Thursday, November 24, 2011

24 hours in Ishinomaki

On November 17th, the day after my recital in Tokyo, I visited Ishinomaki, where the Tsunami occurred last March. My former teacher at the high school in Tokyo, Mr.Matsuda, was helping the victims in Ishinomaki as a volunteer, and got involved with the Minato primary school, which was used as a place of refuge for several months. Because the school was occupied by refugees and needed some repairs, the school rented some rooms in a junior high school of the same town and reopened. Many of the children and the teachers lost their relatives, friends or their houses, so they needed good mental care. Mr. Matsuda founded an organization to support the school and the children until they move back to its original place.
As he loves music, he asked me to come over to perform for the school children and particiapte in the school for a whole day.

When I arrived in Ishinomaki about 4pm, it was still slightly light. The area around the station seemed pretty much recovered, and I could barely tell that the Tsunami had reached there. However, when Mr.Matsuda took me to the harbour area, the view turned miserable and sad. According to Mr.Matsuda some of the houses still remain completely broken, because all the family members died after the Tsunami, and there is no successor. Many of the factories were also untouched or under the reconstruction. I froze speechless when I saw the beautiful sunset on the harbour and the mountains of tiles, stones and broken cars along the coast.
On the way to the apartment, where I was supposed to sleep, we saw a music store and dropped by. They had also had big damage from the Tsunami and had reopened in August. When Mr.Matsuda told the owner that I was a pianist, he welcomed me warmly and showed me the piano, which was reconstructed after being completely covered by the dirt of the Tsunami. As he insisted, I played on it. („Liebestraum (Love's dream)“ by Liszt) Surprisingly the piano had a good action and a beautiful deep sound! While I was playing, I felt the solid vitality and the soul of the instrument (as if the piano was talking to me...), so tears came into my eyes. In fact all those present were crying at the end.

Then the owner showed me the photos of the piano since Tsunami. More than 20 people (coming from various places of Japan) volunteered for the reconstruction, and it took 6 months to finish it. When it's done, they did a concert with the piano in the Minato primary school, and apparently it became the center of interest in the town, and some media (including TV) reported it. Mr.Matsuda also told me lots of beautiful stories about pianos. When he found a piano under the supplies boxes in the Minato school, he rescued the instrument and played it after the work. The refugees often gathered around piano and enjoyed playing and listening to piano music. Then people from outside also came to play on the piano, as their pianos were not in good shape. Also Mr. Matsuda saw some upright pianos standing on the street in the stricken area short after the Tsunami, while the houses and most of the furniture were destroyed. (Indeed, the frame of piano is quite strong!) So „piano“ has been a special meaning to the local people in Ishinomaki.

The next day, I got up at 6:30 am and had a breakfast with instant bread and coffee. There was no warm water, so I heated cold water and wiped my body. Then we went to Minato primary school and met some children, who were getting on the bus.
I usually like children and enjoy talking and playing with them, but this time, I didn't know how I could behave with them, so I was just quiet in the bus. But a boy of the senior class (12 years old) came and sat next to me. And he looked at my name tag and asked me „are you from Tokyo?“, then we started chatting. I told him that I was going to play piano at the 4th period, he said „I can also play piano.“ then he continued „I like Rhapsody in Blue, which was used in the „Nodame Cantabile“ (very popular manga -TV drama series-film in Japan, worth checking out!), and practicing for a while, but the music score was carried away by Tsunami...“ Then I lost my words for a second... if I had the same situation when I was 12 years old and lost all my music, I could have been as sad as I lost my relatives and friends. But the boy continued talking calmly.

After we arrived the school, Mr.Matsuda showed me around in the building, and we attended the morning meeting in the gymnasium. There were about 20 people in each Grade, and I was told to attend the senior class, so I was sitting at the end of the line. After the principal introduced me, some children talked to me in a friendly way, then I soon opened up to them. At the end of the meeting, they had a traditional event and did skipping rope and competed between Grades. Believe it or not, I did it, too! (as I belonged to the athletic club in the High school, I have confidence in my legs ;o)) We (6th Grade) lost to the 5th Grade, but I didn't let down my team when my turn came and had much fun!

The classes were held normally. Mr.Matsuda told me that my job was to support children who don't follow the lesson well. I tried to do my best, but it turned out toward the end that I was just talking with a few children on various subjects! But there were things I learnt from that moment as well.
None of the children told me about their sad background, stories of Tsunami. They were very curious about my life in Germany and as a pianist. Later on Mr.Matsuda said „they just don't want to talk about sad things. It means that their wound is that deep...“.

After rehearsing one hour I gave a small concert in the music room. Although I had given a program to Mr. Matsuda, I changed it while I was rehearsing. So I started with by Bach as a prayer to the victims of Tsunami and the peace, then Chopin's , Liszt , Mizokami , Poulenc , and played short version of by Gershwin, as the story of the boy gave me a strong impression and I wanted to give him a little present.
I talked about the composers, the pieces, my episodes, etc, and had warm applause and gratitude from the audience. It was so cute when the kids went out the room, doing „high five“ with me and said „bye bye“ with a big smile!

I had a lunch with the first Grade kids, and had a joyful conversation with them. I was asked my age and said „guess how old I am.“, then received the answers between „20“ and „38“!!
After attending two classes in the afternoon, I saw the children off in front of the school and accomplished my „mission“. All the teachers thanked me cordially, and I left Ishinomaki around 5pm.

In contrast to the night before, I had rather much positive emotion on that day. I really appreciated all the efforts of the teachers and the support members gave. I shall never forget the cheerful laughter and the twinkling eyes of the children and wish them all the best for their life.