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NYSB Tour of Japan Report

New York Staff Band Japan Tour 2018 

March 18-19, 2018
Matthew Luhn, Trombone

Some people have been packed for weeks, shoes meticulously shined and their cap placed neatly atop clothes in their suitcase. Others spend the hours before an international flight doing laundry and feverishly searching for their red New York Staff Band epaulets.

Regardless, it is certain that every member of the Band spends the eve before a big trip readying themselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Physically and mentally, the group grapples with and plans out the upcoming massive time change. When the band boards the plane and leaves behind American soil, it commits itself to a 27 hour trip in the sky. The NYSB spends thirteen hours in the air and then endures a brutal 14 hour time change forward as the plane crosses the International Date Line in the Pacific Ocean.

United Airlines Flight 79 boards at Gate 123 in Newark, NJ around 5pm EST on March 18 after a frustrating 5 hour flight delay. Bandsmen pass the time differently on this day with some players reading, others listening to music, and many taking in the compelling college basketball games of March Madness. The group eagerly boards the plane but immediately encounters more restlessness as the aircraft taxis the runway for over an hour and a half. Finally UA Flight 79 leaves the ground and becomes airborne at 6:45 EST.

The plane climbs and climbs, eventually settling at a cruising altitude of 35,000 ft. There is nothing to do but sit. Wait. Sleep. Wait. Eat. Wait. A long flight allows the mind and heart to be elsewhere.

Emotionally, each member of the New York Staff Band has said goodbye to a concerned loved one before the trip begins. Despite the pomp and circumstance of a historic international trip, it is always difficult to leave the ones you love back home. Spouses are separated from each other. Moms and Dad are forced to be apart from their children. While the NYSB tours Japan, it weighs on each bandsmen that family members back home inherit extra duties and responsibilities. Preparing meals, taking kids to school, making sure the dogs are walked and fed, leading the weekly church Bible study and Jr Band rehearsal and many other scenarios now fall on the loved ones back home.


A voice comes over the intercom of the airplane to let us know that we are 45 minutes from landing at Narita Airport outside of Tokyo. The Band groggily adjusts their tired, blurred vision and repositions their tray tables to prepare for landing. Each member takes out a card provided by Japanese Customs to fill out and prepare to enter the country. The feeling becomes overwhelming: We are actually here. In Japan!

Spiritually, the Band has been in prayer for this tour for months. What will be the impact of the Band’s visit? On the surface, the Band wonders: Will audiences enjoy our music? Will they be impressed with our playing? Will this trip inspire people? But the surface can be, by definition, superficial. Most importantly, will the impact of our music ministry cause lives be won for Jesus? Will lives be changed? Will lifelong memories and Christian friendships be forged? What will be the spiritual impact of the New York Staff Band’s visit to Japan?

After leaving America at 6pm on Monday, the New York Staff Band deplanes United Airlines Flight 79 around 9pm on Tuesday evening, March 19. Because of the delay leaving Newark, the NYSB has already missed its connecting flight to Osaka. Band Secretary Brindley Venables and Bandmaster Derek Lance scramble to communicate with Japanese airline personnel, coordinating alternative arrangements for the group.

The Band passes through Customs without any notable delays, collects their luggage, boards multiple shuttle busses, and heads to the airport hotel just about an hour outside of Tokyo.

The language. This is the first moment of culture shock. Which customs line is correct? What is a bidet? Which carousel will have the luggage?

The people. Their helpfulness and smiles. Everyone seems kind, caring, and considerate, concerned that we are well taken care of. The first impressions of Japanese culture and people are overwhelmingly positive as we are given new sleeping arrangements in light of a difficult situation with the missed flight.

After eating dinner together in the hotel and sharing in stories in an overall exhausted/excited manner, the Band heads to their provided hotel rooms, shuts off the lights, and goes to sleep eager to begin the music ministry that brought them here to Japan.

March 20, 2018
Aaron VanderWeele, Euphonium

It’s Tuesday morning, March 20, the day of our first concert in Japan. Location – Tokyo at our Narita Airport hotel. Weather is humid, cool, overcast with a consistent wind and drizzle. Our goal? Get to Osaka — and to the premiere concert hall on the Japan Tour itinerary.

The Osaka Symphony Hall is Japan’s oldest and most famous venue – an exquisite acoustic space that regularly hosts world class ensembles. This evening’s concert is sold out to a largely secular crowd (over 90%) who subscribe to its classical music series. We are well aware of the planning, resources, and prayer that have been poured into this golden ministry opportunity and, for that reason, are feeling the added pressure of actually getting there. Tokyo is an hour’s flight to Osaka (9 hour drive) and, in light of our recent string of travel luck (or lack thereof), no flight is taken for granted – even a quick domestic flight.

And, sure enough, the band’s flight to flight to Osaka is – wait for it – delayed. Undeterred, many of the band just have a good laugh and carry on – we’d expect nothing less this tour!

A warm welcome was awaiting the band in Osaka that seemed to grow in appreciation and sincerity due to our travel issues. As is true for anywhere the band has visited in the Army, warm smiles and hospitality awaited us. We quickly journeyed to our hotel, perfectly situated across from Osaka Castle; one of the most recognizable landmarks in this fascinating city.

Here, we met up with Mike Baker (solo cornet) and Rob Miller (euphonium) who flew separately from the band. It was a great feeling to all be together again – finally. Our only member still not with us – our Property Secretary and the veritable glue who has held this band together for well over 35 years – Chuck Olsen, Jr. For NYSB fans, Chuck suffered food poisoning just prior to the band’s embarkation and will hopefully join us when we return to Tokyo. After a hurried meal and quick change into appropriate attire, it was off to the venue.

The band was in awe of the hall as we ventured inside. 1,700 seats, a pristine pipe organ complete with gallery choir seating that begs for Mahler 2. One of those rare times when you just know – before playing a note – this is going to be a special night.

And, sure enough, it was!

An enthusiastic crowd began arriving 90 minutes prior to start time. It had been 29 years since the New York Staff Band’s Pacific Bridge Tour in 1989 and many were excited to the hear the band under its new Bandmaster, Derek Lance.

Derek chose a blended program for our first concert with quite literally something for everyone:

Living Power, Tom Davoren
Semper Fidelis, Martin Cordner
Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Jonathan Rowsell
Flashback, Brian Bowen (Brindley Venables, cornet soloist)
Russlan and Ludmila, Glinka arr. Michael Kenyon
When I Survey, Olaf Ritman (Matthew Luhn, trombone soloist)
The Kingdom Triumphant, Eric Ball
Valero, arr. Sandy Smith
New York, New York, arr. Goff Richards
Harlequin, Philip Sparke (Aaron VanderWeele, euphonium soloist)
Lloyd, arr. Paul Lovatt-Cooper
Band Chorus – Psalm 23, arr. Dorothy Gates
Wake Up the Saint, Martin Cordner
Encore items:
Jounetsu – Tairiku, Taro Hakase
Rock of Ages

After the concert the band was requested to meet with hundreds of concertgoers for pictures and autographs. It was a wonderfully joyous atmosphere and the crowd was extremely appreciative of the band’s fine playing and singing. Several standout moments personally – singing in Japanese (one of the verses to Psalm 23) and being told after how impactful that was to our audience. Another highlight was some beautifully sensitive trombone playing by Matt on his solo – a really significant time during the concert that resonated with many. And the band’s blistering performance of the Glinka overture…which received a rousing response.

As we were reminded backstage by the hundreds of photos and logos of famous artists who had visited that hall – indeed our own New York Philharmonic had played there earlier this month – it was an important and meaningful night and one that got this tour started properly. High quality music with a Message.

March 21, 2018
Andrew Boynton, Percussion

Wednesday’s journey for the band begins with a Japanese breakfast at the KKR Hotel in Osaka and an incredible view overlooking the Osaka Castle, an important historical landmark for the people of Japan. The overcast sky and crisp atmosphere serve as an almost ominous backdrop to this elaborate edifice, but we have hope that the weather will put no limitations on the potential of this day.

Once our luggage is ever so neatly and efficiently loaded onto the truck, we make our way to the bus and on to the Tenma Corps in Osaka (also known as Osaka Central Corps), the largest corps in Japan’s second most populous city. We are warmly greeted by the Salvationists in Osaka, and we make our way up to the 4th floor of the building to store our belongings and prepare for the morning worship meeting. The stairwell is plastered with NYSB concert promotional posters and signs of welcome for the group, and it becomes clear our presence has been eagerly anticipated.

Upon entering the chapel, one’s eyes are immediately drawn to the beautiful stained glass on the back wall of the platform. This inspiring image features the cross at the center, with a Salvation Army flag toward the bottom, and beams of light shining down in the background. A member of the corps, who had designed this window, highlights the image of a river flowing behind the cross and notes its representation of the meeting of God’s people as portrayed in the Song Book song “Shall we gather at the river.” And together in one spirit, though we speak different languages, we gather to worship the Lord through music.

First, young Salvationist musicians from the area sit in with the band to join together in playing some classics of The Salvation Army repertoire. The enthusiasm of these young musicians warms our hearts as we in turn hope to further inspire their love and appreciation for brass music in The Salvation Army. We then transition to a worship service, and despite the fact that it is a Wednesday morning, a sizable crowd is able to share in worship with us due to the Spring Equinox holiday. Following selections from the Staff Band, including “Be Still,” a special composition from Dr. Dorothy Gates, and Ray Steadman-Allen’s “In Quiet Pastures,” Lt. Colonel James LaBossiere brings the message based on John 10 – “The Good Shepherd and His Sheep.”

After a wonderful lunch provided by the women of the Tenma Corps, and an opportunity to fellowship, we take to the streets on a march of witness. The corps is adjacent to a long, narrow passageway of shops and stores under a vaulted covering. We take off in one direction, drawing the attention of the hundreds of people shopping, with the bold and powerful sounds of the trombones and tubas leading the way. As we reach an area with room to congregate and a crowd, we play “Amazing Grace” (Richard Phillips) and the message of Christ is shared with all who will listen. This time, we start back toward the corps in the opposite direction. The cornet melody soars from the back of the group, however the heartbeat of the percussion section is truly the icing on the cupcake!

Once the march has ended and the instruments are again neatly loaded onto the truck, we head to the train station as we depart for Tokyo on the Bullet Train (Shinkansen), a much anticipated part of our trip for many of the band members. As we see the Osaka sunset coasting by at speeds up to 200 mph, we turn a 6-hour bus trip into a train ride of under 3 hours. At the end of an exciting yet exhausting day, we reach the infamous Tokyo Dome Hotel, where we are thankful to be able to settle in for the remainder of our time in Japan.

March 22, 2018
Simon Morton, BBb Bass

After what has seemed like several days of nonstop traveling, the band is happy to settle in Tokyo for the remaining days of the tour. A slightly later start to the day meant a chance to experience a full Japanese breakfast in the hotel with many of the band members becoming expert chopstick users by now!
In anticipation of a long day, the band boarded the bus to the Tokyo City Opera Hall. Along the way, we took in views of an absolutely pristine city and caught glimpses of cherry blossoms beginning to bloom. One of the several local leaders that has been traveling with the band, Major Masataka Tateishi, commanding officer of the Kobe Corps shared some thoughts with us and asked if he could sing to us. The band hummed along as Major Tateishi sang “To be like Jesus” in Japanese, with the band joining in a second verse in English. A powerful moment that wouldn’t be the first of this day. One of the challenges of this tour is not having the full capacity to share the gospel in spoken word during our festivals. This reminder of “to be like Jesus” in addition to the musical ministry of the band must be the way in which we share the love of Christ while here in Japan.
Entering the main hall of Tokyo Opera City was no less than mind blowing. A masterpiece of architecture and acoustic, looking up into the Gods of the hall was almost like an optical illusion! Over the next few hours, several rehearsals took place with organist Naomi Matsui, The Little Singers of Tokyo and the Japan Staff Band. Eb Bass player, Michael Devault shared a most heartfelt devotion with the band and was a beautiful reminder of the great privilege and responsibility we have as Salvationist musicians.
The first run through of Eric Balls iconic “The Kingdom Triumphant” with organ was a near perfect performance and left quite a buzz around the room. Not expecting such mature vocal sounds from the Little Singers, many bandsmen put their instruments down in sheer disbelief, with several “moments” being had! Our final rehearsal joined the NYSB and JSB in William Himes’ rendition of “Elsa’s Procession”. The last time these two bands shared a venue was at ISB120 in London. A memorable moment for all in a attendance as the humble group entered the stage. Almost seven years later, the band has grown considerably and still has some familiar faces amongst their ranks.
After several rounds of sushi it was time for the festival to begin. Another capacity crowd greeted the band as we joined the concerts second half. The bands presentations were well received by the audience with the massed items bringing the evening to a rousing finish.
Although it had been a long day already…it wasn’t over yet!
The band quickly packed up and headed to the 54th floor of a neighboring skyscraper for a beautiful reception with many local donors. Even after a grueling day, it was fantastic to see many of the bandsmen engaged in fellowship and conversation with local business owners and supporters of the SA’s mission here in Tokyo. Some of the band members experienced an interesting and somewhat delirious ride back down, with the elevator deciding to stop at every floor and only allowing Brindley Venables to exit before closing the doors and immediately heading back up!
In the infallible (and maybe made up Japanese words) of our beloved Colonel Wayne Maynor…Today was a superashi day!

March 23, 2018
Tom Scheibner, Percussion

Today was a FANTASTIC day! No lesser words can describe our experiences that took part over the course of the day. Many bandsmen have already described these accounts on their own personal Facebook pages, so I won’t attempt to rehash every detail, but will perhaps add a few personal perspectives to what you already may have read.
The day started with well deserved sleep in for the band, as we didn’t depart from our hotel for our first engagement until 11 AM. We headed for the offices of the Tamanohada Soap Factory, where we were treated to a lunch reception by our host, the genial owner of the factory named Mr. Miki. As we entered into the reception room, an organ was automatically playing “Trumpet Voluntary”. You could sense Mr. Miki’s love of classical music. In welcoming us to his factory, Mr. Miki spoke of his Christian upbringing. We were then treated to a fantastic lunch of sushi along with wonderful items from a carving station.
Before lunch, the band chorus sang an arrangement of the tune Finlandia in honor of our host. This classical tune was said to be his favorite. In return, during dessert time, the band was treated to a recital by several pianists of tremendous abilities. What an experience! Additional accounts can be found in the postings of other bandsman.
We then headed for the venue of our evening concert, the Nishiarai Garaxity Hall. We rehearsed on our own for a time, and then were privileged to meet the group that shared the program with us on the evening – the Hamahata-Nisha Elementary School Brass Band. To say that this group was excellent would be doing them an injustice – they were simply AMAZING for their age range of 7 – 12 years. All of their presentations were memorized . The bands joined together to play Fire in the Blood and Valero, and the kids on their own played A Disney Fantasy and Renaissance. What a performance! Brass banding in Japan is in good hands judging from the talents of these up and coming young people.
The bandsmen of the NYSB received abundant blessings from the Lord from having taken part in this day.

March 24, 2018
Karen Shaffstall, Cornet

Our day begins with beautiful sunshine and very comfortable temperatures as compared to the very rainy arrival earlier this week. Cherry blossoms are in bloom and there’s a gentle breeze.

We’re on our way to the Kanda-Hitotsubashi Gymnasium for rehearsals and a concert. But first we have a word from Vivien Banks who has been traveling with us and giving expert direction. Her heart felt comments about her own Christian walk and her heart for the Japanese people helps us to continue focusing on the mission of our tour….not only to bring musical excellence through our playing but to demonstrate a love for Christ and the Japanese people. A mass band rehearsal including all of the featured bands joined with the Staff Band to prepare for the afternoon festival.

A traditional tea ceremony introduced us to the removal of our shoes and Japanese seating (on the floor) and the very ceremonial receiving of a special tea. This special tea clears the senses and calms the soul preparing you for your day.

The energetic and decorative drums of Tokyo opened our brass band festival followed by the students playing our national anthem. Watching the children’s Brass bands play classic pieces completely memorized was amazing…….watching a young girl play the cornet solo “Glorious Ventures” by Peter Graham from memory was amazing……hearing the Japan Staff Band and some of their soloists was amazing. We then presented “Living Power, Russlan and Ludmilla, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, Flashback” featuring Brindley Venables and “Harlequin” featuring Aaron VanderWeele and “Wake Up the Saint.” A great afternoon of music making.

Onward into the afternoon saw us marching through downtown Tokyo culminating at a busy office building where we presented a “lobby” concert. Some of our secular music was featured….”New York, New York”, Valero”, “Stars and Stripes Forever” as well as “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”, “Amazing Grace” and the Japan Staff Bandmaster leading us in the “Star Lake” March. Marching once again, we ended our day of music making

Returning to the school we began to say our good byes to the many children and adults we had a chance to get to know. All of us signing autographs and posing for pictures made for a day we will never forget.

Our final moment came as we sang our traditional benediction “Rock of Ages”. As we were singing I was reminded that many of these new friends were not Christians. We had prayed at the start of our day asking the Lord to use us, especially knowing that many coming to the concert were unbelievers. As the song ended I turned to look at those standing near us….one woman just to my right had tears streaming down her cheeks. Our eyes met and together we shared a very special “God moment”. The Lord was faithful and answered prayer.

Another superashi day!

March 25, 2018
Aaron Harris, Horn

Our last full day in Japan.  We appropriately started this Palm Sunday worshiping with Salvationists from around Tokyo at the Japan Education Center.  It was a truly uplifting time together.  The staff band shared three items in preliminary that set the tone for the meeting, especially Matt Luhn’s presentation of When I Survey.

Joining in collective worship we accompanied the singing of Come join our Army and Savior like a Shepherd. Bandsman Tom Scheibner shared a word of witness with the congregation reminding them and us that “If you are faithful to God, He will be faithful to you.”

The band played Ray Steadman Allen’s In Quiet Pastures and the chorus presented Bobby McFerrin’s Psalm 23 before Lt. Col. James LaBossiere brought the message.  We were reminded that we needed to stay close the “power source,” our faith power source in Christ.  The meeting came to a close with many people committing themselves in prayer to their work in Japan.

Following the service we headed to the Asakusa area of Tokyo, where we were served a fantastic tempura lunch.  With official duties being completed we were afforded some sightseeing time at the Sensoji Temple area, this was an impressive showing of Japanese culture.  The view of cherry blossoms, ancient temples, and beautiful kimonos were abundant.  This was a market experience the band will not soon forget.  At this point we said goodbye to our friends and hosts Colonels Kenneth and Cheryl Maynor.

After out time at the Asakusa market we headed to a Japanese icon, the Tokyo Sky Tree.  The band traveled 350 meters up the tower and enjoyed a magnificent panoramic view of Tokyo.  This was the last stop of our day and the week, an excellent way to close an exceptional time in Japan.

March 26, 2018
Nathan Power, Trombone

Our final day in Japan started with a leisurely breakfast and some free time to pick up those weird flavored Kit-Kats and green tea. We then boarded the bus and set off for the airport, enjoying a box lunch on our journey.

Once everyone had been checked in we had 4 hours to wander around and get rid of any yen still in our pockets. The airports and in fact any public spaces in Japan are extremely clean and well ordered. People really do abide by the rules here so to see us jay walking around the city was a sight for some of the locals who would never do such a thing!

All the extra time spent in the airports on this trip gave us all a good chance to think and prepare ourselves. As we were delayed by over 6 hours we were given extra time to settle our hearts and get ready for what the Lord was going to do through us in Japan. On the way home we had a similar amount of time to look back and consider how fortunate we were to be a small part of building God’s kingdom through our musical ministry. God really blessed us and we believe that He used us to bless the people that heard our music and who we got a chance to share fellowship with.

As we finally disembarked the plane at Newark we couldn’t help but feel very blessed to have had safe travels to and around Japan and a relatively bump free journey on both our gargantuan flights. God’s promises remain to be true and trustworthy no matter what language you speak.

Domo arigatou gozaimasu.