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In Kanazawa with volunteers in kimono

The memorable sushi dinner with artists and staff

Summer 2002

The day was just dawning in Kyoto. A magnificent performance of the Prokofiev Violin Sonata was still ringing in my ears as I stumbled out of bed at 6:00 A.M. We had checked into our hotel only hours before, and now – in my disorientated state – I wondered whether it was still yesterday, or whether the ‘tomorrow’ of a few hours ago had already become ‘today.’ In fact, it was almost time to depart for the train station where we were to proceed to the next town on the tour. Soon, a sleepy looking group assembled in the lobby, suitcases in tow. One member of this entourage, however, stood out from the rest. Violin slung over her shoulder and cell phone to her ear, she was engaged in an animated conversation – undoubtedly planning another exciting new project.

For five unforgettable days last summer I was privileged to travel along with Midori’s “Total Experience” concert tour in Japan. While with the tour, I attended glorious concerts and inspiring rehearsals, and basked in the beauty of a country that I had never before visited. The Japanese mountains and countryside had a gentle beauty and warmth that I loved – a beauty and warmth which seemed also to shine through the eyes of the people I met everywhere I went.

The concert tour, which was sponsored by the Sony Music Foundation, was a very special one commemorating Midori’s twentieth anniversary as a concert artist. It takes the diligent and dedicated work of many people to bring a concert tour to life. On this tour I joined Midori and her accompanist, Cullen Bryant, as well as a staff member from Midori’s Tokyo management office, three people from Sony, and a photographer traveling with the tour. By the time I joined the group they had already been touring Japan for many weeks. I thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie of this wonderful team. I have especially warm memories of the terrific sushi dinners we shared together!

It was a remarkable privilege to be with Midori and hear her superb music every day, and my tremendous admiration for her only increased with every day spent on the tour. She is not only a brilliant artist, but also a committed educator, a dedicated scholar, a visionary, and a humanitarian extraordinaire. Her genius was, in fact, reflected in the way she created her “Total Experience” tour to involve the audience members as unique participants in the production of each concert. The sense of audience ownership was apparent everywhere we went, and I was struck by the creativity and level of engagement we found in each town. In Chutan Village, for instance, the local townspeople presented a wonderful, traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Beautiful, kimono-clad women prepared and presented the delicious, frothy green tea along with steamed cookies to concertgoers before and after the concert and during intermission. In the breathtakingly beautiful resort town of Unazuki, we enjoyed a wonderful exhibition of works painted by local children. We were treated to traditional Japanese flute playing and dancing in Kanazawa. In Kumamoto, an inland village in the southern Kyushu region, we discovered a town intensely proud of its many ancient tombs as well as a much-revered 600-year-old Ginkgo tree and an operating observatory. Here, the chosen theme was the relationship between music and space, and essays written on this topic were hung in the reception hall. A number of stars have been discovered at the Kumamoto Observatory, including one named for Midori – giving her the deserved distinction of being a star both on earth and in the heavens!

The concert halls in each town were impressive facilities – especially in the very small villages where they were a source of much pride. Gorgeous flower arrangements and locally designed concert posters were displayed at each concert hall, adding to the local flavor of each concert site. Audience members were chosen by lottery for each concert, as there were always more people interested in attending than there were available seats. Those who were chosen to attend conveyed a feeling of privilege and awe.

Life on a concert tour takes on a unique rhythm and tempo. Days and nights blend into one seamless continuum. Rehearsals and meetings take place at any and all hours. Naps seem to substitute for a full night’s sleep and are taken where ever and whenever opportunities present themselves – on a train, in a cab or backstage on a dressing room floor. These brief periods of rest are interrupted by bursts of activity: a meeting called to discuss logistics of the upcoming performance; an announcement that the piano tuner has just finished tuning, sending the artists scrambling to the concert stage for one last rehearsal; a conference call from a distant city. Meals, too, are often taken in the same mini-doses – a nibble here and there throughout the day.

Behind the scenes, volunteers work with staff on expansive lobby displays, while reception fare receives finishing touches. As the concert hour draws near, showers are taken and musical passages are practiced once again. Concert dress is donned as the audience eagerly files into the hall. Then comes the concert, followed by a reception (sometimes two), and then, perhaps, a dinner out or an interview with the media, followed by a rehearsal, followed by a nap whereupon the rising sun beckons the next day’s activities.

I was constantly struck by the level of energy needed to contend with this round-the-clock schedule. The physical challenges of such a routine are daunting. And yet, each day – and sometimes twice a day – when the lights in the concert hall dimmed, a kind of super-human level of energy rarely encountered filled the stage. The music – alive and electric – flowed from artist to audience and back again, holding every listener rapt and spellbound. I, for one, am spellbound still.

Duffie Adelson has served as Executive Director of the Merit School of Music since 1993. The school provides free and low-fee instruction to more than 5,000 Chicago-area youth – most of whom are from the inner city. Merit has been recognized as a model nation-wide for its comprehensive curriculum, the level of financial aid and scholarship support it provides, and its unique approach to raising children through music.