Around the end of November, I started rehearsing with my pianist, Shino Inoue. I chose three sonatas that I had been thinking about, which I thought were appropriate for Christmas—to me they represent the joy of Christ’s incarnation. The pieces were Brahms’ F Major sonata, Beethoven’s F Major sonata, and Bach’s G Major viola da gamba sonata. I had worked on the Beethoven sonata before, but never performed it. The Bach sonata I had performed several times on the viola da gamba, but never on the cello. The Brahms sonata was entirely new. All three pieces were new for Shino-san—she had her hands full learning 3 sonatas by 3 gifted keyboard players. There were moments during rehearsal when the two of us just looked at each other and laughed nervously, wondering if we would be able to make it on time.
We rehearsed once or twice a week until the week before the concert, when we rehearsed Monday, Wednesday-Saturday, then Monday again, for at least 3 hours each day. The day before the first concert, which was Tuesday, December 22, the Brahms was still a little scary. Brahms likes complex rhythms: 2 against 3, 3 against 4, back and forth, and where’s the downbeat in all this confusion? Suffice to say, it wasn’t easy to put it together, especially when adding “will we make it before the concert tomorrow?” nerves into the mixture. Shino-san’s mom took good care of us throughout the rehearsal period. Every hour or so, she brought us tea and snacks so we could have a short rest and some sustenance. I am now completely addicted to yuzucha (citrus tea) and oshiruko (sweet red bean and mochi soup).
Our first concert was in Asahikawa, an hour and a half north of Sapporo by train, at Midori ga Oka Church, in the middle of a snow storm. It was a tiny building, and the crowd wasn’t too big (about 20 people), which was good for our nerves. “Everyone here is our friend, and everyone wants us to play well,” I told myself and Shino-san before the concert started, in very bad Japanese.
Outside the church after the concert with Pastor Ruth Dueck, who is also an OMF missionary
The concert wasn’t just a concert—in keeping with the structure of my Arts Thesis project at Regent, there were scripture readings and congregational songs. I also gave my testimony, in which I told the story of learning to depend on God’s love at a time when I was very lonely. God became human at Christmas, so he knows what is to be rejected and alone. Overall, the concert went well. We were encouraged by the feedback we received from those who attended the concert, especially from the children.
Somehow, Keith got roped into being the page-turner. He was almost as nervous as we were. During the concert, he also became the “protector of the pianist from candle-wax” when Shino-san’s expressive playing caused the candles on top of the piano to drip onto her fingers. Luckily the wax cooled a bit on the way down… and luckily Keith managed to brush it off without dropping any wax between the keys, and without Shino-san missing a single note.
The second concert took place on Christmas Eve at Chitose Church, just south of Sapporo. We were playing as part of the church’s Christmas Eve Candlelight service, so we played only about half of our program. The pastor, Kimura-sensei, was a friend of a friend, so we were eager to meet him. As we were eating dinner together before the concert, Kimura-sensei said something very interesting: “Our church consists mainly of elderly people, but because of the concert, we are expecting many young people to come.” And they did. In fact, one mom was so anxious for her shy 13-year-old daughter to talk to me in English after the concert that she literally pushed her forward, and told her in Japanese (most of which I understood) what to say. The whole situation felt odd, but I tried to placate the mother and encourage the daughter.
Warming up for Concert 2
At Chitose Church with Kimura-Sensei
By this time, we were both exhausted, physically and emotionally. Neither of us felt as good about our playing as at the previous concert. Shino-san told me afterwards that while she was playing, she kept thinking, “I really need to practice more before the next concert.” Still, I think God was able to use our playing and my testimony to encourage the people who came to the concert. Kimura-sensei told me later that 60 people came to the Candlelight service, 4 times as many as last year.
After a few days of celebration and hibernation, we resumed rehearsals. My parents and brother came to visit on the December 28th, so I had an excuse to go out and do some fun things too. As a result, by the time of the third concert on January 3, we were relaxed and ready to enjoy ourselves. This third concert, which we called a “New Year’s Concert,” was held at Kibou no Oka Church, where Keith has been teaching English. This concert was particularly exciting for us, since we were able to invite our friends and family… and Kibou no Oka church has a fabulous organ on which Shino-san played the Bach and the two hymns! Playing for our important people in a wonderful place was truly delightful, and Keith and I think it may have been my best concert ever.
We actually have pictures of this concert, since my dad and brother were there...
Waiting in the organ loft for the second half of the concert with Naho-san, who turned pages for Shino-san
Keith was the concert’s “Shikai,” or master of ceremonies. For weeks he practiced ultra-formal Japanese which we haven’t learned yet. At least he managed to get out of turning the pages… but I think he was more relieved than I was when the concert was over.
After the concert, I talked to a lot of people. There were about 100 people at the concert, which was more that we had expected, since many people were gone for the New Year’s holiday. It was exciting to see people from our church and from Keith’s English class, missionaries, university students, and family all coming together to enjoy the concert. It seems that my testimony was very encouraging to many, especially the young people. I also heard later that someone who came to the concert has now started attending church.
During the concert, I was filled with a sense of belonging with these people in this place. Now I really don’t want to go home!
In this whole process, I have been so thankful for the musicians I have been able to collaborate with now and in the past. For me, what makes being a cellist most worthwhile is not the long practice sessions or the joy of conquering a difficult piece of music, but the collaboration with other musicians who have become very important to me.
Shino-san and I just started rehearsing again for our next concert (March 21 at Tooei Church). We’re keeping some of the same music (Bach and Beethoven) and adding 2 pieces by Fauré (Elegie and Apres un Reve). We’re very excited about this concert—it will take place at Shino-san’s church, so many of her friends and family will be there. Please keep us in your prayers as we prepare!