Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas

posted by Ruben Mendoza

We finished our last concert today. it is 11:44 pm Christmas Eve.

Merry Christmas!

Ruben

Friday, December 23, 2005

On trains & toilets

posted by Nancy Hascall

Well, we have just 2 more days in Japan, and I'm only now getting around to adding my 2 cents to the blog. (Just too many things to do and places to see, and every time I get near a computer, there's a line waiting to use it before and after me.)

Touring with Sonos a Sonosian has been a fantastic experience for me. What a fun bunch of people to work and travel with! Lots of laughter, and for the most part, everyone has remained quite cheerful and good-natured despite colds, fatigue, & being together so much of the time. And continuing to hone our performance throughout the tour has brought it to a very satisfying place, musically. What a treat to play with so many superb musicians!

Now about the trains and toilets. Odd topics to pair together , I know, and I guess all they have in common is that they are uniquely Japanese. First the bullet trains (shinkansen). When you’re riding on the bullet train, you know it’s going fast (I don't know how fast, but others in the room right now are saying everywhere from 120 to 200 mph. Will have to look that up somewhere!) Anyway, the real impact of the speed didn’t quite hit me until one night when we were waiting on the platform to board a train, and another train zipped by us on the other track without stopping. I saw the light, and thought there was a train coming in for a stop, but immediately there was a startling roar, a white streak, a gust of wind, and it was gone already. Barely enough time to recognize it as a train as it zipped through the station. WOW! We were all quite startled and amazed by it.

And the toilets -- sorry, but I really do think this oddity is worth comment -- everywhere we've been (mostly very nice hotels and concert halls, but even also in some shopping centers) they have toilets with a whole selection of electronic controls for various comforts like heated seats, bidet, spray, water pressure variations, and more. The first place we stayed, water started running as soon as you sat down. I didn't understand quite why until I encountered another toilet with a control that created an artficial flushing sound -- presumably to cover up the sound of one's "tinkling," which I'm told is embarrassing to some Japanese sense of propriety.

So much for embarrassment. I can't believe this will probably be my only blog, and I chose toilets. ;-) Maybe I can blame it on my cold or something.

Signing off (the line is forming behind me)
Nancy

Jeannine, The Electrical Engineer

posted by Josh

So. I am very lucky to spend time with all of the Sonos crowd. What is really great is that everyone's skills and talents exceed what they can do behind the ringing table, and Jeannine is a superb example.

I already knew that Jeannine was a super smart lady, but as the tour has progressed, I have discovered that she's really good with things like table covers, and she can kick your butt at cards too. I also found out tonight that she has two masters degrees in Electrical Engineering (not sure why...but as the engineer, I'm sure *she* could tell you herself).

After all the excitement of teaching PL Canasta on the bus (see my previous post), Jeannine commented that she would like to play Canasta too. It was not a game she had beat everyone at yet (at least I *thought* this was her motive), so sure enough we commenced playing in the dressing room at the venue. Here we go. Jeannine is gonna win.

I was shocked and proud when the game ended and I had about a 2000 point lead to win. Not just *anyone* beats Jeannine at cards. I mean, she can count cards for crying out loud! I'm mostly banking on luck and prayer.

Well, I wasn't about to hear the end of this from her. So she challenged a rematch when we arrived back at the hotel. And we played. I was just barely ahead for a few hands. But then in the last hand, I just kept racking up points until the entire deck was gone. All this time, Jeannine is muttering about how she has no good discards because everything she will discards helps me instead of her.

It was only at this point (after we're done) that she realizes that she could have frozen the deck this whole time and just didn't. In fact, it would have avoided her giving me like 4 canastas and a slew of points and she could have gone out a long time ago. She screams "that's such an amateur thing to do!" I'm thinking that it was too, but I wasn't about to tell her that 30 cards ago.

Sorry for the Canasta references for you non-players. The important part is that when the points were tallied, I had won the game by almost 2500 points (a very substantial lead).

Even though I know she'll get me soon enough, I at least feel comfortable knowing I can play cards with Jeannine and win at least once in a very great while.

The New Jason

posted by Josh

You were so amused by my previous post that I figured I'd give you some more glee.

In general, I'm a fairly responsible person. I have been a banker (requires attention to detail), I'm financially prudent, I have balanced 60 to 70 hours of work with up to 21 credit hours of school, and I am able to run a business. Those who know me well would describe some facets of my life as "anal." Not that I'm uptight, in fact, quite the opposite, but definitely responsible.

Until the other day. It's the afternoon, and we have another bus ride to get to yet another venue to play another evening concert. But I realize with horror and panic (5 minutes before leaving the hotel) that I do not have my music. Stay calm I tell myself. It's bound to be in your bag. No. Or in your luggage that you haven't seen in two days. No. Or maybe it's just in the bathroom. NO. Maybe it's just under the pillow? NO! In my coat pocket?!?!?! Oh man...this ain't lookin too good......

So I run to Jason's room to see if he will lend me his book for the concert since I can't find mine in the remaining 2 minutes before we leave. This poses two problems. One (the obvious), I don't have my own music (with notes circled and musical markings), and second of all, Jason doesn't have a black folder - his is red. But hey, *anything* is better than nothing when you're in panic mode.

I continue to run through options of where it might be as we pull away from the hotel (and I am making marks in Jason's music). It *might* be in big green or big red (Sonos equipment luggage), but I remember distinctly walking back from the previous venue to the hotel with it in my hand. The only place it could be is at the previous hotel, I ultimately decide.

*NOTE* Before leaving the hotel, I double-checked the room to make sure I had *ALL* of my items. And even to double-check Ruben. This is the responsible person in me, you see.

But apparently I had left it on the desk at the previous hotel, thinking it was the hotel notebook of various services and surrounding entertainment information. So when we arrive, I explain the situation to Jim and all the possibilities, and the fact that I have replacement music, etc. Though there was a moment of concern at this point, ultimately, the concert, though not *my* best, went pretty darn well.

Tamamura-san phones the previous hotel and finds that it's there. YAY! It will arrive at the current hotel the following day. And indeed, it did. I went down to retrieve it from the desk. To my surprise it was this rather large package. Hmm. It's also soft. Uh?

Okay. Maybe they put padding in to protect it. The Japanese are all about gifts and packaging. But when I open it up, it's *not* padding. Low and behold, it's a bag full of underwear, socks, and undershirts. Not even matching ones, and not neatly folded either. Okay. So this is weird. Did I leave my dirty laundry at the hotel too? Surely not. So I check. No. Definitely *not* mine.

Haha. Joke is on me. Must be a Japanese joke right? Alright. I have a sense of humor.

*ENTER RUBEN*

Ruben: Hey.
Josh: Hey I got my music. Thank goodness!
Ruben: That's good.
Josh: Yeah, but I think they played a Japanese joke on me.
Ruben: Huh?
Josh: The music was in there with a bag full of dirty underwear that's not mine.
Ruben: Oh...
Josh: Yeah, here it is. *Produces bag*
Ruben: OH! I think that's mine. Uhm. Yeah....Uh... That's mine.

Later....

Josh: I think I am going to post to the blog.
Ruben: What about?
Josh: Well I am going to talk about my stupidity. You know, about losing my music.
Ruben: Just *DON'T* post about my underwear.
Josh: Okay. I won't. *wink*


But the fun doesn't end there. Because later, we get on the bus for another concert. PL, who is usually bored, asks me to play cards with her. With the help of others, PL learned Canasta. But right before leaving the bus, I dumped all of my cards onto the floor. In a panic to get them all up and make sure that there are 52, I spaced the fact that my suit bag is still in the overhead compartment.

We get off the bus. I only have my backpack in tow. Lalala. Dum de dum. Wait. Where is my suit bag?!?! *turn around* CRAP! The bus is pulling away. *SCREAMS* No! My bag is on the bus. Stop the bus!

You see the pattern here. My suit arrived safely and well in time for the concert, thanks to Tamamura-san though. But considering all the things Jason has left behind on this trip (and from what I hear, *many* previous tours [things like traveler's checks and his tux at the hotel), I have been dubbed "the New Jason."

But! Let it be said that I did *NOT* leave any form of cash-ola behind. Not like my friends Jason and Rebekah. No way. If it spends, you can bet your bottom dollar (literally) that *I* have *my* dollars with me.

Doomsday

posted by Josh

So, at first, I thought I wasn't interested in posting to this blog-thing. But there have been a few interesting things I just *had* to comment on. So here goes nothing.

One of those interesting things happened the other night in Sendai. All of my close friends will attest to the fact that I have always been a doomsday child. That is, for me, nearly every event will end in major catastrophe and the end of the world. Or at least a country being blown up or something.

When it was time for the millenium to flip over to 2000, I firmly bought into the idea that I would breathe my last breath. I didn't fill my bathtub with water, but I *did* think about it.
When the "Bible Code" came out, I devoured the entire book. In fact, I still believe that California is doomed to fall into the ocean by 2012 or so. (Not sure my California ringing mates would agree or appreciate that though...) I somewhat sheepishly admit that I have even continued to read "The Bible Code 2", even though I knew that not everything in The Bible Code 1 came true.

But when I came to Japan, I had even more grandiose ideas. I was sure the avian flu would afflict me, especially after I saw people in crowds wearing masks. (Turns out that they just wear those when they have a cold or something, but don't ruin my momentum here!) Furthermore, though the food hasn't been *totally* hideous, it has been...well somewhat unpallatable (I am sure my good friend Rebekah will correct me if that spelling is wrong *props*). I have even joked that while Jim is in food heaven (his own words), I am in food hell.

Thus, At any moment I might die from some weird fungus thing I ate.

But the penultimate was the other night in Sendai. I had just shared a leisurely cocktail with PL (accompanied by this disgusting grape water [my fault] - but then again it at least masked the awful flavor of the raspberry liquor). But note - I only had *ONE* drink!

I went to my room around 3:30 (yes, a.m.!). I got into bed and laid down, prepared for a relaxing night of sleep. But then, all of the sudden, it was like the room was spinning. But it was worse than spinning. Then it was like the bed was moving. And I thought to myself, hmmmm....maybe I had too much to drink: I must be tipsy. But the bed continued to move. And the room. And then it felt like I was on the ocean. I considered waking my roommate Ruben and it might be an earthquake (as a Colorado guy, I don't know anything about this stuff), but thought against it just in case I really *was* drunk.

But then I realized. WAIT! We really *are* in an earthquake, and I'm on the 12th floor of a building. Holy crap! I'm gonna die in Japan. All of Sonos is going to die in Japan. This is not going to be good. I am going to die in Asia.

So really, the short of the long is: *Everything results in death*

Tamamura-San the Teddy Bear

posted by PL

We have a guide with us on our tour named Mr. Tamamura. In Japanese, it's Tamamura-San. He's waiting for us first thing in the morning to put us on a bus, train, or in a taxi. He's counting heads to make sure we're all there. He's looking somewhat disapprovingly when someone's tardy or forgets something. Through it all, he generally has a slight smile on his face, but you get the feeling that behind the smile, he's rolling his eyes and counting the minutes until his next dose of Tums.

You also get the feeling that you don't mess with Tamamura-San. I'm not quite sure what it is, but I think in a head to head round, I would be down for the count faster than you can say "Where's my Bento box?"

The other night, after a fairly successful concert (no major screw ups), we were herded back on the bus. We knew we were going back to the hotel. We knew there was no messing with Tamamura-San. But we also knew we wanted ice cream.

After a few minutes on the road, the chant rose up from the back of the bus (okay, I lie - it was me who started it): ICE CREAM, ICE CREAM, ICE CREAM....

Michele broke in, yelling, "But I don't want ice cream - I'm hungry!"

The chant started up again, "ICE CREAM AND FOOD, ICE CREAM AND FOOD, ICE CREAM AND FOOD...."

The bus ambled on down the road. We knew it was useless.

And then, suddenly, something crazy happened. The bus stopped, and Tamamura-San stood up and said, "Ice cream stop - building on your right."

So the truth is out: Tamamura-San is just a big, sweet teddy bear.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Jingle Bells recap

posted by Michele Sharik

Ruben posted about Jingle Bells the other day. Since Jason obviously isn't saying anything about it, I thought I would step in as a fair and impartial observer....

Jingle Bells is a quartet piece (arr. by Kevin McChesney, IIRC) that occurs as the 3rd piece in the 2nd half of our concert. There are funny hats involved - sorry, Charlotte, but the Japanese audiences simply eat it up!

Anyway, Ruben's hat is under the table. Jason's is supposed to be, too.

See where this is headed?

The schtick starts. Ruben does his thing. All of a sudden, Jason comes running offstage, past all of us gathered there, watching via the monitors. As he runs past me, I hear him say, "My hat is in the dressing room!" I tell the others to make way for him as he's going to be coming back through at a pretty fast pace!

Meanwhile, Ruben is left onstage alone. He covered well, looking around and acting surprised that he was alone on stage (well, maybe that part wasn't an act!). He does a big dramatic shrug for the audience and calls out, "Merry Christmas!" The audience laughs heartily.

Finally, Jason comes running back past all of us backstage, onto the stage with his elf hat on. The audience gives him a round of applause.

The rest of the schtick proceeded as normal (PL, with reindeer antlers & red nose, saunters (like the diva she is!) onto the stage before Michael steals her spotlight with his blinky-light jacket).

After this incident, an Executive Decision was made to pack Jason's hat in with the equipment & put it out as part of the regular stage setup.

Speaking of Osaka...

posted by Michele Sharik

Osaka is quite different from Tokyo. I think the 2 cities are of comparable size, population wise (and perhaps even land mass), but to me Osaka always feels "smaller" than Tokyo.

It might be the location of the hotels we stay in.

In Tokyo, at the Tokyo Dome Hotel, we can see for miles in every direction - skyscrapers as far as the eye can see and cranes where there is new construction. On a clear day, you can see Mt. Fuji.

In Osaka, the New Ohtani Hotel is right next door to the Osaka Castle (a beautiful building, btw). If you look out the window, you see some of Osaka, but it doesn't seem to stretch all the way to the horizon like Tokyo does.

The people are also different. Both cities are very cosmopolitan - lots of English and people who are used to seeing Westerners - but in Osaka the people are a bit more... agressive, if you will.

In Tokyo, people will almost sheepishly ask you questions or excuse themselves if they happen to bump into you on the subway (you hear "sumimasen" ["excuse me"] a lot).

But case in point about Osaka: Backstage at the concert night before last at the Itami Aiphonic Hall, Nuno was showing me the route to take to get to our positions to play Aka Tonbo. The house was open & the audience were taking their seats. There was a lady walking around backstage near our dressing rooms. She called out in loud voice, "Sumimasen!" and then launched into rapid-fire Japanese.

Nuno, not thinking she was talking to him (because she was speaking so quickly), walked right past her. She caught my arm and repeated herself, pointing at a seating chart. Apparently she was asking me how to find her seat!

I looked at her and said, "Gomen nasai, wakarimasen [I've very sorry; I don't understand]" She then proceeded to speak louder (but not slower) - I think she repeated herself again, but I'm not sure. Of course, I still didn't understand her so I repeated myself and backed away. She turned around and went back down the hallway. (I sure hope she eventually found her seat!!)

Back Home at the Dome

posted by Michele Sharik

After 3 days in Osaka, we are back "home" at the Tokyo Dome hotel. We'll stay here for 3 nights, then take the Shinkansen to Nagoya before Sonos returns home to the USA.

We have 3 concerts to go!

Yo, yo, yo... Sonos in da uchi, yo.

posted by Reb H.

Greetings, my handbell homies. Thought I'd give a big shout out to all y'all back stateside. No, I don't normally talk like this, but it's after midnight and we just played what was probably our best concert of the tour so far. Of course, we've been having audiences of over 1000 (sen, if you know the nihongo) people. Which rocks. But our audience tonight was just a bit over 100 (hyaku).

I am totally loving this trip. It really tempts me to just move to Japan. The food is great, the culture is great, the people are so cool. The bowing takes some adjustment, but the sense of humor makes up for it.

Example: last night, post-concert, approximately 9:30pm...
Me: We only have 2 and a half hours before our baggage has to be dropped off (yes, I was teasing)
Tamamura-san (paraphrase): Un (a Japanese noise for yes). Not too much time for drinking tonight.

Ahahahaa... And then, of course, Taiko-san thinks I'm younger than I really am because I'm laughing all the time. I swear it's not my fault.

Since this is my first post, I thought I'd share a bit more of my personal experiences on this trip.

1) We get to the Tokyo Dome Hotel, our second hotel of the trip, and the TV indicates that my roomie (Sunghee -- props for the Sunghee!) and/or I have a message. So, I call down. Apparently, I've left some cash at our previous hotel... Quite a lot of cash, actually. Like a couple hundred dollars worth of yen. And, because I'm magical like that, I haven't even really noticed it's missing. And, because the Japanese are magical like that, it's already been wired and has arrived.

2) Akihabara. 'Nuff said.

3) Mister Donut. Much better than Dunkin'. Mmmm.... angel cream. Have I mentioned that the food here is really good? Should I list some of the other tasties? Korean BBQ, okonomiyaki, omuraisu (omelette with rice and sauce and stuff), Keitanzushi (rolling sushi), etc, etc... But don't ever try to keep to the pace that Michael sets on the food. Urgh. I'm very full.

4) I've studied some Japanese. About 6 months worth. Which means that I can't really communicate very well, but I can sort of say some stuff. Basically, it comes down to, whenever I use "hai" in the right place (this means, basically, yes), then whatever Japanese person I'm speaking to looks all stunned and pleasantly surprised and then tells me that my Japanese is "jouzu" (quite skillful)... In other words, my accent when saying "hai" is superb. ^.^ Of course, it also means that everyone else in the group expects me to know stuff. Ruben: "Rebekah. You know Japanese. What's this weird stuff in our bento?" Which, considering that I'm basically illiterate in Japanese, and there wasn't any writing anyway... Kanji, I shall defeat you yet!

5) Korean tv dramas (thanks to Sunghee for this -- she can actually understand them though). "Doushite. Doushite kokoni." (Why? Why are you here?). Japanese tv is generally beyond amusing, though. The "static electricity" dance comes to mind. Ahahahaaa... 3 skinny Japanese ballet dancer guys rubbing various parts of their bodies together to build up static cling in the interests of science and educational tv... Brilliant. And, now that I'm rereading this, I have to say that it's not NEARLY as kinky as it sounds. This was a children's show. A children's show!

6) Lost taxi drivers... Me, Ruben, and someone else... I don't remember now who. Tamamura-san puts us in a taxi to the station. We get to the station. The wrong part of the station. Taxi driver has to get out and ask for directions. Ruben: "Rebekah, you know Japanese. Save us." Ahahahaaaa. And Taiko-san thinks I laugh a lot... There are reasons!

Anyway, that's a few highlights of MY trip. Cause I know you just couldn't get by without it. ^.^

Feel free to ask Sunghee about our kaxxi (this is not actual Japanese, but is used by a Japanese rock star person to refer to himself because he objects to being called kawaii (cute)) ninjutsu skills at Osaka castle.

Ta for now.

Rebekah
(for those keeping track, uchi = house, but is really only used to refer to your own house of the house of someone in your in-group)

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Jingle Bells tonight

posted by Ruben Mendoza

That's all I am going to say. Jason will fill you in.

Ruben

We Three Kings

posted by Ruben Mendoza

We are performing Arnold Sherman's arrangement of this piece and it is becoming my favorite Christmas carol piece in our concert. With Michele and Nancy on percussion and Jason and PL playing the low bells down to the G2, the piece has this big sound that fills the hall and this arrangement is very effective.

Ruben

H2O

posted by Ruben Mendoza

There is a Sonos virus going around and it hasn't got me yet. This is our 11th day on tour and the secret to staying healthy (at least for me) is to drink lots of water. I am tempted to drink soda all day but I believe that water is the wonder drug.

Ruben

A Black Woman in Japan

posted by PL

What can I say? There are soooooo many issues here, I don't know where to begin.

I had heard that it was quite possible people would stare at me, but that I would be generally accepted as "cool."

I do generally find people sneaking a peek when they think I'm not looking. The Japanese are so polite, most of them wouldn't want to be caught dead staring at me. But every now and then, someone just brazenly gazes at me, slackjawed, for a good ten seconds or so. I smile and say, "Konnichiwa."

I think there's something a little disconcerting to them about a Black woman in Japan. But when Japanese words come out of that Black woman's mouth, it's downright scary. Some of the girls from the school handbell choir that we did a joint concert with a few days ago would squeal with delight when I greeted them in Japanese. It's really not that big of a deal - I only know, like, three words or something (and even then, I'm quite sure I'm butchering the accent).

If you know anything at all about Black people, you'll know that one of our biggest issues is our hair. Since I was going to Japan - the land of the straight-haired people - I decided to come prepared. I purchased not one, but TWO bottles of hair product. Then I promptly left one of the bottles at home.

After tons of searching on the Internet and browsing at the local Sally's (yes, there's a Sally's Beauty Supply here, if you can believe that - oh, sorry, most of you will probably not have a clue what I'm talking about - but if there are any women out there who might know what Sally's is, yes! They have a Sally's here in Japan!), I have given up on the idea of ever finding hair products for Black women with really curly hair. I'm not sure what I'll do yet when I run out (it might involve holding someone hostage until I get a supply....)

Anyway, I went sightseeing on the Sendai Loople bus (a city bus that drives you around the city all day long to see the sights for one flat rate for the day) and was just returning back to the last stop near our hotel. We were passing the concert hall where we had performed the night before, and what do my eyes behold????!! ANOTHER BLACK WOMAN IN JAPAN! There she was in all of her dark glory, standing on the corner talking to someone. And BRAIDS even!

I wanted to shout, "My People! Stop the bus!"

What I really wanted to do was get our and ask her where I could get hair products. But then it occurred to me that perhaps she would be extremely happy to see me as well, since she could ask ME where to get hair products.

I think I'll wait and ask the concierge back at the Tokyo Dome Hotel on Wednesday. I hear they LIVE to please their guests. This will be a new and exciting challenge for them.

Shake Rattle and Roll From Down the Hall

posted by PL

Since some of us were raised in California, earthquakes are not new to us. So what Ruben didn't say was that about half of us were either: 1) calmingly sleeping through it all (Joel was putting in his contacts!) or 2) telling others what to do (I was shouting directions at a very groggy Michele, "Stand in the doorway! NOW!")

Even this California girl who went through the Loma Prieta earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area was rolling a LOT last night! A Japanese 6.0 earthquake is easily as intense as a San Francisco 7.1 earthquake! And they last what seems to be much longer....

Shake Rattle and Roll

posted by Ruben Mendoza

Shortly after 3:30am this morning (Saturday morning) there was a 6.2 earthquake. It was an undersea earthquake approx. 180 NE of Tokyo. We are still in the city of Sendai, which is north of Tokyo and boy did we feel it. We were all in the 12th floor of the hotel and many of us went out in the hallway to check on each other.

Just another day on tour...

Ruben

A Modest Proposal

posted by Michele Sharik

Tonight we played in Koriyama, a 40-minute shinkansen (bullet train) ride south of Sendai. A nice hall, but small - perhaps 400 seats? (I'm really bad at estimating how many; sorry!)

Anyway, after the concert, the audience was invited up on stage to ooh and ahh over the bells. We always enjoy this bit because they look so excited and happy to get to touch the instruments & learn how to ring them. They also get excited when they encounter one of us who know a little bit of Japanese!

As the stage started to clear, a young man (early 20s?) came up to me & excitedly told me, "You are so COOL! I am falling in love with you. Will you marry me?"

I giggled & covered my face in the embarrrassed Japanese schoolgirl fashion & then pointed at my wedding ring and said, "Gomen nasai [I'm very sorry], but I'm already married!"

He seemed very disappointed! He then proceeded to tell me how beautiful I am:

"Your eyes are so deep and your nose..." here he gestured with his hand indicating that I have a long nose.

I had to laugh because that's the first time in my life anybody has told me I'm beautiful *because* I have a big nose! LOL!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Livin' La Vida Loca

posted by Ruben Mendoza

Last night I was Walking Like an Egyptian at the Kareoke Bar. Although I Left My Heart in San Francisco and I was All Out of Love, I was still acting like an American Idiot.

Ruben

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Surprise....

posted by Michele Sharik

Ruben & I were at a restaurant having a beer (they *do* have dark beer in Japan!). They brought us a lovely 3-sectioned dish of appetizers. One section was 2 tiny, tiny whole shrimp with a lemon. Another section was a small piece of beef in a nice sauce. The middle section was a poofy thing in a sweet sauce.

I split mine in half. It looked like there was a scallop inside, so I ate it.

Meanwhile, Ruben dissects his & turns the "scallop" over to reveal suckers. It wasn't a scallop, it was octopus!!

I said, "Ugh! Don't show me the suckers until I've swallowed!"

The mall gig: Yes, we have arrived.

posted by Jason Tiller

You know, when you start out with a new community group, you will almost inevitably encounter "the mall gig." This staple of cash-strapped, publicity-hungry non-affiliated groups everywhere is always fun. It seems that there're an endless supply of shopping centers that, when Christmas rolls around, have an insatiable appetite for low-budget musical groups to (theoretically) inspire their patrons to greater heights of consumerism. I guess this means there is a relationship between "Jingle Bells" and a shopper's wallet. Whatever.

And, for some reason, mall directors look at handbells and immediately see dollar signs. Don't ask me why! (Handbells are for Christmas!)

So, in the typical mall gig, you end up arriving at the venue at the wrong entrance (invariably). You stand around looking confused. After a suitable period of vexation, the mall gods are appeased and the entertainment coordinator materializes out of the mass of huddled shoppers wearing an exasperated look and trots you through the entire mall. It's a little slow because you're shlepping all your stuff, naturally.

Just before you think you'll collapse and your fingers will never uncrimp from their permanently clawed position (bell cases are heavy!), you finally reach the designated performance spot. Of course there's only 9 feet and you need 18, but, hey, be flexible. Various angles, configurations... you know the drill. Eventually you shoehorn yourself into the pathetically inadequite performance space and set up. When all is said and done, you're ready to play.

Then the fun part - you get to play in a mall! With tons of milling shoppers who really don't care about you walking by, slightly turning their heads in vague disinterest, and then continuing on their slavish, consumer search for gifts to one-up their relatives. Oh, joy.

You play your set (15 minutes or so) the first two times, and then the director walks up: Can't you play "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus?" Apparently, they have a big Christmas lingerie sale that day, and he thinks this song would be a major draw. After letting him down gently because, no, you can't play that, you go back to playing your set a few more times. Then you pack up and leave. If you're lucky, somebody was able to bring the shlepmobile to the right entrance so you don't have to trek the whole length of the mall again (remember the cramped fingers?). Your first mall gig - your group earned $150. Woo-hoo!

Well, I haven't played a mall gig in a while, and I guess it was my time again in purgatory, because near the end of our rehearsal in Sendai, Jim comes to me and says, "We have to stop at 6:00 because you're going to the mall to play 'Sakura'." R-i-i-i-g-h-t. I didn't exactly sense an interrogative in there, so all I could do is nod my head. But, sheesh, I was tired. We'd been on the road since 6:30 AM, with a trip to Fukushima, a television show, another train ride to Sendai, then a stressful rehearsal with the violinist and the local all-girl double choir group. And the rehearsal with the violinist had been stressful because the four of us accompanying him in "Ave Maria" had to transpose on the spot since we had apparently learned the quartet in the wrong key! Yeah, he knew it in F and we had learned it in G. A whole step sounds easy enough, but those noodle-noodle sixteenths fly by pretty quickly, and it's a quartet, so we're moving all over the place as the line goes up and down. Mentally stressful!

(BTW, we played Jingle Bells for the TV show, with Michael being interviewed by a translator. This was good.

Interviewer: "So, what are these instruments you play?"

Michael: "We're an English handbell ensemble, and these are the instruments we play. [point at bells] So, we play... English handbells."

[pregnant pause]

Michael: "Merry Christmas!"

Fortunately the translator's rendition of that appeared to not faithfully render Michael's response.)

Turns out that the publicist at the concert hall (or somebody) had decided that sticking us in the outdoor mall would be a good way to advertize the concert on the next day. Actually, it was a good idea! But at the time I was just a little miffed that we weren't even asked and that the four of us were being singled out for this extra duty with no preparation.

OK, so we figure out we're going to the mall. At the appointed time, the six of us (Tamamura-san, Nohoko-san, Michael, Sunghee, Josh, and I) bundle into two taxis and drive for 10 minutes to a location in a freakin' huge outdoor mall in downtown Sendai. Many, many blocks long in two directions, this is what the Mall of America would look like if you took all the stores and laid them out along two intersecting streets, each extending blocks in either direction. (Turns out we could have just walked to the area, since the taxi had to fight terrible traffic due to the first night of the "20th Annual Sendai Festival of Starlight," during which they basically wire the heck out of the trees along the boulevard that marks the end of the mall and along with the concert hall sits. The foot and driving traffic were horrendous.) We walked some of this mall today, and it really is fun.

We finally make it our performance location. They've built this cute little red felt-covered stage, with an arch of green baloons and some pine trees in the background. The stage is *very* small, and round, so it's a good thing the piece we played, "Sakura", only requires four ringers and is played in a circle. (This is a pretty cool piece, being Jim's blending of English change ringing and the famous Japanese folk melody. Maybe I'll describe it later.) While we're getting ready, all of the assistants (maybe six of them) begin donning goofy Christmas gear, like flashy santa hats and reindeer ears for the girls. One guy actually gets into a santa suit. Oh, yeah - I remembered from our first trip that low-level flunkies for these publicity stunts put on little costumes and yell at people until the poor shoppers relent and take whatever marketing materials they're handing out. (Kinda freaked me out the first time we encountered that - I distinctly remember avoiding the store that had this kind of "advertising".)

The emcee brings up his mike and begins to rapidly belt out Japanese while we stand there and look pretty. Finally, we get the cue ("please start playing now, thank you") and launch into our one-minute rendition of Sakura. We finish and everybody claps. A very few mall passers-by stop to listen, but most actively avoid the yelling, overly-cheerful flunkies trying to hand out concert flyers.

We start up again, playing Sakura again - hey, it's all we know for four people with 10 bells - and it seems to go fine. We get a few more people. We play again, and then we get a little break. The local newspaper has sent a photographer, and he wants some shots. Some little girl appears out of nowhere and gets put on stage, probably to add a "cuteness" factor to our mugs. Josh leans down and gives the five-year old a bell and sorta shows her how to play. She finally makes a sound, and everybody smiles. Ah, isn't that sweet?? :)

We do some airbelling to get a usable picture (which we do, BTW - we showed up in the paper the next day - I doubt we would have without the little tyke their to endear us). After that, we go back to playing, but this time in a straight line. Ugh, it's hard to play a piece that's designed for a circle in a straight line!

While we're playing Sakura for the fourth time, our producer, Tamamura-san, is conversing intently with the liaison at the mall. My imagined conversation goes something like this:

Mall guy: "This piece is short. I can hardly hear the melody. Can't they play 'Happy X'mas?'"

Tamamura-san: "No, they can't play that piece with only four ringers." (Yes, we did play "Happy X'mas" on this tour)

Mall guy: "Hmm. Do they know anything else?"

Tamamura-san: "No, they only know 'Sakura'. Forgive them - they're only westerners."

Well, the upshot is that on my first mall gig in over 10 years, we played a single, one-minute piece six times. Not exactly high art! But, hey, the audience for the next day's concert was 1,100, so I'm not complainin'.

You young community handbell ringers - see what you have to look forward to??

---Jason

Power Rangers, Ho!

posted by Jason Tiller

Japan is always fun - you never know what you'll see.

Well, being sick isn't so fun; I've been under the weather since we arrived. I'm finally starting to come out of it now. (whew) Unfortunately, I was feeling poorly enough to miss our only free day in Tokyo. :/ Still, if you gotta spend a day of doing nothing, there are worse places to do it than the Tokyo Dome Hotel! (toh-kee-yo dome-oo ho-teh-ru) I was thrilled when our taxi pulled in to the TDH because it felt like I had come home; we've stayed there for probably 12 days over the last two tours.

The Tokyo Dome is a large baseball stadium that also serves as a concert venue and whatever else you can do with a 50,000-seat, enclosed venue. However, there's oh so much more around the area. In fact, the Dome is the center of "Tokyo Dome City," an amusement park/shopping mall/hotel/restaurant/health spa cavalcade. The amusement park is complete with a rollercoaster, ferris wheel, parachute fall, "drop zone"-style cart, kiddie coaster, blah blah blah.

And the really cool thing is that they have live Power Ranger shows! (Yes, we're finally at a place where this post relates to the title...) We were on the 19th floor and I was sick and alone, since my roommate Bruce had abandoned me in favor of an "Old Edo walking tour" (mostly around a highly-tourist-trap oriented temple). We had an "odd" (1907) room, and on our side we could look out over the amusement park and especially over the Power Ranger stage. (Note our first year room was "odd", but last tour's was "even", overlooking little more than MacDonalds ("mahk-oo-dohn-ah-roo-do") and our train station, Suidobashi ("soo-ee-doh-bash-ee").)

Oh, and life was good: it was a rehearsal day for the Power Rangers guys! Coolness! I knew I would be entertained all day watching the antlike (we were on the 19th floor) Japanese athletes in their little black jogging suits as they rehearsed their Power Ranger moves. The stage is a multi-level structure with two large inner cutouts for the Rangers (and their evil nemeses) to jump and flop onto after tragically being wounded and throwing their bodies into the air and falling to their doom.

So cute!

They all line up and work on the same jumps and landing. They also all seem to pray to the mattress (or the jump or the air or whatever) because they put their hands together (as the famous "praying hands") and make a small bow to the overlook before they contort their bodies, launching into the air, spinning, and finally slamming into the mattress with (seemingly) little damage. Then it's the next guy turn for praying, bowing, launching, spinning, and slamming. It's hilarious! The bottom guy runs out of small doors in the structure, up the steps, and back into position at the end of the queue waiting to jump.

Well, that's the normal course. Unfortunately, one guy appeared to really hurt himself. He was part of the crew jumping off the low landing, spinning around in midair, landing on the mattress with their hands and knees, and quickly jumping up to circle kick and punch one of their mates at the bottom. (Don't ask me why - none of the audience can see into the landing area, but whatever.)

Well, the poor guy does the praying, executes the jump and the spin, hits the mattress, jumps up... and then sits down again. Oops. He tries to get up, and then sits down again. He finally rolls over on his side, falling off the mattress. His companion (the guy who gets "hit" by the circle kick and punch) realizes he's not faking it and comes over to help. All the other guys run down off of their perches, surround the cutout where the guy's been hurt, and seem to just watch. Some more guys come over and cart the hurt dude off. Yikes.

After that, rehearsal went on as before. They probably did the various jumps, martial-arts combat scenes, and individual calasthenics for over two hours. I found myself thinking about what it's like to play in Sonos: yeah, we can hurt our wrists or our backs over time, but, sheesh! Would you want that guy's job??

---Jason

P.S. The first year, Diane and I actually got to see the Power Rangers show from the 25th floor. What a great blast!! That was super fun...

A Quote from Afternoon Tea

posted by Michele Sharik

DESSERT,which brings you a happiness
It's important thing laughaing obediently, if you don't have
a short time in daily life. Please let us
help your time for this hapiness.

Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea

posted by Ruben Mendoza

I am not posting in chronological order but on Monday Dec 12, I went to Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea. If you have been to Disneyland or DisneyWorld in California or Florida you do not have to go to Tokyo Disneyland. It is basically the same thing. However, I do recommend DisneySea. It has 7 themed areas including Mediterranean Harbor, Arabian Coast, American Waterfront and others. They have some great rides including the rollercoaster Raging Spirits and Journey to the Center of the Earth. The had several incredible shows on the waterfront of Mediterranean including Porto Paradiso Water Carnival and BraviSEAmo!

We are going back to Tokyo next week and I will have a chance to explore the city then.

Ruben
Sendai, Japan

Wardrobe Malfunction

posted by Ruben Mendoza

Last night during Porgy and Bess I heard a snap and my cummerbund unhooked. This happened about 10 measures before my big "Summertime" solo. I leaned forward up against the padded table so it would not fall into the ground. I managed to remove it and put it between the foam and table and finish the piece. When the piece ended I rolled it up and put it in my pocket. The next piece was Ave Maria and I performed the piece without the commerbund. The next piece was Largo and I didn't play that piece so I went off stage and put it back on.

Just another day in the life of a performer...

Ruben
Sendai, Japan

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

In Good Company

posted by Michele Sharik

Today we took the bullet train from Tokyo to Fukushima, a suburb of Sendai. The "Jingle Bells" quartet (Jason, Ruben, Nuno & PL) played for a local TV station's variety show.

After the show, we hopped back onto the bullet train & went to Sendai proper, where we had a rehearsal with a local school bell choir - they will be joining us for our concert tomorrow.

Come dinnertime, I didn't feel like walking far, so I talked Bruce & Taiko-san into going to the Ramen shop across the alley from the Sendai Plaza Hotel (where we are staying). We entered the shop & ordered, then settled in for dinner.

The place consisted of a counter with about 12 stools - the other half of the shop was kitchen. That's it. "Hole in the wall" epitomized!

Looking around, we noticed that many musical groups had signed the white paper-board squares that were hanging on all the restaurant walls. There were squares from Cyndi Lauper, Deep Purple, Whitesnake, Manhattan Transfer, Hall & Oates, several European orchestras, Ray Charles, Chick Corea, etc., etc.

Taiko-san explained to the staff that we were also a musical group, so they gave us a paper-board square to sign. Nuno, Josh, Bruce, Taiko-san & I signed it (and we've asked the rest of the group to sign it sometime during our 5-day stay in Sendai).

We're in good company!

Oh, and the ramen? Ray Charles says it's the best in town!

Let's Do the Time Warp Again!

posted by Michele Sharik

In "Tokyo Dome City" - which is the complex containing the Tokyo Dome baseball park, the Tokyo Dome Hotel as well as an amusement park and many shops & restaurants - there is a "Baseball Cafe" restaurant.

Last night as we walked past it to go to a nice Italian place for dinner, we noticed the staff inside standing up on the counters, dancing for the clientele. We made a few comments and laughed about it, and continued on our way.

After dinner as we passed the cafe again, they were still dancing. After a moment, we recognized the song as "The Time Warp" from Rocky Horror (I believe it was a Broadway recording, but I might be wrong).

Bruce & I stood outside the windows of the restaurant and danced along with the staff. As we took our "Step to the right", we noticed 3 or 4 Japanese youth (perhaps teenagers or young 20-somethings) dancing with us!