TOKYO — In his wildest dreams, Mozart probably never would have imagined young Japanese students singing arias in Italian from his opera Don Giovanni. But on October 7 — under the guidance of their American music director, Todd Lowery — 32 fourth-grade students from the English immersion school, the Gunma Kokusai Academy (GKA), were featured in a fully-costumed mini-performance in Tokyo of selected Don Giovanni arias. Sony Music Foundation (SMF) sponsored this concert at Tokyo’s prestigious Bunkamura Orchard Hall and Lowery’s related educational activities.
The purpose of this mini-concert, in conjunction with a workshop for 200 educators at the Sony music studio in Tokyo, was to showcase the work of Lowery and his students as an example of the educational projects produced by the Royal Opera House of Belgium. SMF’s dedication to innovative music education initiatives connected them with the Royal Opera House through its music director, Kazushi Ono.
At Orchard Hall, Maestro Ono acted as master of ceremonies and accompanist for the children’s performance. The fourth-graders’ mini-concert set the stage for their professional counterparts from the Royal Opera House of Belgium, who presented Don Giovanni later that evening in its entirety.
Prior to their Tokyo “debut,” Lowery and his students were the focal point of four-and a-half days of intensive workshops and concerts at GKA in Ota, Japan, to share and explore with the school community the world of Mozart’s music, life, and the history of opera from a European perspective.
“This workshop was truly a unique educational and cultural experience for our students,”
said Lowery. “The exposure to a foreign culture at this level provided the unique opportunity for these young Japanese students to learn more about their own culture, as well encouraging them to continually compare these new ideas, methods, and cultural ideals to their own.”
The student’s performance at Orchard Hall had an emotional impact both on Lowery and Maestro Ono, who — while making comments after the concert — was moved to tears. “As an educator, this was the most emotionally powerful experience I’ve ever had,” said Lowery. “The beauty with which the children sang was full of hope and unity.”
An Eastman alumnus, the entrepreneurial Lowery received his bachelor’s degree in both trombone performance and music education in 1989, and his master’s degree in jazz and
contemporary media in 1993. Earlier this year, after learning of Lowery’s innovative approach to musical education in Japan, the Eastman School facilitated what would be Lowery’s career-enhancing connection with the Sony Music Foundation. At the time, Sony was searching for a model school to participate in an intensive opera education workshop in conjunction with the Royal Opera House of Belgium. This connection was made possible thanks to Sony’s long-standing support of the School’s celebrated Eastman Wind Ensemble’s Asian tours.
“Todd’s work represents exactly the type and quality of innovation for which the Eastman School is known,” says Dean James Undercofler. “We look forward to seeing how Todd continues to share his substantial talents.”
Sony looks toward the future with excitement and pride in their involvement with this project. Miki Iwata, producer and associate manager in the Planning & Production Division of Sony Music Foundation says, “We are confident that what Todd and his students accomplish will positively affect music education in Japan, and we hope to be able to play a role in making a difference in educating, cultivating, and developing a new generation of young and excited music lovers.”
Note: Photos of the Gunma Kokusai Academy students in costume are available.