Knoxville, Iowa

By Shigeyo Henriquez

The day we arrived in Knoxville it was 70˚—warm and sunny. We received a warm welcome by the people gathered at Peace Tree Brewery. I recognized the same friendly faces from my first visit to Knoxville last fall with Beauty & Melody.

At Peace Tree Brewery they had a donation box for the Japan earthquake and tsunami relief. Contribution boxes are found everywhere in town. We are so touched to see people’s concern and participation to help & support. 3M Corporation is even offering one-to-one match to all US employees up to $500,000.

A typical workshop starts with a performance of traditional folk music. Each member of the ensemble says good morning in Japanese, “Ohayo,” and students repeat OHAYO, the way each ensemble member pronounces. Then, Agatsuma talks about his shamisen, its history, and demonstrates how it is played. Hase, the taiko drummer, explains the history of taiko, and the proper way to play taiko. After the demonstration we ask the students to try taiko. Almost all the students raise their hand wanting to try. It’s hard to choose just a few.

The rest of the students are asked to participate by clapping their hands. Time goes by fast. Toward the end we open for Q&A. Many students asked about the earthquake and the tsunami, showing their concerns and curiosity. Some questions are, “How old are you? When did you start to play the instruments? At Northstar Elementary School a girl asked how to say piano in Japanese. Nozaki answered “PI-A-NO” and we all giggled. Yes, we call it piano, too.

Agatsuma portrait

We will visit four communities this tour and I’d like to write a little about each musician as we tour to the communities. First Agatsuma, the leader of the ensemble, he was only 6 years old when he started to play shamisen. He is an amazing musician, not only shamisen, he plays piano beautifully. The other day I saw him play a drum set at one of the schools. I bet he can play just about anything…

The photo of Agatsuma above was taken by Hase, an ensemble member.

Donation jar on the shop's front counter
A donation jar at Peace Tree Brewery. Photo by Shigeyo Henriquez.
Agatsuma plays at the Peace Tree Brewery reception
Agatsuma plays at the Peace Tree Brewery reception. Photo by Shigeyo Henriquez.
At Knoxville Rotary Club meeting
At Knoxville Rotary Club meeting. Photo by Shigeyo Henriquez.
Elementary school student learns to play taiko
Workshop at Northstar Elementary. Photo by Shigeyo Henriquez.

Comments

All I can say is thank you for the wonderful performance in Knoxville. Never in my life have I seen such a brilliant, joyful performance. There was something very special about that night in Knoxville, perhaps because it was the group’s first performance after the tragedy in Japan. They played in our middle school auditorium, but they played like they were at Carnegie Hall. People in Knoxville are still talking about it, and all of us that were lucky enough to be there feel a kind of kinship with each other, and with the group, in that we know that we shared a very special night that we will remember forever. Thank you, thank you, thank you! And if you are in a city where the group is coming—go—and take everyone you know with you. Trust me…

I wish I could be there…. the music, the audience, the donations…. yeah! Hope 3M donations reach the goal.

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