Mr Kazuhiro Morita passed away on 25th August 2021 at the age of sixty-nine. Multiple myeloma was the cause of his death.
Popular in the international band scene, Mr Morita is often known as the arranger of Studio-Ghibli band arrangements such as Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service. He is also well known for his orchestra transcriptions, which are the highest pinnacle of arrangements for band.
For centuries, band transcriptions of orchestra music have always been a strong tradition of band music. Most classical-music transcriptions written by Vincent Frank Safranek or Louis-Philippe Laurendeau were often performed in the 90s. Some of the newer transcriptions were written as a direct copy of the original music, with strings staves on the original score transposed into ‘tutti’ clarinet and saxophone parts.
Mr Morita’s scores are different as he takes the original scores apart to re-orchestrate them. Thus, his transcriptions are effective even for smaller-sized bands and sometimes sounding better than the original.
One of his popular transcriptions is the Variations on a Hungarian Folk Song (The Peacock) composed by Zoltán Kodály. His other transcriptions, Feste Romane (Respigi), Rapsodie espagnole (Ravel), Toccata und Fuge in d-moll BWV 565 (Bach), Salome (R.Strauss) and The Bronze Horseman (Glière) are all very important repertoire in the band scene.
Mr Morita is also an important arranger for the New Sounds in Brass (NSB) series, having provided more than 20 scores since 1983. As he received formal classical music education, he arranged many film music, such as his first arrangement for NSB – Fandango.
He has also arranged the supplemental music score for the monthly magazine Band Journal since 1981. Some of these arrangements are popular music, which should be refreshing for band people outside of Japan.
As a composer, Mr Morita has a lot of original works, such as Pop Step March, the set piece for the 1985 All Japan Band Competition. He also wrote Flower Clock for the New Practical Wind Band Collection produced by Toshiba EMI in 1993. As there were very limited pieces for smaller bands then, this lovely suite was one of the forerunners for the rise of small-sized band development.
His works for chamber music were widely performed too. In the 20th Century, Japan had limited chamber repertoires for wind instruments by domestic composers. Aubade for Clarinet Choir was one of his most well-known original pieces.
Besides writing music, Mr Morita was a recording director. The live recording CD of the musical Les Misérables was directed by Mr Morita himself. Shun’ichi Kogai, a long-term recording engineer and director of NSB, mentioned that he has learned a lot from Mr Morita, whose career as a recording director was adapted to the wind band scene in recent years.
Mr Morita also directed the New Arrangement Collection, produced by Brain Music and mainly performed by the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force Central Band, for more than a decade.
“His smooth direction was admirable every time and his accurate suggestion for the performance was always very helpful. Mr Morita’s smile removed fears and bad feelings, and brought good mood to the performers.” Major General (Ret.) Akira Takeda, ex-commander and conductor of JGSDF Central Band, said.
In addition to his music career, Mr Morita also wrote articles regularly on the Band Journal and filled programme notes for NSB CDs since 1991. He made a lot of efforts to collect materials and wrote substantial notes very objectively even though he was one of the arrangers. His notes has been admired by many listeners for years.
Now, let me recall my personal memory with Mr Morita.
I have received a lot of help and support from Mr Morita throughout my career. Since I don’t have a music degree, I owe my current position in the band industry entirely to some important people, and Mr Morita is one of them.
When I started my career, my main role as an arranger was to work on transcriptions of classical music. Mr Morita became an idol to me, and I studied every single note of his transcription Variations on a Hungarian Folksong (The Peacock) by comparing with the original score.
The first opportunity to work with him was the recording session of my transcription The Tale of Tsar Saltan with Osaka Municipal Symphonic Band, which he was the recording director. I still remember his words, “your score is very well written.” It was my debut as a professional, and his words encouraged me greatly. The success of that recording led me to more opportunities for subsequent works.
Most recordings of my transcriptions such as Polovtsian Dances, Hungarian Pictures, and El sombrero de tres picos, were directed by Mr Morita. He was always very calm, but he sometimes showed a stern face when he was in the director’s chair, which was very impressive.
While I was working as an editor and engraver of his scores in the production of NSB, I often have to make inquiries to Mr Morita about his music. This process provided a glimpse of his ideas of writing.
I also remember that he often call me a few times a year to ask about the Finale notation software. Our conversations always begin from, “Hi Kurokawa, are you available now? Excuse me for bothering you, but can you teach me?” I can remember his voice very clearly.
Apart from music discussions, we also have other topics for chat. If it was summer or autumn, we would talk about his annual new arrangements for Inagakuen High School, and he would be glad to share his arranging process.
In recent years, Mr Morita started using a band score template for Finale which I provided. Perhaps his newer scores such as Les Misérables have their origin in Kurokawa – it’s only a small thing, but I am proud of it.
As a conductor, I have also rehearsed and conducted Mr Morita’s music. I have chosen Flower Clocks and Les Miserables several times for my teaching bands, and conducted his Studio Ghibli arrangements many times, especially Kiki’s Delivery Service. I was supposed to conduct The Peacock in March this year, but regrettably not able to due to the state of emergency in Japan from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr Morita is mostly the reason why I’ve made my career out of the band industry and I thank him deeply from the bottom of my heart. I would definitely miss his sudden phone calls or emails as well as his appearances at our recording sessions. I hope to keep his teachings in my mind and contribute back to the band society, which would be the best way to repay him for his kindness.
Thank you very much, Mr Kazuhiro Morita!
May he rest in peace.