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
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
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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