The Art of Sound
Thanks to a PTSA grant, elementary arts at YIS is hosting a range of local musicians and artists this year in collaboration with the International Center for Japanese Culture (ICJC). First up was professional shakuhachi (Japanese flute) player and Japanese music expert, Christopher Yohmei Blasdel, who visited campus last week.
Widely published and a noted expert on Japanese music, Mr. Blasdel performs around the world in addition to lecturing on Japanese music at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. He started studying shakuhachi in 1972 and earned his MFA in ethnomusicology from Tokyo University of Fine Arts.
Mr. Blasdel spoke to YIS 4th and 5th graders as an introduction to their PYP units on aesthetics. As Mr. Blasdel explains, "things in the world have a sound; you can see them and touch them but you can also hear them. Using rocks, spray bottles, even snacks, I tried to share the idea that you can recognize objects by their sound, a unique signature for the object, as part of its aesthetic." Mr. Blasdel gave each child one potato chip to illustrate his ideas in a fun, interactive manner: "Look at the chip," he told the students, "see the nice curvature, touch it for the rough texture, smell it, the salt, the potato, bite it, and it makes this really nice crinkly sound, and finally you eat it. So you're actually employing all five senses, just in one act. This is how you should approach music, blending all the sensory ideas."
"We talked about tone/color, order/ harmony, disorder/ chaos -- the students had all studied anarchy so they knew that term and idea," Mr. Blasdel continues. "It's really teaching them synesthesia, although I didn't use that term." Students then separated into three groups, supported by Mr. Blasdel, YIS art teacher Aaron Reed and ICJC director, Joseph Amato. Using the themes discussed, students worked for thirty minutes to compose an original piece of music to share at the end of the session.
"Coming to talk to young students is a wonderful way to experience their energy and freshness," concludes Mr. Blasdel. "I am always impressed and inspired by what the kids come up with. The students always think of so many ideas; they can articulate and express them, and then I can use those ideas to aid my teaching. I've performed and lectured in universities and institutions worldwide, but I think that there's nothing more meaningful than to interact with children. Politically, these are difficult times--not only in my country, the United States, but also in other countries and in Japan as well. The national political discourse is moving more towards divisiveness and just plain meanness in public policy, and people nowadays tend to relate towards each other with negative, knee-jerk reactions. The force of divisiveness is powerful-- it's part of the karma of the age and is difficult to fight. But we can always set examples of goodness, creativity helpfulness, kindness and warmth through our interactions in music and teaching. I think now, more than ever, it's the best thing we can do."