Evacuees comforted by flutist’s soothing melodies

by Junko Horiuchi

Kyodo News

ISHINOMAKI — Cathartic flute melodies have been soothing the nerves of evacuees in the earthquake-hit cities of Sendai and Ishinomaki and the town of Onagawa in Miyagi Prefecture this week, during a series of charity concerts given by a popular South Korean musician at evacuation centers.

“The flute purified my heart,” said Shozo Aoki, 62, who was listening to every note during the performance by Song Solnamoo to an audience of around 80 at a shelter in the Mangokuura Junior High School gymnasium on Wednesday, the final day of Song’s three-day charity tour.

“It was great when the Japanese Self-Defense Forces set up a makeshift bathtub here. But today’s event is even greater. It encouraged me to go on living,” Aoki said.

Aoki is now staying at the shelter with his 56-year-old wife, Kimiko. His wife was the breadwinner prior to the catastrophic March 11 earthquake and ensuing tsunami, but the soy sauce firm where she was employed was heavily damaged in the disaster and returning to work is far off. Their house was also damaged and flooded, and cleaning it up will take a long time.

Kimiko, after listening to the four pieces played by 34-year-old Song, said, “Out of all the supplies we have been given, the concert was the best. I could relax for the first time since the earthquake.”

Song, who had performed in Sendai as recently as January, decided at once to go to the city to give charity performances after watching TV footage showing Sendai Airport being hit by the tsunami. His tour takes him to a total of 15 evacuation centers.

Song said he was shocked to see the beautiful places he knew looking so different after the disaster.

“This is the only thing I can do, so I came here,” Song said, referring to his performances. They included one of the theme songs from the popular South Korean drama “Yi San,” a tune written by Song himself, who is also a composer. The drama was aired in Japan recently and many in the audience said they were familiar with the melody from the TV.

“I have been playing the flute for over 25 years and these three days are the most wonderful time I have spent in my whole life as a musician,” Song said. A graduate of the Juilliard School in New York, Song has previously performed at New York’s Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall.

Song said the evacuation centers “could be the best place to spend time as a musician” since the evacuees are the people most in need of music, in order to recover emotionally from the disaster. He said he came to Japan despite opposition from his manager and sponsor, who were concerned about radiation leaks from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

“I suggest many other musicians, especially Japanese, and singers come here and give charity concerts,” he said.

During the concert, Song called on members of the audience to hold hands with the people sitting next to them and also to clap hands in rhythm with the music. The audience enthusiastically followed his directions.

“Those who have lost homes and families are now living together under one roof. . . . By coming together, you can overcome this disaster,” Song told the audience.

After listening to Song’s performance, Yoko Chiba, 46, remembered playing the flute more than 35 years ago in elementary school. She also recalled the days when her children — Kasumi, 12, and Takanori, 11 — played the trombone and saxophone, respectively.

Chiba’s husband lives on the second floor of their house near the shelter. The house’s first floor was flooded and it is still dangerous for the whole family to live there, Chiba said.

She said events such as Song’s concert will help lift the spirits of the evacuees as they face prolonged life in the shelters.

“It was a beautiful sound. It would be fun if events such as this are held more often here. It would also make the children happy,” said Chiba.

Song Solnamoo’s YouTube channel is at www.youtube.com/user/solnamoo.