In May of 2009, 12 members of the Neumann University Concert Chorale traveled to Japan along with director Dr. Yukiko Ishida to celebrate the 155th anniversary of Japanese/American relations. Ishida sang at the celebration ceremonies in Shimoda City and Hakodate City, two of the ports Commodore Perry and his crew stopped.
The group traveled to Tokyo, Hakodate, Kyoto, Chitose, Sapporo, and Nagano. “We saw a good part of the northern part of Japan, from the bustling metropolis of Tokyo to the agricultural areas along the Japanese railway,” said Dick Lownds.
The group also had the opportunity to sing at multiple events on the trip, including the Japanese and American national anthems at the statue of Commodore Matthew Perry; Amazing Grace at the lonely Foreigners Cemetery; and with the Hakodate City Chorus. “The most moving experience was singing at the gravesite of two sailors left on one of Matthew Perry's expeditions. We sang "Amazing Grace" at the grave overlooking water,” said Katherine Ohline.
After performing with the Hakodate City Chorus, the travelers attended an after concert banquet dinner with the Japanese chorus members, complete with a translator to allow for communication. “My favorite experience was the Concert with the people of Hakodate and meeting with them afterwards for dinner and being able to, through a translator, find out what it meant to them to be able to sing with us. It was the first time ever that this chorus sang with an American and I know if it was not the anniversary of the Matthew Perry expedition, it probably would have never happened. So I know timing is everything and it all came together this spring during a momentous trip through Neumann University!” said Connie Paolino.
Lownds echoed that sentiment, “The fellowship of the banquet following the concert was THE highlight of the trip.”
The singers also met the mayor of Hakodate who presented Dr. Ishida with an ambassador award. “We rode to the mayor’s office in taxi cabs with white eyelet seat covers and I think the driver was wearing white gloves!” said Ohline.
Throughout the trip, participants were able to sightsee as well, including visiting temples, gardens, and ride the bullet train. “The trip reflected many highlights and contrasts. Tokyo was packed with its population concentration, but was scrupulously clean and the people most friendly and helpful. The architecture of the larger cities was often stark and boxy but broken by havens of gardens, shrines, and temples. The countryside had much more graceful and tranquil space and with much more open land than I had anticipated,” said Lownds.
“The trip to Japan exceeded my expectations in every area imaginable. I believe seeing this country, "Through the eyes of Dr. Yuki", made all of the difference at every turn. She anticipated our every need and with the help of friends around the country, we did not have to ask or want for anything! We kept getting surprised by the kindness and generosity of people going out of their way to help us. An experience like this one, for me, could never be duplicated. I am just so grateful at this point in my life, that I have the opportunity to sing, travel and work with a person like Dr. Yuki and being able to represent Neumann University is the icing on the cake!” said Paolino.
“The trip was truly a trip of a lifetime. We knew it would be special but we had no idea how special,” said Ohline.