Augustana band to tour Japan

Originally Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2014, 12:00 am
Last Updated: Feb. 20, 2014, 12:07 am
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By Jonathan Turner,

Jim Lambrecht has a yen for Japan, and after a number of visits, the Augustana College Symphonic Band director will take his students with him on tour starting Friday.

The 55-member band will tour Japan performing four concerts through March 4. After returning, Dr. Lambrecht will lead the band in concert on Saturday, March 15, in Augustana's Centennial Hall (3703 7th Ave., Rock Island), and in April, he will head right back for another three-month residency at the acclaimed Musashino Academia Musicae in Tokyo.

"I've been going since 1984," Dr. Lambrecht -- professor of music and director of bands at Augustana -- said of the Asian nation this week. "I wanted my students to really experience this. They need to see this culture, the students there. In the band world, these people are right there with us.

"There are very few places in the world that can compete with the U.S. band programs," he said. "They do a competition every year (across Japan), the summer through October, and 10,000 bands compete at all levels -- from elementary through professional. It's all over. It's just phenomenal to see.

"It's just ridiculous. It's just the state of the art," Dr. Lambrecht said of Japanese bands, in a tradition passed down by Americans after World War II. "They go crazy with it, they rehearse hours a day. They have it absolutely down to perfection."

He performed first in Japan as a graduate student under Ray Cramer, who directed the Indiana University Wind Ensemble and is a regular guest conductor at Musashino. Dr. Lambrecht has followed in Mr. Cramer's footsteps, having served as guest conductor at Musashino twice.

Director of Augie bands since 1988, Dr. Lambrecht was first invited by the president of Musashino Academia Musicae in 2009 to serve as a guest conductor for the prestigious Musashino Wind Ensemble. The music school has a tradition of asking foreign conductors to lead their ensembles.

He also guest conducted for three months in the fall of 2011 and is on a rotation of four or five guest conductors at the school. However, the Augie band will not get to play at Musashino on this tour because they are in the process of rebuilding the main campus, Dr. Lambrecht said.

Musashino was founded in 1929 to help Japanese students learn Western-style performance and Western instruments, he said. The Augustana Symphonic Band is the oldest music ensemble at the Rock Island private school, dating back to 1874.

The Augie group will perform in Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo, and each concert also will feature Japanese student ensembles. The Augie band is smaller than normal and more comparable to the Japanese wind bands, Dr. Lambrecht said.

"It's a true wind ensemble; we haven't had one of those at Augustana since I've been here," he said. "It's fun, easier to get them to play cleanly and at a higher level."

Mitchell Carter, a senior music education major from Mundelein, Ill., said of the tour, "It's a really exciting opportunity to be able to continue this tradition of sharing our music. Our program for this tour is a unique blend of works with ties to both the United States and Japan, including Julie Giroux's Symphony IV, which is based on famous Japanese woodprints, as well as classic Western band literature, such as a handful of Sousa marches and Holst's First Suite in E-flat."

Ms. Giroux's major work is a tribute to Japan, and was premiered by the Musashino Wind Ensemble there last summer, Dr. Lambrecht said. "It's a very successful work written by an American, but it sounds very Japanese. It's based on very famous prints."

The director also wants to expose Augie students to the rigor of Japanese routine and rehearsal.

"The strengths of Japanese culture are their discipline, intelligence, focus. They come in the first rehearsal very prepared," Dr. Lambrecht said. "It's an insult to them if they're not prepared. They take it very seriously."

Given the Japanese academic calendar, which starts the school year in late March, "They spend way more time in school than we do," he said, noting weekend class or rehearsals are not unusual. He's recently had 7:30 a.m. rehearsals at Augie to get students used to the time change.

"I taught them a traditional greeting in Japanese. Everyone stands up and greets the teacher," Dr. Lambrecht said. "They do that in every class, all the way through graduate school. You bow and then you go on."

The last overseas tour the Augie band took was three years ago to Italy; it's often traveled to England and Scotland in past years, the director said. The Augustana Choir has been to Asia before, several years ago, in China.

The band has played at many high-profile venues across the nation and world, including Orchestra Hall in Chicago, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and Town Hall in New York City.

Dr. Lambrecht said he doesn't have to speak Japanese while there in residency.

"I'm trying to learn; it's a very difficult language," he said. "They want to be professional players and English is the international language for rehearsal. I didn't believe them; I said I will learn numbers and letters, tempo indications, and they said no, don't do it."

The cost of the tour can be paid partly through Augie Choice (for juniors and seniors), which provides each student up to $2,000 to pursue a high-impact learning experience such as study abroad or an internship.

"It's a very beautiful country," Dr. Lambrecht said of Japan. "They'll get to experience a lot of different hings over there in addition to the musical things -- the people and the culture and sights."


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