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Tag Archives: Japanese Composer

Yasuhide Ito (b. 1960) is one of Japan’s premier composers of original music for wind band.  He is best known for his 1990 suite for wind band Gloriosawhich is performed frequently all over the world.  He has written several dozen other pieces for band and other media, including symphonies for band and at least one full opera, going back to his first band work, On the March, of 1978, written when he was in his third year of high school.  Ito is also a renowned pianist, conductor, lecturer, and translator.

Below are the program notes from the score of Ito’s 2012 Jalan-jalan di Singapura.  Note that I had to edit the rehearsal letters mentioned in the notes, since they seemed to point to the wrong places:

Singapore is a vibrant city.  Though modern buildings line its streets, cultures of Chinese, Indians, and Malays can still be found everywhere.

The cheerful march has been composed to capture this crosslink of cultures in Singapore.  The title Jalan-jalan di Singapura is in Malay and translates literally to “A Walk in Singapore”.  Singapura-ku, a melody from Singapore, can be heard at the end of the march at rehearsal letter [J].  A motif from Movement 2 of Sinfonia Singaporia (Singapore Symphony, composed [by Ito] in 2005) can also be heard from rehearsal letters [F] to [H].  With this short march, the composer aims to capture a variety of musical characteristics that are clearly unique and symbolic of Singapore.

This work is commissioned by and dedicated to the Band Directors’ Association, Singapore.  (BDAS) The premiere was performed on the 25th of July 2012 under the baton of the composer with the NYWO (Singapore Youth Wind Orchestra) during the Opening Ceremony gala of the concert of the 17th Conference of the Asia Pacific Band Directors’ Association held in Singapore at the SIA Theatre of Lasalle College of Arts.

Interestingly, Jalan-jalan di Singapura has no snare drum part, yet Ito indicates that “percussion can be substituted by players’ own idea”, leaving the door open to that and much more.

Here is the march itself, recorded by the NYWO in rehearsal:

Ito very clearly quotes his own Sinfonia Singapuriana in the middle of the march.  Below is the second movement:

Singapura-ku is a national folk song that is popular enough to have been performed in this spectacular context:

It is worth it to read up on the history of Singapore, a small and prosperous island city-state on the crossroads between Malaysia and Indonesia, to understand the cultural influences that led to the creation of this march.

More on the composer on wikipedia, Bravo Music, and his own (mostly Japanese language!) website.

Mamoru Fujisawa is not a name that rings many bells.  Yet, he is the most famous film composer in Japan, with over 100 features to his credit, including almost every film by anime guru Hayao Miyazaki.  Professionally, Mr. Fujisawa goes by Joe Hisaishi.  In Japanese, the last names go first, so he is Hisaishi Joe.  The way that’s spelled in kanji, it could also be pronounced Kuishi Joe.  That is the Japanese transliteration of a certain famous African-American musician’s name, Quincy Jones.  So, Japan’s top film composer is Quincy Jones.  (QED, BTW).  And this is no accident: Hisaishi was a big fan of Jones growing up, so when the time came to choose a stage name, it seemed like a natural choice.  Hisaishi was born in 1950 in Nagano, Japan.  His early interest in music led him to experiment in many genres before teaming up with Miyazaki on Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind in 1983.  Thus began a long and distinguished career.

Princess Mononoke (originally Mononoke Hime, 1997) is one of the many collaborations between Hisaishi and Miyazaki.  As is typical of Miyazaki films, it features stunning landscapes and fantastical, godlike creatures, and it explores themes of feminism and the relationship of humanity to technology and nature.  It is a historical fantasy of sorts, set in the late Muromachi period (roughly early 1500s) of Japan’s history, with numerous fantasy elements added.  The hero is Ashitaka, a young prince of the Emishi clan.  His village is attacked by a Tatari Gami (Curse God), a forest deity (in this case a boar god) overtaken with hate and rage.  During the battle, Ashitaka touches the Tatari Gami and becomes infected with its curse, which is destined to slowly kill him.  He finds an iron bullet embedded in the god’s body: to find its maker, and to search for a cure for his affliction, he must leave his village forever and travel west.  He eventually arrives at Iron Town and the surrounding forest, where humans are at war with the forest gods.  He also meets San, the Princess Mononoke of the title (in Japanese, Mononoke means angry spirit).  She is a human that has been raised by Moro, the wolf god, and her pups.  San hates the humans for all the damage they have inflicted on the forest and its mystical inhabitants.  As the plot unfolds, it becomes less and less clear whether the humans or the forest gods are in the right.  By helping both sides, Ashitaka gains both of their contempt.

Here’s a full rundown of the characters in Princess Mononoke.  In case it helps.

Also, here’s more info on IMBD, Wikipedia, and Rotten Tomatoes.

Hisaishi’s score helps add an expansive atmosphere to the film.  Here’s a trailer, which unfortunately doesn’t use Hisaishi’s music until the very end:

The Selections from “Princess Mononoke” that we are playing comes from an arrangement by Kazuhiro Morita.  Read his full account, translated by CUWE euphonist (euphist? eupher?) Sayaka Tsuna from the original Japanese:

I love the melody that Mr. Joe Hisaishi composes. I have previously arranged his music from Director Miyazaki’s animation movies, and each time I am extremely careful not to destroy the beautiful and inspiring melody created by Hisaishi. The first time I encountered Hisaishi’s work was in the fall of 1998, when I was approached by a high school music teacher in the Shizuoka prefecture and was asked to arrange music from the movie Princess Mononoke. Although I knew that the movie had been in the theaters the summer before with great responses, it was my first time listening to the music of the movie. The CD that I listened to was not the soundtrack of the movie, but a recording by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra; after listening to the amazing performance, I was soon enthralled by the power of this piece just as the high school teacher was. Using the recording as an example, I rearranged the three movements “The Legend of Ashitaka”, “Tatari Gami”, and “Princess Mononoke”, which later became available as rental copies through Brain Co., Ltd [now called Bravo Music].

This particular score has a different composition than that of my original arrangement, because one of the performers of my first arrangement (Mr. Tomoki Ubata, the advisor for a wind ensemble at the Saitama Prefecture Ina Middle and High School) suggested that the 16-minute piece might be shortened, so it could be used in music contests. In the shorter version, I replaced the title of the third movement “Princess Mononoke” with “Ashitaka and San”, and created a clear transition from each theme in addition to changing a few minor details. It should be noted that the third clarinet part is written for novice players and does not require the use of a register key, but that the part is no less important to the piece. This piece could be performed even by a small group of musicians, so please enjoy the piece without omission of any parts.

Here’s the full arrangement in concert.  They go too fast in Tatari Gami’s section, but otherwise it’s good:

Finally, I couldn’t resist putting in one extra video.  This is a track from a death metal album, called Imaginary Flying Machines, playing the “Mononoke Theme” (which unfortunately is not in our selections).  The whole album consists of metal versions of famous Hisaishi tunes from Miyazaki movies.  Enjoy!

Yasuhide Ito (b. 1960) is one of Japan’s premier composers of original music for wind band.  He is best known for his 1990 suite for wind band Gloriosa, which is performed frequently all over the world.  He has written several dozen other pieces for band and other media, including symphonies for band and at least one full opera, going back to his first band work, On the March, of 1978, written when he was in his third year of high school.  Ito is also a renowned pianist, conductor, lecturer, and translator.

Ito wrote Festal Scenes in 1986.  He says he “was inspired to write Festal Scenes after receiving a letter from a wandering philosophical friend in Shanghai, who said ‘- everything seems like Paradise blooming all together.  Life is a festival, indeed.'”  The piece uses four Japanese folk songs from Aomori Prefecture, home of the famous Nebuta Festival, as its source material.  It also calls for 2 Japanese percussion instruments that are used in the Nebuta Festival: the Tebiragane, a type of antique cymbal, and the Nebuta-daiko, alarge drum played with long bamboo sticks.

Here’s a nice, punchy performance of Festal Scenes by what I can only conclude is a Japanese band.  I can’t read the Japanese text below the video, so I’m not sure.  Don’t be put off by the fast tempos in the outer sections, but DO listen very carefully to how crisply articulated everything is in the woodwinds!

Now to the folk songs: the first, called “Jongara-jamisen” by Ito, seems to be based on the playing of the shamisen, a banjo-like instrument with three strings.  Listen to this video to get an idea of the sound – this is the sound that Ito is going for in the opening bars of the piece!

The next song is “Hohai-bushi”, which you can hear in a modern version in this video.  One commenter (ok, the only commenter) aptly calls it “Japanese mountain music”.

What Ito calls “Tsugaru-aiya-bushi”, and interprets as a lyrical melody, appears to come from another shamisen tune.  The closest I could find to the melody as in Festal Scenes comes in this performance:

The fourth folk song is impossible to track down, given that Ito calls it “Nebuta-festival”, which also happens to be the name of the very lively and ongoing festival which inspired it.  Suffice it to say, it appears alongside the long section of Nebuta-daiko drumming from 125-151, and it is very expressive and lyrical, with grace notes galore and an octave jump at the end of each phrase.  In lieu of the song itself, you’ll have to settle instead for a video of some Nebuta-daiko-like drumming.  Watch the moves!

And finally, more Nebuta-daiko drumming (and so much more) in a video from the 2010 Nebuta Festival:

More on the composer on wikipedia, Bravo Music, and his own (Japanese language!) website.