Just 15 days after last year’s earthquake and tsunami hit Sendai, Japan, the Sendai Philharmonic Orchestra gathered together to play for its people whose lives, homes and livelihoods were lost. In a temple, near Sendai Station, they played Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, a pathos-filled lament also played at President Kennedy’s funeral.
Since then, the Sendai philharmonic has played all over northern Japan, despite the ravaged region, little to no funds, an obliterated concert schedule and destroyed concert halls.
They play in quartets and all together. They play in shelters and schools. They play because music, for them, is more than just entertainment. It is hope.
Vikki Wolff, a board member of the Rochester Symphony Orchestra and Chorale (RSOC), heard of the Sendai Philharmonic Orchestra’s herculean efforts to support its people with music. Wanting to help, she presented the RSOC with an idea to do a benefit concert for them in Rochester as musical outreach from one community to another.
RSOC approved the project immediately. Many people contributed their time, talent and funds to arrange the concert, including three women, originally from Japan, who wanted to help their homeland through the city they now call home.
Teruko Tashiro, M.D., a research fellow in cardiovascular diseases at Mayo Clinic, grew up in Fukuoka, Japan, and has family and friends still there. After the earthquake, her friends felt lucky to have their family, homes and even food.
“The earthquake disaster in Japan occurred one and a half months after I came to Rochester,” says Teruko. “We could not connect with Japanese friends and family by telephone for three days, even my parents who live in southern Japan. My best friend who is a cardiologist works close to Tokyo. She had stayed at the hospital for three days because her hospital’s electric power was decreased and not recovered quickly. When she went to a supermarket, there was no food there. She could not even find bath tissue.”
In the months that followed the March 11 disaster, Teruko was touched by the many people who extended sympathy and offered help. So when the opportunity arose to help the RSOC with the benefit concert, she was eager to lend a hand.
“I want to tell the people how thankful we are to the people who help Japan in the world,” Teruko says.
To facilitate communication with Sendai about the concert, Teruko visited the city in December 2011, during a trip to Japan, and met members of the orchestra to discuss details of the concert and bring letters from the RSOC.
Similarly, Mari Imaizumi, originally from a city near Nagoya City, Japan, now a marketing associate for the Rochester Civic Theatre, wanted to do what she could to help.
“If I can use my knowledge of the arts and non-profits…to help Japan relief, I thought, I should do it,” says Mari.
Mari emailed the Sendai philharmonic last fall and introduced the RSOC and the idea of a benefit concert in Rochester. She has also helped with marketing, translating Japanese websites and communications and recruiting volunteers for the event.
Yuko Taniguchi, originally from Kanagawa, Japan, now a writing instructor at the University of Minnesota, Rochester (UMR) wanted to help plan the concert because she says, “I understand how music has healing power, and it brings community.”
She found and worked with the designer on the concert logo and is helping plan a fundraiser event that will be held the day of the concert.
“This experience has taught me how kindness brings people together and builds a community to conduct an extraordinary project to help others,” says Yuko.
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is a song often played in Japan during New Year’s celebrations, signifying hope and rebirth. RSOC will play it this summer to honor the Japanese people as part of its benefit concert called, “A Song for Sendai.”
The concert is free, open to the public and will take place June 15, 2012 at 7 p.m., downtown in the Peace Plaza. Free-will donations and other fundraising events will take place at the concert with proceeds going to the Sendai Philharmonic Orchestra in Sendai, Japan.
Alison Rentschler is a writer living in Rochester.