More memories of Harry Aoki…

Last week…. I read Joy’s email message about Harry…. at the First Friday Forum on Feb 1st…. Harry’s monthly music session.  I read it from my cell phone… and people enjoyed it.

Many commented that they never knew that Harry had helped inspire the character of Stephen Nakane, and others said they would read Obasan again.

It was a good evening… and I played on my accordion the song “Neil Gow’s Lament for his Second Wife” and Maxwell Ngai accompanied me on violin. This was the first session since Harry’s Passing.

The next session will be March 1st at St. John’s College at UBC, and it will be a musical tribute to Harry, and a celebration of his life.

This morning there was the funeral service at the Vancouver Crematorium 9:30 to 10am… but we started arriving at 9am, and left by 10:30am.

Upon arrival – there was music playing from Harry’s album with Jim Johnson – “The Many Moods of Man”.  Themba Tana introduced himself and explained that the service would be simple with Zen Buddhist chanting.

Ken Keneda read a note from Harry’s Niece in California… and he placed Harry’s harmonica and eye glasses in the coffin.

Next, Ken invited people to come up to pay their respects to Harry and place their personal notes inside the open casket, along with the  chrysanthemums everybody had received.   Themba Tana played his african finger drum.

After Harry’s coffin was wheeled out of the room… people were invited to say a few words….

Nobody stepped forward – initially.  but I brought up John Endo Greenaway – who had wanted to say that Harry would be featured in the next edition of the JCCA Bulletin.

I had arranged with Ken Keneda to read a Joy Kogawa poem…. as I had previously told him that the last time I was at the Vancouver Crematorium was for a music performance by my friend Heather Pawsey.  Heather sang poems of Joy Kogawa that had been turned into songs by composer Leslie Uyeda, and performed with pianist Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa and flautist Kathryn Cernauskas – All who had all performed at Kogawa House before.

As Harry had broken down many walls through his music, friendship, and connections, and strength of will… I read the following poem “Where There’s a Wall”, then I closed with a verse of Robert Burns’ Auld Lang Sang – that I had never seen before, sent to me this morning – by Harry’s niece Cathrine from California

Where there’s a Wall

Joy Kogawa

where there’s a wall
there’s a way
around, over, or through
there’s a gate
maybe a ladder
a door
a sentinel who
sometimes sleeps
there are secret passwords
you can overhear
there are methods of torture
for extracting clues
to maps of underground passageways
there are zepplins
helicopters, rockets, bombs
bettering rams
armies with trumpets
whose all at once blast
shatters the foundations

where there’s a wall
there are words
to whisper by a loose brick
wailing prayers to utter
special codes to tap
birds to carry messages
taped to their feet
there are letters to be written
novels even

on this side of the wall
I am standing staring at the top
lost in the clouds
I hear every sound you make
but cannot see you

I incline in the wrong direction
a voice cries faint as in a dream
from the belly
of the wall

~~~~~~~

Should Old Acquaintance be forgot,
and never thought upon;
The flames of Love extinguished,
and fully past and gone:
Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold,
that loving Breast of thine;
That thou canst never once reflect
On Old long syne.

CHORUS:

On Old long syne my Jo,
On Old long syne,
That thou canst never once reflect,
On Old long syne.

photo

My friend Patrick Tam took pictures at my party – so here is Uncle Harry playing Stardust with my friend Joe McDonald

Check more links here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/flungingpictures/sets/72157623939389143/with/4697903549/

I especially love the picture of Harry & Joe McDonald — Uncle’s not playing…he’s watching Joe on his riff on the piano.  Uncle Harry loved to create music with fellow musicians — to see where the music might take everyone.  It was always that musical journey that I think was the core of his greatness as a composer and especially as an arranger.  The dialogue between not just instruments, but the cultures of the players and what each would bring.  And in live performance, it is the ephemeral nature of the art – that once played, it can never ever be played that way again.  There is a kind of magic in music – which is why Harry always said that music is one of the first places where racism breaks down.  When you’re jamming with another musician, and you’re really in it, colour, religion and barriers just fall away.  It’s just music.  And if you’re lucky enough to listen to real musicians making real music – you escape the barriers that divide us.  It was that phenomenological approach to music and to art that made Uncle Harry so interesting and special….and so you – his fellow musicians.  You are musicians and weavers of a trans-cultural fabric that may be the only way we have left to make real change in the world.
I didn’t realize that Uncle’s passing was the eve of Robbie Burns Day.  Another artist who championed the cause of people in diaspora.  (I’m guessing you’ve figured out by my name that I’m half Scottish and half Japanese) — so Robbie Burns is one of my favourite poets.
And that Uncle passed away on the eve of the day we celebrate Burns, I can almost hear Uncle Harry’s harmonica singing over the shores:

Should Old Acquaintance be forgot,
and never thought upon;
The flames of Love extinguished,
and fully past and gone:
Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold,
that loving Breast of thine;
That thou canst never once reflect
On Old long syne.

CHORUS:

On Old long syne my Jo,
On Old long syne,
That thou canst never once reflect,
On Old long syne.

 

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