interested in becoming a virtuoso whose life revolves around an instrument. I play piano/accordion/harp/djembe/ukulele/ocarina because they bring me joy. But a little more practice and discipline won’t hurt, either.
One thing I struggle with in all these endeavors is if I’m biting off more than I can chew. For the past couple of years I’ve been motivated by a seeming fear of my life ending at 30 or something—like if I don’t get cracking on everything I want to do with my life ever RIGHT NOW time will run out and the rest of my life will be spent in complete drudgery. It makes no sense, I know—but neither do a lot of fears.
Incidentally, when I venture out to meet other folks interested in what I’m interested in (djembe class, the SCBWI event, the Celtic music session, the Cotati Accordion Festival), more often then not the people there are my parents’ age or older, many of them retirees who want to make the most of their free time. And that helps keep me grounded.
Life seems to speed up as you get older, I’ve observed, but there’s a big difference between me now and me half my life ago. I’m sure when I’m double my current age it’ll be the same thing. I’ll grow and change, hopefully for the better, and while my brain’s plasticity may be more limited, I’ll hopefully be a lot wiser than I am now.
“I should really sign up for lessons” is something I say a lot. Currently the only musical instrument I play that I’m taking lessons for is the djembe, and I can see the difference in how I play that vs. how I play piano, accordion, folk harp, and ukulele. The last time I took piano lessons was 2004, and I stopped accordion lessons in 2012 when I left the country. Since then I haven’t really pushed myself on either instrument. I used to be able to do scales on the bass buttons on the accordion, for example—now at the Celtic music sessions I mostly oom-pah (or oom-pah-pah) the bass in a very vanilla, uninteresting way. I’ve never had a teacher for folk harp and ukulele, and my experience with them has been pretty much messing around plus the occasional YouTube tutorial. I can’t tell if this is helping me develop my self-expression or holding me back. Maybe both.
Thing is… lessons are expensive, and I’m not exactly rolling in dough. Djembe is a group lesson, so that one’s affordable, but for everything else it’d probably have to be one-on-one. For the unusual instruments it’d be even more expensive (and I’d probably have to travel).
Dunno, just something I’ve thought about as I’ve plucked my harp and strummed my ukulele this week. Guess I’ll just keep going my own pace till I find opportunities and means to learn from real people.
On a related note, the Cotati Accordion Festival is coming up, and while that’s a bit of a drive for me it’s still something I intend to check out.
Drum performance went well, though the best part is probably the camaraderie I’ve found within the group. Since joining I’ve been invited to birthdays and happy hours and have really gotten to know everyone a lot better than if I’d limited my contact to just classes and rehearsals.
Haven’t been keeping up as well with the creative endeavors per se, but I did make dedicated time for reading, which professional authors seem to universally agree is an essential part of being a writer. I must have finished four or five books this week alone. Granted, they were pretty much all middle grade, which tend to be fast reads (and working in an environment with lots of kids and books makes access to them easy). But there’s some certain honesty that middle grade fiction tends to have in abundance that I rarely find in YA or adult literature—an honesty that allows mounds of subtext without taking away from an engaging surface narrative. C. S. Lewis famously remarked in his essay “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Best Say What’s to Be Said” that “a book worth reading only in childhood is not worth reading even then.” I’m very pleased to be discovering (and rediscovering) the surprising depths in these books ostensibly aimed at middle schoolers.
Also, I have to say this: Diary of a Wimpy Kid is truly funny. Its protagonist is such an awful role model, so realistically self-centered and unaware. I had to stop myself from spit-taking on some of the pages.
The performance for my West African percussion class is coming up soon, and we’ve doubled down on rehearsals. It’s getting pretty intense, but I really enjoy the group I’m in. Everyone’s been kind and welcoming, and it turns out several of them are artists or musicians in another way. I guess that shouldn’t surprise me.
Outside rehearsing, though, Breath of the Wild continues to be an addictive time sink. I intend to practice better self-control this week.
My West African percussion class continues, and I’m having a lot of fun with it. We have a performance of sorts for a local event coming up in a couple of weeks so there are rehearsals in addition to regular class (which has turned into rehearsal time, as well). The things we’re rehearsing are a good bit more difficult than what we’d been doing in previous sessions, and I’m enjoying the challenge.
I also got in some good time for Draft 3 revisions on that novel I wrote. I’ve bought tickets to see friends in the Midwest this summer, including the friend that gave me all those helpful notes on Draft 2, so my new goal is to finish Draft 3 by the time I depart.
On the ukulele front, I’ve gotten pretty good at the first (and last) part of “Giant Woman” from Steven Universe, but I should probably expand my chord repertoire a bit more than F, Cmaj7, G7, and E7. Or at least learn that middle part.
A few years back I attended a special “make a joyful noise” kind of worship service. The music director brought every portable instrument she had and handed them out to anyone who wanted to play. I received a djembe. Though I had no idea what the proper technique was, I happily thumped away at the thing until my palms were red and sore.
In reality, percussion and rhythm are some of my weaker points–so when I saw a flyer last month for a beginning rhythm and African percussion class offered locally, I decided to take the plunge.
It’s nice to be in an actual class with an actual teacher there to observe and correct my technique. I don’t think I’ve had a real instrumental music teacher since I took piano in high school thirteen years ago; I’ve forgotten how valuable the presence of one is. YouTube tutorials and looking in the mirror can only get you so far.
I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I don’t have a lot of self-discipline. Even back when I had a teacher you’d have to chain me the piano to get me to practice twenty minutes a day. My parents weren’t terribly strict about it, either; they tended to be more invested in my moral development than stick-to-itiveness. Which I suppose is important, too, though I had to play some hard catch-up in college when it turned out my study habits were not up to snuff with their rigorous liberal arts curriculum.
I think (hope) I have a little more discipline now than I did in high school; I’m intrigued by the things I learned this week and maybe will come home with a rented djembe sometime soon? The issue now is finding direction for all the instruments I want to become proficient at. My “musical goals” are pretty vague; I just know I enjoy the heck out of music and I’d like to explore composition and arrangement. I have a pretty good keyboard and a small assortment of odd but good folk instruments, and I’d like to develop skills worthy of them.