It’s one thing to perform Gloriosa by Japanese composer Yasuhide Ito. It’s another thing to perform the piece, one of the world’s most well-known concert band masterworks, in Japan in front of the man who composed it.
So when Ito strode onto the stage during a rehearsal before the St. Olaf Band’s performance in Tokorozawa, it was a moment that clarinetist Anna Schmidt ’25 knew she would never forget.
“After he said a few words about the section we were working on, he jumped up on the podium to conduct. The passion of his conducting communicated so much more than words could capture. The message was crystal clear, and we understood exactly what he wanted from us as an ensemble,” Schmidt says.
Japanese composer Satoshi Yagisawa also spoke with St. Olaf Band members about his piece Hymn to the Sun — with the Beat of Mother Earth. “Having composers in attendance to explain what they hoped to convey with their pieces honed our focus and inspired us to put our all into the music,” Schmidt adds. “Our best performances certainly came when we were playing for these composers.”
Those onstage experiences were just a few of the many unforgettable moments on a tour that melded the magic of music with the power of global engagement.
As members of the St. Olaf Band toured throughout Japan for two weeks in June, they performed in concert halls in cities from Hiroshima to Tokyo, collaborated with local Japanese concert bands and wind ensembles, and had a variety of sightseeing and cultural learning opportunities. And it was all completely cost-free for St. Olaf student musicians.
Thanks to a $4.2 million gift from Louis and Mary Kay Smith and an endowed fund established by anonymous donors, all international tours by the St. Olaf Band, St. Olaf Choir, and St. Olaf Orchestra will be cost-free for students moving forward. Given that these music ensembles tour internationally three out of every four years, the band’s tour of Japan is just the beginning of the significant impact the new fund will have. The choir is set to tour South Africa in June 2024, followed a year later by the orchestra, which will embark on a tour of Norway in 2025.
Grayson Chan ’26, a studio art and German major who plays euphonium in the St. Olaf Band, says he never expected to have an experience like the Japan tour in his lifetime. He marveled at the experience of collaborating with local bands, and says the level of diligence that Japanese students demonstrated through their performances has led him to re-think his definition of a successful musician.
“The music they make is absolutely eye-opening, and I enjoyed the cultural exchange between the bands so much,” Chan says, noting that the opportunity he had as one of seven Bandies to introduce one of the St. Olaf Band’s pieces in Japanese during a concert was a highlight of the tour for him. “I am a firm believer that one must completely immerse in the culture to fully learn about it. The St. Olaf Band tour has brought me closer to understanding Japanese culture.”
Schmidt, a chemistry and mathematics major, says touring internationally with fellow musicians provides a depth to the travel experience unlike any other. “Being a traveler and a tourist is often a self-centered experience. We take in the sites and experiences for our own enjoyment and education. Touring with the St. Olaf Band in Japan, however, was a unique opportunity to give as well as receive,” Schmidt says.
“We shared our music and the sound of the St. Olaf Band with Japanese audiences, while also immersing ourselves in a new culture and space. The experience of sharing music with students similar to our own age created an inherently deeper experience than simply ‘traveling’ in Japan,” she adds. “Whether it was having conversations before and after rehearsals, exchanging gifts, or simply enjoying the power of making music together, connecting with fellow students and musicians taught me so much more about music, Japanese culture, and the world as a whole than I could ever have learned from a guidebook or a famous landmark.”
Below enjoy a 3D video of the St. Olaf Band’s performance of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” with the Saitama Sakae Wind Orchestra and the Inagakuen Sogo High School Wind Orchestra.