A cross-culture band exchange teaches both student and teacher

Posted by: Date: February 9, 2017
By Mandi LeCompte
Outreach Manager

Every other year the Tamana All Girls’ High School Band travels to Washington state for an exchange with the Graham Kapowsin High School and a friendship concert at PLU. The eight-year long relationship has created bonds that stretch across the ocean. This year, three Graham Kapowsin students traveled to Japan with Assistant Professor of Music Ron Gerhardstein to participate in the New Year Concert. Gerhardstein embarked on his travel as both teacher and student.

When Gerhardstein traveled to Japan this J-term, his goals were to observe, ask questions, listen and learn. The purpose: to study the cultural and musical exchange between Graham Kapowsin and the Tamana Band and the impact of it.

The Tamana band holds a gold medal in marching and concert band performance in a culture where band performance is a big deal. Music education in Japan is highly structured. Students meet before school for individual practice, warm up, or group sectional, and then meet after school, for up to five hours. They also work at length on Saturday and sometimes Sunday. The Tamana group is polished and performs at an extremely high level for an ensemble made up of 14-17 year-old students.

“The Tamana Band practices with so much respect for the group effort,” Gerhardstein explained. “From this I’ve learned to give my best to not only do my part in helping others learn, but also to help others teach. The value of the group-effort is that we are all responsible for each other. Students end up teaching just as much as the conductor or director.”

In Japan, the band director comes to shape the music at the end after the girls have had individual practice, learned their music, had group sectionals and warmed up on their own. The group culture of students in Japan is in contrast to the individual culture of things in the U.S.

Gerhardstein sat with ​Yamamoto Sensei, the consultant and advisor to Tamana Band, to discuss Japanese teaching styles.

“He is very philosophical and responses to questions can be a bit of a winding path. I really enjoyed this thinking journey with him,” Gerhardstein remarked. “At one point he said ‘perfect preparation and attention to small details are the key to success.’ I have heard this before but it meant more to me coming from someone in a different culture. Attention to detail is evident in literally everything that I witnessed in Japan.”

Another lesson Gerhardstein gleaned was that music education is about having fun. The element of fun shows up in music repertoire and the addition of simple choreography for audience appeal.

The biggest benefit of the relationship is that the Tamana and Graham Kapowsin students  learn and experience the world not only through travel but through this musical and cultural exchange.  

“For our students at PLU, it is an amazing opportunity to have the Tamana Girls’ Band on our campus every two years,” Gerhardstein remarks. “They can learn a lot through sitting and listening to how this group sounds and to see them work in action.”

But with all the cultural differences there are some striking similarities. Both the New Year concert in Japan and the Friendship Concert at PLU have a tribute to graduating seniors.

“Everyone is always in tears and it is very touching,” Gerhardstein said. “Our students who see this can be reminded of the close relationships that music teachers develop with their students and how music binds us together. This crosses culture and helps us realize that people around the world really are all the same.”