Choral conductor KATO Hiroaki works with a faith in the “power of song to bring peace to the world.” The NHK Tokyo Children Chorus was founded in 1952 and between 2003 and 2012 Kato was active as its principal conductor. In 2009, they were given the opportunity to perform for the pope (Benedict XVI). Today, Kato coaches youth choirs all over Japan while lecturing at the music department of Toho Gakuen College.
As a choral coach, he wanted the children to mainly focus their best efforts on trying to create good music. “If you’re seriously engaged in music, there are times when you express yourself in a way you could never do with words, and that gives you a strong sense of achievement. In those moments, you’re happy to be alive. Once you discover this joy, the idea of starting a fight to kill people becomes unthinkable,” says Kato.
Kato himself had in intense experience of surpassing his own abilities as a junior high school student. Because of this experience, he set out to become a conductor and then a singer. However, as he began his advanced studies, he sensed the students around him were far more talented. He also had doubts about his ability to express himself as a male singer the way he wanted. “In my 20s, I lost all hope for a future in music,” he recalls.
During the time he was worried about his future career, he met TANAKA Nobuaki, one of Japan’s trailblazing choral conductors. While singing for three years in a choir conducted by Tanaka, he observed Tanaka’s conducting technique as much as possible. “From him I learned what music and even life itself is. My choral conducting today is based on what I learned from him.”
Since last October, Kato has been coaching a choir of ambassadors’ wives who “want to make an appeal for peace through song.” Having only practiced for one month and a half, they gave their first concert for an audience of some 60 people from 30 embassies. They sang Christmas songs and “Hana wa Saku (The Flower Will Bloom),” a charity song for the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake. “They sang ‘Hana wa Saku’ in Japanese because they all wanted to, but it was a struggle for them.”
The concert was a great success. After the performance, Kato discovered that the wives had been very nervous. When he shook hands with them their hands were very cold. The wife of the Finnish ambassador, who made the final speech, rounded up proceedings with tears in her eyes, saying, “I never thought I, of all people, would be able to make an appeal for peace through music.”
“Regardless of your technical skill, if you have a strong desire to express yourself, your message will reach your listeners,” says Kato who’s rediscovering the power of music. In the future, with the goal of world peace and integration in mind he wants to create good quality music with more young people.
Photos by WATANABE Tsutomu
Text: ICHIMURA Masayo