Ehime Maru tribute also reflects life’s struggles
'You're a composer? I thought they were all dead!" If I had a quarter for every time someone said that to me ...
Well, OK, I'd be pretty darned poor.
In concert: 8 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. Sunday
Place: Blaisdell Concert Hall
Tickets: $22 to $73
Call: 792-2000 or Ticketmaster, 877-750-4400
But a quarter for every time anyone thought something like that? I'd be able to take a trip to Vegas -- where I'd lose all those quarters in the slots.
Yes, I'm a composer and, as it turns out, we're not all dead. I'm actually living and breathing, and doing my thing. But what is my thing? And why should you care?
Funny you should ask. This weekend, the Honolulu Symphony gives the world premiere of "After," my new work for shakuhachi, koto and orchestra.
The piece was commissioned as a memorial to the sinking of the Ehime Maru five years ago in our own back yard. I'm surprised at how many people aren't aware of what happened: A U.S. Navy submarine accidentally collided with a Japanese fisheries training vessel south of Diamond Head, killing nine of its crew, including several teenagers, and prompting international outrage.
The furor has died down but innocent lives were lost. Many people in Hawaii do remember and share that sorrow. A few weeks ago I visited the Ehime Maru memorial in Kakaako and found several fresh offerings of flowers. People do care.
Composers respond to their world by expressing the meaning they feel on a personal level. "After" certainly could have been a "political" piece, but that's not what resonated in me. I saw this from a human perspective and wanted to reflect on the experience of those who went through it -- and still are.
The piece has moments of stark terror, chaos and suffering but also moments of hope, lyricism and beauty. In a sense it is about not just the Ehime Maru, but about life. We all experience such feelings; we all have tragedies, whether big or small. And we all struggle to overcome. Ultimately, that's what we strive for, and it's what "After" is about.
That's the magic of music. It can bring us together, helping us understand common experiences. It can take something horrible and turn it into something beautiful and healing. If my music makes you feel something, sympathize, appreciate or understand, I've done my job.
Why shakuhachi and koto with orchestra? Sure, it's good to do something new and exciting. Yes, there's the symbolism of Japanese and Western instruments reaching across cultural boundaries for a unified purpose. But mostly it just sounds great. And the soloists -- Seizan Sakata and Reiko Kimura -- are among the finest in the world. Their playing is really powerful.
I invite you to share in the experience of healing. It's important to remember such tragedies not just to honor the victims, but also to help prevent them from happening again.
If my work does help us remember and somehow makes a difference in the world? Well, I'd feel pretty darned rich.
Donald Reid Womack
, a professor and acting chairman of the Music Department at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, is the recipient of two Individual Artist Fellowship awards from the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts. "Crescendo" appears on the Monday prior to each concert. E-mail comments to email@example.com