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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 11, 2001

Music Scene
Chorus unites in three-part harmonies

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

"Kokoro wo hitotsu ni, koe wo hitotsu ni."

This is what Yukiko Tokuyama repeats to the 38 members of the Japanese Women's Chorus during classes and rehearsals.

It means to unite the voices with one heart – the foundation of three-part harmony, the strength behind choral groups in Japan, where unity is valued over individuality.

Japanese Women's Chorus

• 2 p.m., Saturday, May 12
• Lutheran Church of Honolulu, 1730 Punahou St.
• Free
• 261-8463, 941-0826

As music director and conductor of the chorus, Tokuyama can't stress that enough. Three-part chorus is not just singing. It's about controlling your voice, creating one sound.

"Chorus is one performance, one art, one song," said the 43-year-old music instructor from Tokyo, in her best English. "It's like a jigsaw puzzle. We are the puzzle pieces."

This form of musical expression has been popular in Japan for generations. It's as culturally significant to the Japanese as the tea ceremony, ikebana and karate.

"We can all enjoy it," Tokuyama said of singing, which doesn't require expensive instruments or God-given talent. "We all have voices."

Japanese communities from San Francisco to Chicago to New York have these all-female choral groups, who revived the tradition in the United States and added contemporary compositions to their repertories. Starting one in Hawai'i, where the Japanese community finds its strength in sheer numbers, was a no-brainer. The Japanese Women's Chorus was formed in August 1999.

Three-part choral groups need at least 20 members to create the necessary depth for harmony, Tokuyama said. Holding strong at 38, the Japanese Women's Chorus doesn't turn anyone away.

"Our instruments are our voices," said Eiko Nakano, an alto singer and manager for the group. "So everyone has the potential."

Most members are from Japan, but many are local Japanese Americans. Nearly all are beginners. Tokuyama has had to re-teach the members to use their voices, to control them, to guide them toward harmony. After more than a year of learning and re-learning and practicing once a week for two hours, the women are ready to perform their first concert Saturday. It features a medley of Japanese children's songs, Hawaiian mele and traditional songs from Japan. Variety with a common denominator: harmony.

"It's very difficult to sing together," Nakano said. "Just to sing a melody, that's very easy, to memorize and sing. But three-part is complicated, to make that harmony together."

They come together for one reason: to feel a part of something, a creation of something beautiful.

"We all have different voices, but they come together as one voice, one tone," Tokuyama said. "We all have the same goal, all of us: to make a beautiful song."