Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Black Gospel Music in Japan ...and the questions that come with it

Greetings from a guest blogger. 

I (Jeff Timmer) am here for six weeks this summer working as an intern with Paul Nethercott and fulfilling requirements for my grad degree in ethnomusicology. I’m also here to do some research on gospel choirs in Japan. I became interested in this topic two summers ago while on a short-term trip working with a church in Osaka. After two years of grad classes as framework and preparation, I’m back to spend some more time looking in to the topic. Paul has asked me to share a few thoughts via blog posts while I’m here.

I’ve been here only a week, so I’m still a little cautious when it comes to writing any new and interesting discoveries, happenings or insights. Instead I think it’s best to begin by sharing some of the questions I’m addressing as a researcher, visitor and ethnomusicology student. (For those who don’t know, I should probably mention that “ethnomusicology” is essentially the study of music in/as culture; the anthropology of music; the study of the music of the world; etc.)

To the questions:

  •  Now that black gospel music has been popular in Japan for around 15 years, has the genre established itself as a fully Japanese activity and not something that has been imported? How is this defined or characterized? What is uniquely and distinctively Japanese about the way black gospel music plays itself out here?
  • What is drawing the Japanese to participate in these choirs?
  • What are the goals, methods and vision of gospel choir leaders and directors?
  • How are choirs established and how are they supported?
  • As Jonathan Herring notes in another post on this blog, most of the participants are not Christians. For the number of choir members who have become Christians through participation in the choirs, what are the elements, methods or people God is using in this conversion?
  • What lessons can be drawn from these gospel choirs that can help the local Japanese churches and their ministry to the community?
  • Some work is being done to experiment with fusing black gospel music with wadaiko as well as hip-hop dance. What effects will this have on the genre, if any? How will the relationships between leadership and participants develop and spread?
  • What’s next for black gospel music in Japan?

The purpose in sharing these is partly to preface any later posts on the subject, but also to help challenge your own thinking and take a moment to put on the hat of an ethnomusicologist/artist by taking a step back and asking similar questions. Sometimes when you take things that have become normal or routine and look at them with some outside eyes, new insights or epiphanies can emerge that will ultimately help refine your work or goals.

I’m looking forward to digging a little deeper with these questions and others over the next few weeks. More thoughts later!


Note from Paul Nethecott: 

It is really good to have a quality person like Jeff here for a few weeks working with me on an important project. His research is tied in with a film project we are producing under Studio Re:

The first part of this production is a mini-documentary that will explore the popularity of both Black Gospel and a genre indigenous to Japan called Wadaiko (Japanese style percussion troupe). 

The second part is a Wadaiko/Black Gospel Music Video (WBG Music Video) that we will shoot on June 20, 2009 at a large hall in Tokyo.  This will feature a large Japanese Black Gospel choir under the direction of Ken Taylor and 12 Wadaiko percussionists from a group called Matsuriza. As far as we know, this will be the first performance of Black Gospel and Wadaiko fusion.  It could be the start of a new style of music.  And, it could attract a lot of attention. 

Why is Studio Re: producing a Music Video?  This will be a visual demonstration of the fact that the Gospel is for Japan.  It will show that the gospel does indeed "connect" with Japanese and with their culture.  In a nation where virtually everyone views Christianity as a foreign religion, this is a radical idea.  But, we aren't going to just talk about the fact that the gospel relates to Japanese culture, we are going to create a visual demonstration.  Will it work? 

The first time our Japanese bookkeeper saw the WBG teaser inserted below, she cried.  

She couldn't even say exactly why she cried but it touched her on the emotional level.  I took it as a very good sign.   She did say something like "I had never thought about how Japanese culture could be part of my faith." 

Related Posts: 

Japanese Black Gospel Choir & Taiko Troupe in a Music Video?

Missions & Filmmaking Converge in Tokyo

A Film Showing that God is at Work in Japan

"Bicycle" - A Film by Biola University & Studio Re:

View Mujo No Kaze Online Here

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