BIG IN JAPAN: “Eirik The Viking” Tours Japanby Eirik Gjerdevik
Edited by Mike Forbes
In celebration of the ten year anniversary of “The Tuba Band” I was very honored to be invited to perform a solo tour in Japan this past February, 2013. The following article summarizes my thoughts and experiences from this absolutely wonderful tour.
I began my trip to Tokyo on February 11. It was quite a long journey, one hour from Bergen, Norway to Copenhagen and then twelve hours to Tokyo! Note: when you are 207 cm tall (6 feet 8 inches) it is not at all easy to fit into the economy section of an airplane. After I gave it my best shot, the flight attendant found a double seat for me for the long flight over Siberia. It was just breathtaking and mind-blowing to travel hour after hour over such an enormous land. After landing in Tokyo, I was worried that all the information was going to be in Japanese. In the end, I was delighted to be greeted by English letters on the signs in the airport.
On the first day my host, Shoichiro Hokazono, greeted me at the airport and we took the bus directly to the hotel. For me, this was an amazing city. So many buildings, and the many roads crossing over and under-very impressive engineering. Our first stop after checking in was at a sushi restaurant, of course. Shoichiro ordered at least 25 pieces for me alone…he is 1/3 of my size, so I’m sure he thought I needed ½ ton of raw fish to survive. Then it was straightaway to practice with The Tuba Band. In the music shop Dolce Studio, I found the perfect place for music making. The people in Japan are so polite, helpful, and understanding when it comes to taking care of a visitor. This was most obvious when out dining. Of course, the chopsticks take some skill and time to master, and then there is the dining table…wow! It’s great when you all get to sit around a table and you get to cook your own food right there! The pan was boiling vegetables and you toss the meat in yourself. After an hour or so, we put rice and raw egg into the same pan. The best thing was that it was much easier to eat with chopsticks than the soup.
Eirik “The Viking” is greeted on stage by Shoichiro Hokazono
The second day began with a rehearsal in the Dolce Studio again then I had an hour and a half long interview with a magazine reporter who was a great interviewer-it made my job very easy. Then we rehearsed with the famous Tuba Band again before giving another very well organized interview to the Pipers Magazine. I wonder how many pictures were used in this article, for this guy was on fire for over an hour with his camera! I then had a master class with four well prepared students.
The third day began with a very relaxing morning before the big concert. This is the first time that I have ever heard of a tuba quartet booking a 1200-seat concert hall in a large performing arts center. Four hundred tickets were pre-sold for the event and another 200 rounded out an audience of about 600. The Tuba Band has a great representative and operations manager (Masumi Someno) and she has four or five people helping to make sure the concert goes perfectly. It’s very impressive organization! On the first half, The Tuba Band treated the audience to lot of great playing and pieces, some of which included percussion. The second half was my turn to enter. The first piece was John Stevens’s Dances, followed by an arrangement by my good friend, Bent Erik Roed, of Carnival of Venice. Then The Tuba Band performed a special arrangement for this concert of Chick Corea’s Spain , which made the audience go wild.
As an encore, I had the piece I played with Brass Band at the ITEC in Austria (“Largo al Factotum”) done for this group and myself…once again, Bent Erik Roed saved the day with his new arrangement for this instrumentation. You must imagine the scene-yes, it is my going crazy silly as usual on this piece. But then the oddest thing happened-the people in the audience started making noises when I began singing “Figaro!” Yes a very strange noise indeed! It was not a cry, nor laughter, nor shouting, but more like some kind of howl! I’ve never heard anything like it before in my life! It was a tremendous ending to a great concert-what a great success for tubas! The audience never stopped clapping nor howling. After the concert Shoichiro ordered us all out in the foyer of the great hall where we shook many hands, signed many autographs and sold many CD recordings. I had just had a little cultural mistake when handshaking: they all bowed…so I bowed…then they bowed a lot more…then I bowed again…then they went crazy bowing up and down. Shoichiro saved me. “Eirik,” he said, “Stop bowing. They give you thanks and respect by doing this. So when you bow they have to do now a double amount of bows.” After all the bowing, I sold all of my CDs; yet I still I had two more days and cities to go!
Day four began by traveling to Nagayo by a crazy fast train (Shinkansen)-320 km/h (approx. 200mph)! For an hour and a half I traveled at this speed, looking out the window. The scenery presented nothing but houses, roofs, and roads everywhere. For a Norwegian, this was too much! All these buildings, and so little space for the people. In Nagoya I gave a four hour master class, took a break, then presented another three hour master class ending with a little 45 minute recital. Quite a good day at the office. The seven students were again all very well prepared and played very well.
On the fifth day, I hopped on the speed train “Shinkansen” again…I really love this way of traveling. In just a brief hour, I was in Osaka. This was my last day of playing in Japan and the Dolce Studio instrument store hosted me again with a great studio for a recital. I performed the Marcello Sonata No. 1 with pianist Rena Hashimoto on the CC 826 Yamaha York as well as the Malcolm Arnold Fantasy for Tuba. Then I performed the Vaughan Williams Concerto and the Monolog No. 9 by E. Von Koch both on the Yamaha 631 E-Flat tuba. The second half included John Stevens’s Dances , Carnival of Venice, and Czardas with the tuba quartet NASA. NASA included Kyohei Ando on euphonium and Kazuhiro Nakamura, Toyoaki Azuma, and Hiroaki Shiomi on tuba. It was another great recital with a packed house of 50-60 people in the small, intimate hall. Then we all excused ourselves to another very pleasant dinner-what hospitality!
My reflections on the tour are that the Japanese people really now how to make a visitor calm and happy. The kindness and respect everybody has for each other is simply fantastic. For me it was so easy to play my very best because I could feel the love and calmness of the audience. I want to extend a big thank you also to Yamaha who provided me with two tubas. Also, I had Tadashi Niimi, a Yamaha representative, help me with carrying all of my equipment, getting me on and off trains, and checking me in and out of hotels for 3 days. I am so grateful. And of course, without Shoichiro Hokazono, it would not have been a tour in the first place…many thanks to him. This story ends happily, as I flew home on a Boeing 777 in an upgraded seat. Thank you Japan!
Eirik Gjerdevik (b. 1968) is originally from Fusa but now lives in Bergen, Norway. He has become a familiar figure in the Norwegian band environment as an ensemble player, soloist, and conductor. He first studied tuba with Nils Eivind Nikolaisen (Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra). He then went to England and studied further at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. During his time in England Eirik performed with the Britannia Building Society Band (Fodens) under Howard Snell and studied tuba with, among others, Brian Kingsley and Stuart Roebuck . He went on to study with his mentor and friend in Germany, Robert Tucci.
Since 1996, Lieutenant Eric Gjerdevik has been employed as a tuba player in the Norwegian Army Band, Bergen.