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Most, if not all, television is accompanied by some form of musical score, but no other genre of television places so much importance upon musical accompaniment than the series that fall under the classification of Japanese anime (ah-nee-may). Anime series scores thrive on minimalism and repetition, using the fewest possible pieces to create recognizable tunes that convey certain, familiar emotions throughout the show. As a result, composers must create riveting, memorable tunes, from catchy opening themes to subtle, tender piano solos to go with a love scene. These piano solos made up the bulk of the Japanese Student Association’s performance, “Autumn Medley: An Anime Concert,” a show equivalent to a horror film that is perhaps better titled “Anime Music: The Butchering.”
It’s rare to hear this kind of music performed live and in person; we who watch anime will hear the motifs and familiar tunes and recognize them instantly, but it was difficult to understand some of the music through the poor performance quality and obvious lack of practice among some, if not many, of the performers. It is intriguing, for instance, why a group of five brass players would choose to play a medley of Final Fantasy pieces, despite this music being very unsuited for a brass quintet. The glaring errors, accidental sharps and flats, and simply bad musical transcription did not help their performance. The result was a cacophony of irritating, whining trumpets, a trombone, and a tuba, butchering otherwise beautiful pieces of music.
It is also curious how a group of four violins, five violas, and a single cello should come to be called a “string orchestra” (for it says so on the program sheet). Perhaps the organizers shot for something more boisterous and expansive than the final outcome of their efforts, but it should be noted that someone must have wondered in the process of learning and practicing the music, “Wouldn’t it sound better if, instead of half of a string orchestra, we had a string quartet?” Maybe this only occurred to them after it was too late to change the itinerary, but that does not excuse the horrendous dynamics displacement, with too much emphasis on high string instruments and no substance for lack of even one bass. Worse yet, the orchestra was again plagued with under-practiced, unsynchronized performers (despite the presence of a conductor!), and this section taking up the entire second half of the concert was in no way virtuous either.
That said, the concert was not wanting of decent and even excellent players. Jacky Lam’s assortment of “Sad Anime Piano Solos” (again from the program sheet) were well-done, and certainly Vivian Chen’s rendition of “Itsumo Nando Demo (Always With Me),” by Youmi Kimura for Spirited Away, would have sounded gorgeous had she sung into the microphone for her vocals. Caroline Chun’s performances were excellent, and at least it can be said that, of those who messed up, Anthony Gomez messed up the least. I only hope that if the JSA choose to do this again next year, they hold their auditions to a higher standard than this.
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