Community News and Announcements
By Wendy Kobayashi
Parent, Vice Chair Tomo-no-Kai, Nishimachi International School
(The Internationalist Spring 2016 Vol. 56)
Take a look at the 1977-1978 copy of the Nishimachi Ayumi yearbook, and you will see "Take" Kikuchi's name listed among the Production Staffers, along with sister, Marina '80. Then still officially "Takehisa", he was one of 24 eighth graders that year and about to leave Nishimachi for Tokyo College of Music High School. He fondly recalls his contribution as yearbook photographer, when the "dark room" (kids, that's where old-style photos had to be "developed" from a film loaded into your camera, back in the day) was downstairs in the basement of Matsukata House.
Takehide's parents had been encouraged to place their son in Nishimachi by family friends, the K's. Yumiko K. '78, granddaughter of conductor and composer Viscount Hidemaro Konoye, was already at Nishimachi. His father, under the stage name of Masahide Komaki, was a professional ballet dancer and had in 1946 choreographed the first performance in Japan of Swan Lake. His dream for his son, however, was that young Take should become a professional cellist.
Takehide dutifully took up his father's dream. Starting his musical studies with piano at around age five, he progressed to cello in third grade, beginning his long training on a child-sized version a fraction of the regular size. His father's influence was potent. There was no other choice of instrument and, according to Takehide, never any consideration given to another career. Takehide says he himself didn't think about it. He wasn't in any of the after-school clubs at Nishimachi, instead going home after school every day and practising the cello. Music was simply an all-encompassing part of his life from early on. Even at school, his first music teacher, Mrs. Doi, took her classes several times a year to a classical concert performance.
As for his young academic life, at the time, he says, other local Japanese kids would make fun of him and his friends for going to an international school. But even then, although it was still relatively rare for a Japanese family to consider sending their child to an English-speaking school, there were a good many Japanese students at Nishimachi, as well as Americans and Swedes. (The Matsukata home was in fact the Swedish ambassador's residence during WWII, before being returned to the family in the early sixties). The Kikuchi family's connections with the school grew strong; indeed, Takehide's parents donated a piano to Nishimachi, which was used for many years. And despite focusing his spare time on his cello practice, Takehide happily reminisces about the social side of school, with its dance parties and ski trips (back then, they used to go to Mount Zao). Informed that the school still owns what is now known as "Kazuno", he smiles as he remembers last-day barbeques with their obligatory hot-dogs.
He also feels something we current Nishimachi parents can well understand: that the friends he made at a young age are very important to him now. He can talk freely with them about their shared experiences and tells how natsukashii, or nostalgic, they feel whenever they reminisce about the Nishimachi they knew. He was particularly impressed by the three leading Japanese teachers, Hirooka-sensei, Kitamura-sensei and of course Matsukata-sensei herself, then still headmistress at Nishimachi (is it a measure of Takehide's good behaviour that he has no distinctive personal memory of Matsukata-sensei?!), and feels strongly that Nishimachi was indeed tokushu, or unique.
Thinking about the school buildings, he recalls that the teachers had their classrooms in Matsukata House, and middle school grades seven, eight, and nine all had their lessons there. (Grades one, two, and three took their lessons next to the Pakistan Embassy, which at that time was then nearby). In his day each grade would start off as two classes and, just as now, Takehide felt that widely-acknowledged kanashii, or sad, aspect of an international school: namely, the longer he was at Nishimachi, the more children came and went, and, as the grades ascended and graduation drew closer, the number of students inevitably grew smaller. These days, although many from his gakunen, or grade, are still in Tokyo or elsewhere in Japan, they don't have chance to see each other so often. This is where Facebook has come to the rescue in recent years, with many more reunions now taking place (for example, he saw Galen F., '79, when she visited Japan last year). What better reason to update one's FB contact page?!
Pushed for some of the juicier details of his schooldays, Takehide admits that he hated science! (sorry, Hawkins-sensei!), and laughingly recalls that one teacher even brought his dog, a rather large Alsatian, to school with him. There was a "teacher couple", Mr. and Mrs. Clark, who both taught sixth grade; and, of course, former homeroom teacher, Mr. Brentnall, whom Takehide credits with teaching him English and who had already by that time been at Nishimachi for seventeen years (the Ayumi calls him a "friend to all"). Takehide has still got text books he used at Nishimachi in the seventies and even uses them to teach his son English!
Mr. Brentnall's work must indeed have paid off because one of the main advantages Takehide cites of attending Nishimachi is his ability to converse in English with complete strangers. Back when he was at the school, the number of foreigners in Japan was not nearly as great as it is today, and many Japanese were at a loss how to behave around foreigners, let alone converse with them. Now that Takehide plays the cello professionally for the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra (TPO), his English conversation skills are especially useful when the orchestra is on tour, as other members of TPO might not be so comfortable speaking in English. He is often the one to whom colleagues turn when communication with a non-Japanese conductor requires an understanding of the nuances of a piece, becoming in effect their unofficial interpreter.
Although now based in Tokyo (the orchestra was originally established in Nagoya), TPO tours abroad from time to time, most notably in recent years to celebrate its 100th Anniversary as Japan's first symphony orchestra (the anniversary was actually in 2011, but the tour was postponed till 2014 following the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake). The tour took three weeks, and they performed to great acclaim in six major cities: New York, Madrid, Paris, London, Singapore and Bangkok (Takehide met up with former classmate Chisa H. during the New York leg of the tour). Despite a punishing schedule, he says there's never any time for jet-lag! When they're tired, they're tired – they still have to play.
Compared to twenty years ago, however, the amount of touring has decreased, and these days the orchestra plays more often here in Tokyo... and, increasingly, performs... "pops"!!?! This may come as a surprise to some readers, but TPO has recently played alongside Go Hiromi at the Suntory Hall. Other big names include Tamaki Koji, Hitoto Yo and Michito Ai; and, among foreign celebrities, the Manhattan Jazz Quartet, Richard Claydermann and even Stevie Wonder. Game music (that's right, GAME music!) is now also popular, and TPO has performed "Dragon Quest" and "Invaders" and other pieces of that ilk, at concerts where related goods are sold. Asked what he thinks of this move from the classical to the post-modern, Takehide diplomatically says it's just his job... More enjoyable for him is the opportunity, all too rarely afforded, to perform in costume. For one opera performance, TPO asked the musicians to dress in similar style to the singers, clearly one of Takehide's more amusing professional memories (see photo).
Although it seems he was destined to play for TPO from an early age, how did it in fact come about? Takehide says that during his university years (he attended Tokyo University of Arts, graduating with both Bachelor's and Master's degrees), he would go along to TPO as an extra cello player, at the time mainly playing in ballets and operas. Eventually he auditioned for a full-time job with TPO – and, of course, passed, joining the orchestra professionally in 1991. It was a natural progression.
He says there isn't a regular working day, as such, it's more a question of when performances are scheduled and the amount of rehearsal needed for each one: 2-3 days may be required for a long set, while a short set may require only a single day to rehearse. He still practices every day, though. Now married and with a fourth grade son of his own, he hopes his child will follow in his footsteps – though on violin – and accompanies him whenever he gets the chance.
Looking back on his career, Takehide says that music is not necessary for life... but one nevertheless feels lost without it. He enjoys listening to the original musical notes, rather than modern acoustic sounds, since they give him a pure feeling of happiness. Anyone can go into a shop and buy a great recording on a cheap CD, but that cannot match the joy of listening to a great orchestra perform with a gifted conductor and of experiencing the music directly. He feels that children now have more chances to enjoy live concerts than when he was small. Young people have a strong and straightforward reaction to music, and just listening can make them happy – one reason why the TPO holds Christmas concerts for children with Downs Syndrome.
These days, Takehide remarks, although it is often older people who pay to attend TPO concerts, they have an educational programme of visiting schools and performing for students. City kids can sometimes be rather "cool", but their countryside counterparts are often far more enthusiastic, possibly because there are not the same opportunities for entertainment outside the big metropolis. Out of the full company of 162 musicians, there may be some seventy or so members playing in the orchestra at any one performance (there could be six people playing cello alone, and as many as twenty-two on violin) – and sometimes they play to an audience of only twenty kids. But it's well worth it.
Takehide's working day usually starts around 9:30 a.m. but there isn't necessarily a given pattern. During the "Bubble Years", he could have three engagements in one day: the orchestra might perform for NHK or at a school concert in the morning, after which there would be practice time and most likely an evening performance, too. These days, TPO focuses its work largely around subscription concerts, opera and ballet while also pursuing an active broadcasting program with NHK. They perform regularly at Bunkamura Orchard Hall and Suntory Hall and play at Tokyo Opera City (where TPO is based) three times a month. Since 1997 the TPO has been the regular orchestra at Tokyo's New National Theatre. Requests for performances may also come from government offices or private entities. Sometimes Takehide might even play small, personal gigs in restaurants, for example.
Since 2001 the TPO has had a Korean conductor, Honorary Conductor Laureate Myung-Whun Chung, with whom Takehide feels a good sense of musical chemistry, and who in fact helped establish the Asia Philharmonic Orchestra (APO), a special ensemble comprising Japanese, Koreans and Chinese musicians from different orchestras. TPO has been holding summer performances in Korea for the past few years and has even performed with the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra as a single entity.
When it comes to conductors, the layperson might think they seem quite similar and can all do the same job in the same way, but for Takehide it's interesting to have different conductors under whom to perform. Sometimes there's no "connection", but other times he is inspired by their talent and the flair they bring to the performance as a whole. For example, he has particularly enjoyed playing for Myung-Whun Chung and Kazushi Ono, and gives special credit to their current Principal Guest Conductor, Maestro Italian Andrea Battistoni. The really challenging part of his job is when, for whatever reason, he just isn't "feeling it" on the night. As a professional performer, he cannot display an unhappy face – this is show time, after all! Happily, this isn't often an issue.
Takehide says it is possible for him to play in other orchestras, if he makes a special request (particularly the APO, since they share the same management offices). He now also teaches students, although fewer children take the 'cello than the violin. If he hadn't married and had a child, he says, he might have wanted to play abroad for a spell, but that ambition is currently on hold. In this career, he can at least decide until what age he wants to keep on playing; though, at 53, he surely can still expect many years ahead of him, and intends to continue as long as he is in good health.
The cello is one of the heavier instruments and so, while the rest of the orchestra may regularly travel to engagements by bus, Takehide uses his own car and often travels alone to performances. For our interview, he brought his cherished cello in a light-weight zippered case slung on his back. Removing it from its outer covering, he showed how he keeps it protected with a special tee shirt (do not worry, dear reader: we gave him a Nishimachi tee shirt as his new cello cover).
We met Takehide in International House in Roppongi, and had planned for him to play his cello in the beautiful garden... however, the rain came down and put an end to that idea. So we decamped to (where else?) Matsukata House and – as is the way at Nishimachi – he was immediately greeted by a fellow alumn, now herself a Nishimachi parent, and others inspired by the sound of his playing. It was a fitting close to our conversation.
If you remember Take Kikuchi from your schooldays at Nishimachi, visit his Facebook page. He'd love to hear from you!
For more information about the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra and its current exciting and extensive program, visit their website www.tpo.or.jp/en/
菊池さんの西町での思い出は唯々、楽しい思い出だと言う（西町時代は通称TakehisaやTakeと呼ばれていたそう）。その昔、イヤーブックのAYUMIは、生徒達が力を合わせて制作していた。当時AYUMI制作委員会の写真担当だった菊池さんは、よく松方ハウスの地下の暗室で時間を過ごしたそう。また、KAZUNOやスキートリップ（当時は蔵王へ）など友達と過ごした楽しい時間は今も忘れないと言う。この年になると、西町時代などの幼少期の友達の大切さを強く感じる。共に過ごした時代の話などをする事ができるのがとても嬉しいと語った。また、その会話の中で、西町は特殊な場所、と話していたのが印象的だった。当時は日本人がインターナショナルスクールに通う事自体、首を傾げられた時代。その道を敢えて選択する親もまた、しっかりとした考えがなければ選ばなかっただろう。菊池さんのご両親は、K家（Fumiko K. '78卒のご家族）の推薦で西町に息子を入学させる事を決めたそうだ。また、後に彼の妹であるMarinaさん（'82卒）も入学し、その後ASIJへと進学する。
そんな菊池さんに、「西町に通っていて一番良かったと思う事は？」と尋ねると、オーケストラで指揮者が外国人の場合、コミュニケーションは基本英語。指揮者とのコミュニケーションは微妙なニュアンスなどを含むので、これを理解する英語力を西町時代に培っていてとても良かったと感じたそうだ。また、多文化交流の盛んな国際色豊かな環境にいた事も助けになっただろう。2014年のワールドツアーの際は、他のTPOメンバーの為に通訳する事もあったそう。このワールドツアー中、ニューヨークに立ち寄った際に、西町時代の同級生Chisa H. '79に会う事ができ、フェイスブックなどのSNSの存在に感謝したそうだ。様々な友達、特に海外の友達と日常で繋がる事を可能にしてくれると。