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Published: February 8th 2008
explaining a little about jug bands at the International School Day
January was a musical month. On January 20th I taught classes at the second annual International School Day. It was held on the island next to me that belongs to Hiroshima Prefecture. This is the same event at which I taught square dancing last year. It is an event sponsored by the rotary club for junior high school students in Hiroshima Prefecture, and is meant to be a kind of international exchange experience without spending all the money to actually go abroad. The classes can be about almost anything as long as there is no Japanese used. It is supposed to make the students realize that English is more than just a school subject and can actually be useful for learning other interesting things. It’s also a good opportunity for the students as they almost never get to use English outside of the classroom in Japan.
Last year it was a bit stressful trying to prepare for it in addition to all my regular classes at school, but I remembered that it paid off in the end as the actual day was really fun. This year the classes were cricket, making New Zealand lolly cakes, chongki (a Malaysian and Indonesian
The students look a little clueless...
game with marbles), Ice Hokey, and I decided to teach a jug band class even though it required a lot more preparation than my square dancing class did last year. I had to make several instruments and prepare a song to play. My idea was to use instruments that can easily be made from household items. However, things that are regular household items in the U.S. are not the same in Japan, so I had to put a little more effort in to finding the materials I needed.
The instruments I ended up with in the end were jugs, of course (the members of the rotary club gave me lots of their empty ceramic sake jugs), wooden wash boards, spoons, a cow bell, jars with beans inside used a shakers, sand paper, and a washtub bass. The most challenging instrument in terms of finding the materials and putting it together was the washtub bass. I think I probably really angered my neighbors when I was hammering a hole in the washtub, but it turned out to be an awesome bass with a great sound in the end.
All classes were taught by two people, and my partner was
getting the band together
Son from Vietnam who I know from my adult English conversation class. I was a little worried about how the class would go since Son was unfamiliar with the music I wanted to teach, but we met once before the event to prepare, and he absolutely loved the song and playing all the instruments!
On the day of the event we had a rotating schedule of six classes. I started out the class by explaining a bit of the regional, historical, and cultural context of jug bands. Then, Son taught the students the lyrics to the song “Cripple Creek.” Next the students chose which instrument they wanted to play, and we taught everyone how to play them. Some instruments were easier to play than others, the jug being the most difficult. We all practiced simple rhythms, and finally put it all together with my fiddle to the tune of “Cripple Creek.” It was a complete success! And, I got interviewed and photographed by the Hiroshima Prefecture newspaper!
Then, the very next weekend was an event held in Ehime Prefecture, called Burn’s Night. It was organized by the Scottish English teachers in Ehime. I was surprised that I had
my best washtub bassist
never heard of it before, but Burn’s Night is a major holiday in Scotland in honor of the most famous Scottish poet, Robert Burns (who wrote Auld Lang Syne and many other famous poems). Traditionally the night features poetry readings, a feast, and drinking.
This Burn’s Night celebration also had the added bonus of live music and Scottish dancing, so I was asked to play my fiddle with the band. We played some songs I’d heard of, some songs I’d never heard of, and some songs I already knew. The band included a fiddle, guitar, flute, piano, and vocals. I had a blast and became nostalgic for the band I left back in West Virginia. Making people spontaneously jump up and dance is one of the best feelings!
The food at Burn’s Night was the best I’d eaten in a long time. There was a huge feast, and because the event was organized by foreigners, they made it very vegetarian friendly. The main course is something called haggis (sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs minced with onion, oatmeal, and spices and boiled in the sheep’s stomach) which is basically like sausage, however a vegetarian version is also sold and
my jug girl! She was one of the only students who could play the thing.
very popular in Scotland. So, I found the recipe for the vegetarian version and made one myself to bring for me and any other vegetarians there. It was made of carrot, mushroom, onion, lentils, red beans, oatmeal, spices, and vegetable stock, baked into a kind of loaf. It was so delicious, and I regret not taking a picture of it! I guess that just means I’ll have to make it again some day. It is eaten with potatoes and sweet potatoes. And for dessert we had this lovely tart made of biscuits, cream, and raspberries!
So, within a couple of weeks in January, I learned a lot about Scottish music and I taught a lot about jug band music. Throughout my time spent teaching here in Japan, I have learned how very valuable music is for international exchange. I have made friends with so many people who would probably never think about talking to me because of the language barrier, but we somehow end up communicating through music. Music is like an international language that people can relate to anywhere you go.
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