The Band Post speaks to Father of Taiwan Wind Music, Toshio Akiyama, and highly regarded Japanese composer Eiji Suzuki on their thoughts about the Taiwan Band Clinic, the development of the Taiwan Band scene, as well as their hopes for bands in Asia.
This interview is part of the coverage for the 9th Taiwan Band Clinic (2016).
TBP: What are your feelings about coming to the Taiwan Band Clinic 2016? Is this your first time, or if not how many times have you been here?
ES: It is my first time coming to Taiwan, hence it is my first time attending Taiwan Band Clinic as well. However I have heard many things about Taiwan Band Clinic from previous year Japanese participants, such as Tsuchiya Norito and Satoshi Yagisawa who had feedbacked that the Clinic is very interesting and is very well received by the Taiwanese people. In lieu of the recent passing of Mr. Toshio Mashima, I recalled that Mr. Mashima had come to Taiwan before, and have returned with very positive feedback. I personally feel that the Clinic so far is beyond my expectations and I am very happy to be part of this great event.
TA: As many of you would have known, I am the Emeritus Consultant of the Taiwan Band Clinic this year. I have participated in the 2nd Taiwan Band Clinic and the Clinic has been growing since then. It is currently the 9th Taiwan Band Clinic, which means that I have been participating for about 10 years. One thing to note is that in the middle of the 8th Taiwan Band Clinic, there was a disruption due to a major sports meet so technically, I have participated in 10 Taiwan Band Clinics.
Since the 2nd Taiwan Band Clinic, there have been more participation from Japanese Bands, and subsequently from the 7th Taiwan Band Clinic onwards, there are more participation from U.S Bands. Due to the growing interest in Japanese music in Taiwan, Mr. Gordon (USA) has introduced and started to bring more U.S Bands to Taiwan Band Clinics to learn more about their music.
The Taiwan Band Clinic was previously held at San Chome district in Taipei and also in different parts of Taipei. It is the first time that the event is held outside of Taipei and the first time it is being organized in Hsinchu. I was actually wondering if the change of location will affect the level of student participation, but I am very touched and excited that the entire Hsinchu County and its people has decided to come together to make this event a success!
TBF: How do you feel about the development of the Taiwan band scene over the years?
TA: I first came to Taiwan in 1998, under the invitation from the National Taiwan Normal University Music Department. The Taiwan I saw when I first came and the Taiwan I see currently, is very different. The amount of students that are actively joining and performing in school bands, tertiary bands, community bands and professional bands is increasing. The music in the scene now is significantly more than the numbers in 1998, regardless if they were composed by local or foreign composers. Modern music often require more technique to perform them and I can see that the standards are higher than before. Different Japanese people may have different opinions about the Taiwan Band scene, but for me I have personally seen the Taiwan band scene grow over the years, and I can only say that it is getting better each year.
ES: It is my first time interacting with Taiwan bands in my entire career. I have heard 8 bands today, and also guest conducted two of these bands. I feel that the issue with Taiwan bands exists in all countries around the world. The initial step to success for band, is individual skills. Yes, it does matter a little if you use better instruments/accessories but it is very important to remember that one have to grow with one’s instrument to ensure that the band standard grows. Basically, if every individual musician’s standard gets better, the overall standard of the band grows too.
Next, we will need to have new music pieces and method books for musicians to get more exposure and learn more about different music and different techniques. It is often heartwarming to hear Taiwan bands perform different genres of music as it means that the music of these countries have made their way into Taiwan. With the instruments and music, one has to understand how to utilise these equipment for the betterment of performing good music.
The most important about band training are things that cannot be seen. Scores and good instruments are visible to us, but however, those that are invisible are how the educator trains and educate the band. These things, although cannot be seen at first, through time will become very visible. As a composer myself, I have an understanding of how bands should sound like. After settling all the fundamental issues with the band, such as intonation, articulation and dynamics, etc; at the very end, the one thing that is very important is the musicality of the ensemble. I feel that Taiwan bands can still bring out more music from their music.
TA: Actually, Japan is one of the countries in Asia to have an earlier development in music in its early years. The two Japanese bands that are participating in the Taiwan Band Clinic, namely the NICONICO Sounds in Brass and Kawasaki Municipal Tachibana Senior High School Wind Orchestra, have a certain approach in programming their concerts. Other than playing music seriously, they have some special items to entertain the audience. The special items are inclusive of dancing, having different performing attires, singing, and many more ideas!
In reality, Japanese bands split their concert preparation into two parts. In the first half of the concert, the band will play to its best with specially selected repertoire, and in the 2nd half, the band will put up performances to entertain their audience. I am worried that not only Taiwan audience, but people from all around the world who will see this as a wrong impression, that Japanese bands are ‘easy’ because what they see at the end, is everyone dancing on stage and having fun.
The focus of the audience should not be on the fun part but should be on the amount of preparation and efforts put in to make sure that the performance is a success. I would like to add that during a performance, one must show all the fundamentals and musicality first before thinking of all the special gimmicks/items of ‘extra entertainment’ for the audience. Many bands, including some Japan bands, have done very well in the special gimmicks/items segment, but not so well in their fundamentals and musicality.
ES: I would like to take this time to remind everyone, including the bands in Japan, about this point and try not to imitate and do special gimmicks if your band has not settled on the fundamentals. In Japan, there are some bands that have not been able to find ways to improve and will perform “fun” items just to entertain its audience. Such an action in the long term will create bad impressions of the band and will only ‘damage’ them in the future. As a composer, I sometimes feel responsible that when students do not do well in the music aspect while playing my music, it could be my fault.
TBP: To end off the interview, what hopes do you have for the Taiwan Band scene?
TA: Since World War 2, Japan’s development in music started in junior high schools, moving upwards to senior high level, and eventually in the university level. In short, the development only started for the young through education, where they will learn new stuff, and continue to pass on the knowledge to the younger generations in the long term. This ensures that Japan will continue to benefit from all the ‘seeds’ that they have planted since young. However, the problems that Taiwan or even Singapore bands could face, are also the problems that Japan would have probably went through. I hope that when everyone is learning from Japan, they also learn how to solve the problems that we face. Do remember about the above points that we have spoken about, such as a band’s fundamentals, individual skills and musicality.
ES: I actually have the same thoughts as Sensei ‘laughs’!
I would like to remind everyone that the band scene history is not as long as orchestras, and that we only have at most 50-60 years of knowledge. Often, we will play new music for the sake of competition, and we often forget about the ‘older’ and more ‘boring’ pieces. The fact is, the essence of band music, is in the older repertoire, and inside all the fundamental practices of your instrument. When a band is pursuing and practicing new music, one should never forget about the fundamental training of your own instrument and ensemble skills.