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. If you want to read the first, it’s over here.

The students sang

Where I come from, we take basic music classes throughout elementary school, but when we hit junior high school 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, but that’s the background from which I come.

In Japan, general music education is required at least through the end of junior high school, though I believe that changes when the students get to high school. 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, and 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 and that the school 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.

In elementary school, the students are taught basic note-hitting and to sing with gusto, but at the junior high school level they start learning proper technique. The last time I randomly walked in on a music class that wasn’t rehearsal for the school festival, my 8th graders were laying on their backs on the floor with their heads and feet lifted, singing a song requiring them to punch out H sounds over and over again. It was hilarious. All of the boys were doing their best to keep from laying down flat between singing parts and most of the girls were just kinda… rolling around pathetically. Anyway, they learn to keep their stomach muscles tight and their throats loose with a focus on reverberating sound. The introduction of harmony and a greater focus on getting pitches right comes into play, and of course the music gets more complex from year to year.

window decorations in the entryway

So every year, each class sings a song by themselves (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, but last year’s 9th grade class did so) and they sing a song all together after that. There’s a definite difference in quality from class to class, but that’s cool to see because 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, since the difference in training and skill is so different from grade to grade. I suspect that a larger school with more than one class per grade year might rank the classes in a year against each other, but here 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, and the fact that I sing well wasn’t a thing everyone else was aware of yet — but having done this two years in a row now, I kinda have the pattern down. The music teacher chooses an older pop song that all the parents and teachers are likely to know and which has 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, which 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 didn’t get to go to the second rehearsal because I was in Tokyo for Tokyo Game Show, and I missed the third one because I had a cold that I picked up from Tokyo Game Show, but during the performance my only problem was with the lyrics. xD It’s a lot harder to read the lyrics for the second verseĀ and pay attention to the score when the lyrics are not in your native tongue.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *