Friday, Dec. 3 7:30 pm
First Friday Forum with Harry Aoki Ensemble
Presented by Harry Aoki Ensemble
National Nikkei Heritage Centre, #100-6688 Southoaks Crescent, Burnaby
Harry plays his chromatic harmonica, accompanied by Tembo on African drum, Kyra on cello and John on trumpet – photo courtesy of John Endo Greenaway
Harry Aoki is a man who gets excited about discovering the journeys that music takes between cultures. Once a month he brings together friends with musical influences from around the world and invites them to play with him. He also interweaves stories about how music travels between and transcends cultures.
Usually they each perform pieces solo or in ensemble in their chosen genres, and Harry plays with them on his Bass, or one of his many harmonicas. Sometimes they will perform music on the spot when Harry hands them a written score. To close the evening, there is often an improvisational piece building from a single note to a multi-voice or multi-instrument wall of intermingling sounds, that will gently ease back to the beginning note. Harry loves these improvisational pieces.
Tonight, joining Harry were a number of musicians: African drummer Tembo, celtic violinist Max Nguen, Cellist Kiara, + many others. Harry is always a thoughtful host, weaving in his stories about the musicians he meets, and how music from one country, is inter-related somehow to another country far away. Tonight he told a story about how a Greek musician once complimented him on how well he played a Greek song. “That was a Japanese song!” exclaimed Harry, explaining how Greek music was very close to Persian music, and how the Silk Road was a conduit for not only silk and spices, but also for songs. The song was then played on violin, cello, clarinet, piano with Harry playing finger cymbals. The clarinet sounded very middle eastern, amidst the rhythms of the cello and piano. It immediately reminded me of the Saint-Saens composition “Samson and Delilah Bacchanale” that is one of my favorite pieces to play on my concert accordion.
Harry's Clarinet String Ensemble featuring ? on clarinet, Kyra on Cello, Max on Violin, Harry on Bass – photo courtesy of John Endo Greenaway
After a brief intermission, Harry explained that the evening's program was also being sponsored by the Vancouver Opera as part of their Views of Japan a program that highlighted programs related to and created by the Vancouver Japanese Canadian artistic and performing community. http://www.vanopera.bc.ca/community/viewsofjapan.html
Harry then invited the Japanese Consul to say a few words. The consul thanked all the musicians and the music lovers in the audience, and also invited the audience to attend a concert at UBC Robson Square Auditorium that would highlight a Japanese choir and famous musicians, he said.
The evening's program continued with one man playing a traditional japanese stringed instrument, accompanied by a fellow on an African djembe drum. On a celtic theme, Harry's string ensemble played a celtic, then a scottish tune led by Max Nguen on violin. This was followed by a female singer performing a classical piece, then a Scottish popular song. Finally the evening closed with many of the musicians on stage for some group pieces.
It was an enjoyable musical evening, and Harry explained that some of the expected musicians had cancelled sick, and that his planned program for the evening was instead improvised. It wasn't professional production standards, but then Harry explained that the group only gets together the Friday before to go through the planned set list, and then it is up to Harry to host, and adjust pieces and performers as he best thinks should happen.
Harry Aoki and his musical ensemble often performs during Asian Heritage Month, and he has performed for Gung Haggis Fat Choy with vocalist Margaret Gallagher. I really enjoy Harry's musical vision and authority. For the 2003 GHFC dinner, he easily suggested musical directions, and I welcomed them. One of the highlights of the 2003 GHFC dinner was having a “spontaneous band” suddenly appear to accompany myself on accordion and 13 year old Alex Sachs on violin as we performed Hungarian Dance No. 5 by Brahms, with Harry on bass.
Check out the pictures taken by John Endo Greenaway, managing editor of The Bulletin, published by the Japanese Canadian Citizens' Association.