JapanJET Program

School Festival, Part 2: We are SINGER!!

paper cutout by Mr. Genki

Okay, the students didn’t say that. I’m making titles up now. But I see no reason not to continue the grammatically incorrect titling. Besides, I’m about to talk about the students’ singing. With a bit about their music education in general.

This is the second post I’ve written about this year’s school festival. Check out part one and part three.

Japanese Music Education

Where I come from, we take basic music classes throughout elementary school. When we hit junior high school, though, it becomes an optional subject. Those wishing to continue studying music can take specific elective classes such as orchestra or band, but it’s no longer required. I don’t know if that applies to the entirety of the United States. However, that’s the background from which I come.

In Japan, general music education is required at least through the end of junior high school. I believe that changes when the students get to high school, though. Elementary school education is basically the same as where I come from. There’s a lot of singing, some recorders, keyboards, other easy-to-learn instruments, etc.

Things change a bit at the junior high level. Although I haven’t sat in on many of my junior high school’s music classes, and most of those have been days where I knew they would be singing (as that’s my specialty), I know they study music history. The school also has a variety of western instruments and a bunch of Japanese kotos on hand. The one thing they definitely show off at the school festival every year, though, is their singing.

The Students Sang

window decorations in the entryway

So every year, each class sings a song by themselves. (They may sing more during their class performance if music is what they want to focus on. None of the classes did that this year, as I mentioned last time. Last year’s 9th grade class did so, though.) All the classes sing a song all together after the individual class performances.

There’s a definite difference in quality from class to class, but that’s cool to see. While you’re listening to strange not-so-harmonies and watching kids’ eyes bulge as they run out of breath, you know that next year they’ll be better. It’s a neat progression to watch over the years.

The music teacher also gives each class a ranking of sorts for their performances during the post-lunch half of the school festival. They’re not ranked against each other; the difference in training and skill is so different from grade to grade. I suspect a larger school with more than one class per grade year might rank the classes in a year against each other. Here, though, the teacher has certain expectations that must be met to get gold vs. silver or bronze, and so the students are only competing with themselves. It’s a neat system. No ranking is given for the song the student body sings as a whole.

The PTA sang, too

My junior high school’s PTA also sings a song at the school festival every year. I didn’t participate the first year I was here. I wasn’t even aware that was a thing at the time. My singing skills also weren’t a thing everyone else was aware of yet. Having done this two years in a row now, though, I kinda have the pattern down.

The music teacher chooses an older pop song the parents and teachers are likely to know. Another factor in the choice is lyrics appropriate for parents and teachers to sing to students. In the three weeks leading up to the school festival, three rehearsals are held in the evenings, one per week. Not everyone makes it to every rehearsal, but things turn out well enough. Berets are borrowed from the elementary school. We wear even though our heads are too big for the child-sized hats. I can’t do a proper bow with the hat on because the hat will fall off if I try.

Just like last year, I was the only person who’d never heard the song before. Thankfully, I can pick up a song pretty easily with sheet music in front of me and someone going through the melody on a piano once or twice. I missed the second rehearsal because I was in Tokyo for Tokyo Game Show. I also skipped the third one because I had a cold that I picked up from Tokyo Game Show. During the performance, however, my only problem was with the lyrics. xD It’s a lot harder to read the lyrics for the second verse and pay attention to the score when the lyrics are not in your native tongue.

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