Where else can you see a welcome dance by Squaxine tribal members, mayor’s greeting Cheryl Selby, a brilliant performance by visiting Japanese musicians, and finally, an all-round dance party led by the director of Griffin Schools Greg woods?
Jennifer Marin, a Griffon School teacher and music specialist, invited me to a special performance of a group of girls from Kumamoto High School, Japan. Marin had just returned from a visit to Tamana All Girls High School Group as a guest member of a cultural exchange group of Graham Kapowski High School at Puyallup. During her stay, she spent hours watching the rehearsals of Tamana’s students. She visited the Shintoist and one japanese castle. Impressed by the events she experienced in a different culture, Marin wondered how she could bring back some of the enthusiasm displayed by the Tamana All Girls High School group to her students at Griffin School.
She didn’t know, but the elements of the plan were already in place – all it took was a shared love of music to bring everyone together.
The emphasis on continuity of education is one of the values of the Griffin School. A subject that is taught in one class at the school is modified for other classes simultaneously. Across the school, students share the same learning experience, creating a sense of community and an intellectual spark. Thus, when Marin discovers a Japanese piece entitled “Momotaro“which had a compelling message, interesting musical arrangements and contemporary cultural significance, she knew it was perfect for young musicians and budding thinkers. she contacted Miho Takekawa, professional percussionist and teacher at Lutheran University of the Pacific (PLU) for ways to make the room authentic for its students. Takekawa, intrigued by Griffin’s students’ interest in history and music, contacted her friend and mentor, Tomio yamamoto, a talented and nationally revered speaker at Osaka School of Music and a co-director of Kobe International Junior and Senior High School from Japan and relayed the story.
Yamamoto visited Griffin School in 2016 during a cultural and musical exchange visit organized by PLU. He gave orchestral lessons, watched a performance of “Momotaro” and spoke about the importance of music as a vehicle for building friendships. The award-winning conductor humbly accepted a ceremonial necklace and drum from the students of the Squaxin Tribe. An old man with gray hair, Yamamoto speaks softly. During his visit, Griffin’s students learned to bend down to hear him speak. When he left Washington to return to Japan, the students wondered if they would ever see their friend again.
After Marin’s return to Olympia a few months ago from his trip to Japan, Paul Bain, group principal at Graham Kapowsin High School, raised the idea of hosting the Tamana All Girls High School group at Griffin School for a concert during their visit to Washington state. Marine accepted. To have the Japanese group gold medalist at Griffin School was a blow, but there was more. Yamamoto would return too.
So, on the morning of the concert at Griffin School, the Tamana All Girls High School band rehearsed in the gym while the 7th grade band members peeked out the windows. When they met Yamamoto two years ago, they were in their first year as a band. They were much better now. They nervously unfolded their desks and ran into the music room to search for instruments, scores and slamming drums. When the doors opened, they climbed the bleachers quietly. The rest of the school kids whirled around the gymnasium to watch the concert, but for the Grade 7 group members, they were busy scanning the crowd. Where was Tomio Yamamoto?
Members of the Squaxin tribe opened the concert with a welcome song and dance. The drum resounded and the seashells of the girls’ dresses echoed with every step. The dancers walked straight to the front row of the bleachers and rocked a colorful ceremonial blanket. They wrapped it around a little man. Yamamoto stood up and hugged her around him. Turning around, he motioned to the Grade 7 group.
It was then that the madness broke out.
The group Tamana All Girls High School launched into a catchy jazz tune, then plunged into the highlights of “Beauty and the Beast”. The girls, dressed in understated navy skirts and light blue shirts with black ties, followed their director’s lead and delivered solo after solo. They stopped just long enough to get up. Waving their hands, they called for the grade 7 group members to join them on the floor. Dragging chairs, sheet music and instruments, the young musicians wiggled around in the sections of the group where they played. The young girls from Tamana and the 7th grade Griffin group performed together “Furusato”, a Japanese folk song.
At the end of the song, Tamana’s daughters carefully put down their instruments and led the Grade 7 group members past the gymnasium. They reached out to the students sitting on the floor and pulled them to their feet. Confused, Griffin’s students looked a little worried. Principal Greg Woods bounced off the floor. Crumpled paper hats featuring pandas faces were passed up and down in rows. Someone sang the music, and the Tamana girls taught the crowd and Griffin guests a Japanese Friendship Dance. In the midst of it all, Yamamoto, wrapped tightly in his blanket, waved and did the dance from the stands.
“At its most basic level, a cultural exchange is a lot of generous people, a lot of hard work and a lot of love,” said Marin.
I can attest that it is also a lot of fun.