Sunday, January 06, 2013

12 Days of Christmas

As a musician, I have long known that December is not a restful time. Patrons of the arts want to see performances of Messiah and the Nutcracker, and maybe even people who almost never attend concerts will come to a Christmas concert.

Now, not only am I a musician, but I am also a member of the clergy (not to mention Japanese language student). Churches in Japan do their major outreach in November and December, since even people with little interest in Christianity are interested in Christmas. Thus, this year I had 5 Christmas concerts, starting November 23. Keith also performed Beethoven's 9th Symphony with the Sapporo Symphony Chorus.

Although most of the onslaught of December concerts in any given year will inevitably be Christmas-related, this doesn't mean that personally I am able to celebrate Christmas in the middle of all of that. Well, that's okay, actually. Many Americans, and certainly most Japanese, do not observe Advent. For me, although I was working on Christmas music and Christmas talks since the beginning of November (and the Christmas tree went up mid-November, since we didn't think it would go up at all otherwise), Christmas didn't really start until Christmas Eve, after the last concert finished and I was at home eating cookies and fruitcake with a Keith and a few of our friends. It was a long Advent this year.

First attempt at fruitcake! There are a few Japanese touches--ume plums and yuzu peel in the cake, and a frosting which is made with homemade ume jam.
This year we get 2 weeks off from school--our last day of vacation is December 6. Perfect! Let's celebrate Christ's birth with 12 days of feasting and time with friends!

On the First Day of Christmas I felt miserable, so we sat around in our pajamas most of the morning in the kotatsu while we enjoyed the Christmas tree and opened presents. We both talked to our families via skype... and wrote the New Year's cards, since we hadn't gotten to those yet. Oh, and there were cardamom rolls for breakfast.

The cold I've had off and on since September finally moved south into my lungs. Yuck. That didn't stop us from having homemade natural Sourdough rolls with Roast Beef and vegetables for Christmas dinner with our friend, Takaaki. (Thankful for Costco, where we have purchased turkeys and roasts and our Christmas tree. :)

The Second Day of Christmas was a blizzard. We didn't leave the house. I managed to recover somewhat from my cold. We had roast beef sandwiches for lunch.

Hibernation Day!
On the Third Day of Christmas we went to the dentist. Very exciting. But what really is exciting is that I made Hainanese Chicken Rice. We should eat that more often.

On the Fourth Day of Christmas we brought the harpsichord home from the church where we had the Christmas Eve concert. Due to the recent blizzard, the roads in our neighborhood were reduced to 1 lane with huge snow banks in either side. Crazy! Keith made a delicious pizza for dinner.

On the Fifth Day of Christmas our friend, Sharon came over and we planned our New Year's feast. I was getting hungry just thinking about it, so it's good that we went out for dinner with Takaaki.

On the Sixth Day of Christmas, Keith preached his first sermon in Japanese. I think it went pretty well--and our pastors got a much-needed break! Keith chose Revelation 21:1-8 for his text.

After church we braved the crowded grocery store to get the ingredients for the Japanese New Year's feast.

On the Seventh Day of Christmas, Sharon came over again, and we prepared Osechi, the Japanese New Year Feast... but that gets its own post when I get around to it. It was nice to prepare the meal with a friend... good company, good coffee, and we finished before 8:00 p.m.! We also ate the traditional "toshikoshi soba" for supper and stayed up until midnight watching the Iron Chef marathon on TV.

Our version of Toshikoshi soba--probably the chicken topping is not very traditional, but it sure tasted good.

There was also KFC. What can I say? Certain people were craving it... ;)

Our finished Osechi boxes!

On the Eighth Day of Christmas we went to church for the New Year's Day worship service. I wore my Sakura-patterned homongi kimono for the first time. (Homongi is equivalent to an evening gown--although I would say it's more flexible, since I certainly wouldn't wear an evening gown to church unless I was playing a concert.) The obi was a gift from my friend, Mikiko's mom.

Some of our friends at church
After church, Sharon and some other friends came over for Osechi. We also had fruitcake. And super-spicy kimchi ozouni.

Drum roll please...


Of course there was also coffee!

The "after" picture
In between, we watched Beauty and the Beast (with sing-along) back to back with Howl's Moving Castle--two movies which are very similar in some ways and very different in others.

Enjoying friends, Taiwanese oolong tea, Christmas tree, kotatsu, and Beauty and the Beast sing-along.
On the Ninth Day of Christmas we ate more osechi and ozouni, and rested at home. I made a new year's resolution to get over my cold. We tried to get some flashcards done... and I blogged about Christmas concerts.

On the Tenth Day of Christmas we went to the onsen (not pictured). Ahhh! :)

We also ate even more ozouni. Perhaps I should explain. Traditionally Japanese eat no rice for the first three days of the new year. This is to give the cook of the family a break from cooking, as the family eats osechi and mochi (pounded rice cakes). There are many delicious ways to eat mochi; one of our favorites is ozouni, a simple soup with toasted mochi. There are many varieties, but this is one of our favorites.

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas I had a rehearsal. Shino and I are joining a clarinettist from Shino's church to play a Beethoven trio! The concert in January 19, if you would like to come. :)

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas... we made sure we got enough feasting in to last a couple of months. First, I went to my kimono club's 新年会 (new year's gathering), where we dressed up in our nicest kimono, ate a delicious lunch, had coffee... and then moved on to another place where we had matcha and manjuu.

We also had a lesson today. Naoko (on the right) is preparing to help a friend get dressed for her Seijinshiki (coming of age ceremony) in mid-January. Therefore the study topic was decorative ways of tying the obi. Akio served as a model.

Manjuu and Matcha

As soon as I got home, we headed to the home of our Swiss friends and had fondue together. Eating fondue is a Christmas tradition in my family, so I'm glad we had the opportunity!

We brought the cheese and bread, but left the cooking to the experts.

And today is Epiphany. Why stop? Ramen for lunch with friends. :) Tomorrow we'll be back in school, but our first day back is Japanese Culture Day--we get to take mini-classes in a variety of traditional activities. Fun!

Thanks to everyone who celebrated with us!

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

2012 Christmas Concerts report

It was crazy... and then when it all ended, I just wanted to sit in the kotatsu and stare at the Christmas tree. I can't believe it's been over a week since our final concert. Here are some pictures and a few comments about each of this year's concerts.

"Christmas" started early this year. Back in about February, Shino and I received our first invitation for a Christmas concert--the church had been trying to hold a concert on Christmas Eve for a number of years, but had been too late to invite a musician. I was surprised, but accepted the invitation. In the end, I had more invitations than I was able to accept.

Shino and I were already practicing for our 2012 Christmas concerts before we even received the first invitation. However, we really got serious around the beginning of November in preparation for our first concert on November 23. In addition to practicing my instruments and rehearsing with Shino, I also wrote introductions for each piece we played and a 3-part Christmas talk, in which I told the story of Advent, the coming of Jesus, and finally my testimony. I used part or all of the talk in 3 of the concerts, interspersed with music.

I practiced and practiced... and the day before the first concert, the neighbors complained. We'll just say I'm excited to move next month.

The first concert was November 23 at Sakae Church. Our concert was part of Sakae Church's quilt exhibition. We played Bach's first viola da gamba sonata, a couple of Christmas carols, and each of us played a solo piece. There were also tasty cakes, delicious lunch, and beautiful quilts to look at.

Using the organ presented some unique challenges, but it was fun, and sounded great!
A number of friends came, including our friend from the local tea shop.

Our second concert was November 24 at Wakaba Church. I have to say, this was the concert I was most nervous about, since we will be working at Wakaba church starting in March. The morning of the concert, I remembered that this concert isn't about me, and I was able to get through it calmly, despite a number of things going wrong--including a cello string coming unraveled during a performance of one of the most difficult pieces I've ever played... (I've learned my lesson, and I'll change my strings regularly from now on...)

It was a special pleasure to talk to people after the concert, since we'll be getting to know them from now on. About 80 people came, more than expected, including many people invited by church members. Also, we were provided with lunch--and it was fantastic. We're looking forward to enjoying meals together with the members of Wakaba church. :)

We played Schumann's Fantasiestücke and Schubert's "Arpeggione" Sonata on piano and cello.
I gave all 3 parts of my 3 part talk.
We played Bach's first sonata, this time with harpsichord.
I played and sang my own arrangement of "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence."

The third concert was December 8 at Nanae Church. We weren't sure if would get there--Nanae is about 4 hours away by train, and there was a blizzard the day before we left (and we were both sick). There was also a blizzard the day of the concert, and the church members were convinced no one would come... but plenty of people showed up! I guess people in Hokkaido are not deterred by bad weather. The concert went well, and I felt like people engaged well with the Christmas talk. Perhaps the best part personally was the chance to spend time with OMF colleagues, Tim and Miho, and with Pastor and Mrs. Kimura, who attended Lighthouse church with us 3 years ago.

Schubert, Schumann, and Christmas songs on cello and piano
The shamisen also made an appearance with my own arrangement of "I Wonder as I Wander"
With the Kimuras after the concert

The fourth concert was at Tonden Church on December 15. This is the church where my shamisen teacher attends, and a number of her other students came to the concert. We did our first complete performance of the Arpeggione sonata, and of course, the shamisen made an appearance. There was also tea time with excellent cookies.

Shino read Luke 2 for me for the Christmas talk... which is nice, since she reads faster and better than I do. :)
My shamisen teacher is in the foreground wearing green.

The final concert was Christmas Eve at Immanuel Church. This one included Candle-light singing of Silent Night, and Christmas cake. And I didn't have to give a talk, just introduce the pieces. Also, this was our second complete performance of the Arpeggione sonata and the fourth performance of the 2nd and 3rd movements, which helped us to be confident. Some of my friends came!

In addition to Schubert and Schumann, we did Bach with viola da gamba and harpsichord.

Conveniently Immanuel Church is a few blocks from our house, so we had a Christmas party afterwards, with cookies, cardamom bread, and fruit cake!

And then the next day I sat around in my pajamas.