Music breaks down language and cultural barriers at Friendship Concert

By Andrew Cluley

Communications Specialist

The next generation of classical musicians from two continents came together this weekend to perform a friendship concert at the University of Michigan’s Hill Auditorium. The Pioneer Symphony Orchestra shared the stage with the Toyota City Junior Orchestra, from Toyota City, Japan and the Miyabi Players. The concert included selections by Dvorak, Copland, and a Japanese Summer Medley. The Michigan based Miyabi Players included three Kotos. It’s a 13-string, six-foot-long zither that’s recognized as the most distinctively Japanese voice in musical instruments.

The Friendship Concert sponsored by IMRA America, Toyota Motor Corporation, the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation, Ann Arbor Public Schools, the Japan Business Society of Detroit and others was just one part of the effort to bring together talented young musicians from Ann Arbor and Japan. The Toyota City Junior Orchestra members stayed with host families in Ann Arbor, rehearsed with Pioneer’s Symphony Orchestra, and got to experience a slice of Ann Arbor life.

It’s the Toyota City Junior Orchestra’s first trip to the United States and Ann Arbor Public Schools was a logical choice for a partner. Akiko Toyoda is the Toyota City Junior Orchestra’s top delegate and her husband Kanshiro Toyoda is the Chairman of Aisin Seiki Co, which owns Ann Arbor based IMRA America. She hopes students from both countries take away friendship from the exchange. “Music has no border, if they cannot speak English, but their heart is connected through music, I think this friendship is very important,” Toyoda says.

Superintendent Jeanice Swift thanked Mrs. Toyoda for both her message and supporting the joint concert. “In Ann Arbor we know the power of the arts to unite, to transcend and to transform,” Swift says. “This special collaboration this week has served both as an illustration and as a celebration of our beautiful friendship between our children, our cities, and our countries.”

Even before coming to Ann Arbor, violin player Kanon Ando already knew the power of music in forging bonds of friendship. She visited England with the Toyota City Junior Orchestra a few years ago and was able to make friends there thanks to a mutual appreciation for music. She was excited to make new friends in Ann Arbor. “Music is an international language so even if we can’t speak English or Japanese we can be friends and make good music together,” Ando says.

While the music is the primary focus, Ando also has another interest she shares with many of the Ann Arbor students she met. “I want to go shopping in America!”

IMRA America has supported Ann Arbor Public Schools in a wide variety of projects in recent years, and this collaboration as the company celebrates it’s 25th anniversary was no different. President Takashi Omitsu says investing in young people through funding education and cultural events in many ways is similar to the research and development efforts his company makes in that you don’t know what will come from the investment immediately.

Omitsu believes the students can learn a bit about different cultures through music. Cultural differences can also be seen in how musicians work. Bass player Max Meza was excited to learn from Maestro Takashi Inoue and the Toyota City Junior Orchestra members. “Whenever you’re exposed to different musicians from across the world, everyone has a different style of doing things, and quite frankly I’ve never seen Japanese musicians play,” Meza says.

Pioneer’s Director of Orchestras Jonathan Glawe is looking for more musical collaborations. “I hope this leads to more interaction for the Pioneer orchestras. Not only abroad, but also within our own country as well to do more concert shares and friendship events,” Glawe says. “It’s incredibly important that students get new perspectives all the time on music. Music is a way to connect everybody together.”

Ann Arbor’s Educational Foundation officials also hope to continue promoting this type of arts and cultural programing. “This event kicks off the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation’s efforts towards supporting the arts through teacher and district-wide grants,” says the Foundation’s Executive Director Linh Song. “We are fortunate to be able to celebrate student talent and further our students’ musical ambitions.”

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