Marcel L' Esperance

Marcel L'EsperanceOccupation:
Choral Director
Time in Japan:
22 years

Choral directing is a labor of love. You have to be crazy about performing music. When I was in college, I worked under Alexander Pelliquen in the States who was a composer, choral director and an all-round great musician. He would have his Chorale perform on a religious radio program in Boston. It just touched me and after that I didn't want to do anything else.

When I first came to Japan I sang with the Sacred Music Society here, but I didn't enjoy it. The Japanese directors were extremely methodical. My wife, Carol, and I tried other choirs but we didn't feel comfortable. The only time we enjoyed our experiences was when there was a foreign conductor. One day we looked at each other and decided we should create our own group. That's how the Tokyo International Singers started 18 years ago.

Now I direct four choirs including the Tokyo International Singers, the Chiba International Singers, the International Women's Choir and our select group, the L'Esperance Singers. Most of my days are spent planning and doing things that I guess you would consider secretarial work, answering the phones, reserving the halls, copying information, or meeting with the printers to discuss the program layout. I also go to the huge lottery every year for the limited public performance spaces in Tokyo. You take a number and hope for the best. We have been lucky so far.

I try to feature one major work a year. Over the last 17 years we have done almost every classic piece in the choral repertoire from Dvorak to Bach. This year we are performing Handel's Israel in Egypt at Suntory Hall in May. I choose the works by my taste, but more importantly I have to gauge the work to the singers. I can't choose a piece with an extreme soprano end if my chorus is made up of women in their fifties. And inevitably I will have too few men, which is a shame. In the States some choirs have given up four-part works altogether, opting for three-part works to address the problem. We haven't.

The Japanese are truly choral people. Every city or town from Hokkaido to Kyushu has a choral group along with numerous smaller community choirs.
The All-Japan Choral League is a huge collective of all these groups which hosts a yearly festival and has a tremendous resource library in Ebisu for choral directors. Voice-wise, the Japanese are pretty average but they just love to sing. In general, the public has a refined awareness for music, based on the grass-roots music culture here in Japan. It makes choral work here fulfilling and, of course, fun.

For more information about the Tokyo International Singers call 044-833-9258.

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