Bloemfontein Childrens Choir

...where singing is pure joy

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Song Bridge Wakayama, Japan 2008

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On the fourth of August a group of choir members, of whom the majority were inexperienced, undertook the long journey to the Song Bridge in Japan Long it really was: from the time we departed from Bloemfontein till we arrived at ou base in Japan took 41 hours.

The stopover in Doha, Qatar, was a novel experience for the choir. It was swelteringly HOT, about 40C and very humid. Observant as our children are, they soon asked why there weren no women seen in public. The few female employees we did not encounter in the hotel and at the airport were foreigners! The culture of women who remain at home and have no social standing is strange to us. Men pushed some of us aside to board the hotel shuttle ahead of us and stacked their luggage on the seats so that the children had to pile on top of each other to be able to remain on board. However, delicious hotel meals compensated for this. On arrival in Japan ou biological clocks had by then lost 7 hours, and the weather was still subtropical and warm (min 26C and max 37C). Two suitcases had apparently remained behind in the Middle East and with much effort (luggage problems), we could eventually complete forms to trace the lost luggage. the bus trip to the camp where the children would stay took much longer than anticipated as the route snaked its way along the coast. To our dismay, we discovered that the adults would nt share the children's accomodation, but would be put up in a hotel in a village nearby. Before we could even bid our children a good nights rest, we were whisked away to the hotel by car. We felt very disturbed about this!

The youth camp is situated on the southern most point of the largest of the Japanese islands and the children's room looked out on the Pacific Ocean. This area is well known for its exceptional natural scenery of cultural and religious importance, as there are quite a number of pilgrimage routes in the vicinity. The beauty of nature plays an important role in Japanese Shinto religion. Beautiful rock formations (Hashikui-iwa) stanch out of the sea along the coast, the result of volcanic activity centuries ago. Hot water springs and rich fishing grounds, especially tuna and whale, are endemic to this area.

In true Japanese tradition ou children slept on thin mattresses and bamboo stuffed pillows. Bathing in a communial bath was also a very strange experience. Tropical bugs were to be seen everywhere; gigantic cockroaches, spiders and beautifull red crabs. the meals were traditional and the children became quite adapt at using chopsticks. Courtsey indicated that we adults would "enjoy" their gourmet food as sea snake, raw tuna and octopus, pickled prunes, etc. we were brave!

Musically our participation was challenging. We arrived last, travelled the furthest and suddenly winter hat changed to summer. The children were dog-tired, but so brave! Just more than 30 choir members (out of a choir of 60) hat to hold their own against the best 40 out of 200 choir members, a choral school of 700 and a music school of more than 1000.

They did their level best to overcome Chinese, Japanese and German pronunciation and vocabulary and improved day by day. Rehearsals were long and demanding and we wished we could whisk them away to a shopping centre with aircon, where they could buy souvernirs and gifts - but is was not to be.

The first concert was in the open in the immediate vicinit of a waterfall - the Great Waterfall of Nachi. at 133m it is the highest waterfall in Japan, flows 13m wide and spills 1 ton of water per second. At the Hiro shrine at the base of the fall, the choir was part of a ceremony of which we understood very little. In Shinto religion the fall is considered holy and in the presence of a priest the leaders of the Song Bridge brought their sacrifices. In our minds, we revered our God, the creator of this beautifull waterfall.


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