Upper school music teacher Chris Florio traveled to Japan in October as this year’s exchange teacher to Tamagawa Gakuen in Tokyo. While there, he helped prepare Tamagawa’s middle and upper school bands for national competitions. Both bands took top honors.
“I got to be there for all the hype that led up to it,” Florio said. “I got to work with them a lot, conduct them almost every day.”
The two groups both performed American music at the competition, and Florio’s understanding of American music, particularly jazz, proved vital in helping them perform at their best.
“One piece was very jazz-heavy, so I helped them find a more appropriate jazz feel,” he recalled. “They’re not really jazz players. They’re classical musicians, so that’s always tough, but they responded so quickly and amazingly.”
Certain English words also presented some difficulty, such as when one section instructed the brass players to “wail.”
“As a jazz musician in America you might understand what that means,” Florio said, “but it took me days, actually, to figure out how to explain that one.”
After spending so much time teaching students at Tamagawa, Florio took to heart some principles that he hopes to instill in students at Harker. “I noticed how much [Tamagawa students] worked with the metronome during rehearsals. I started doing that and the kids responded really well.”
He also played some recordings of the Tamagawa upper school band for his students, and noticed that “the kids are practicing on their own more.”
In addition, Florio’s work with the band did not end with his Tamagawa trip. Some time during the school year, he wants to hold a video conference between Tamagawa’s band and the upper school orchestra, and have them play for one another and offer feedback. Two students from Tamagawa’s upper school band will also be visiting as exchange students in January.
Aside from teaching, Florio also went on many fun outings with his new friends at Tamagawa, and also visited Kyoto for two days. “They work very hard, but no matter what age the teacher, they have a lot of fun,” he said. “They made me feel like one of their teachers.”