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In a First, La Sierra University Chamber Singers Tour Japan


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By Darla Tucker/La Sierra University

The La Sierra University Chamber Singers perform in Mielparque Concert Hall in Osaka, Japan, during their first international tour.
Photo provided by La Sierra University


What began as a conversation with a music distribution executive last year morphed into a whirlwind, two-week tour of Japan this summer for the La Sierra University (LSU) Chamber Singers.

The tour is the group’s first international performance expedition. It took place from June 30 to July 9. Together with La Sierra string musicians and other singers who joined the musical journey, the chamber singers gave numerous concerts in five cities across Japan. Ariel Quintana, chamber singers director and La Sierra’s director of choral studies, organized the tour and conducted performances. Kimo Smith, director of keyboard and collaborative studies, served as pianist and performed organ solo works.

The tour included a brief stop in Sendai, a sister city of La Sierra’s hometown of Riverside, California. The string musicians, La Sierra pianist Julian Jensen, chamber singers tenor Anthony Leon, and Smith participated in a "Sister Cities Friendship Concert" at a local high school in Sendai.

In Sendai, the La Sierra musicians’ performance at Tokiwagi Gakuen High School not only forged bonds of music and friendship with their peers and audience, but helped strengthen ties with the city of Riverside, La Sierra’s home and Sendai’s "sister city."

Sister Cities International is a nonprofit founded in 1956 by President Dwight Eisenhower as a means of uniting citizens around the world toward promoting peace. Riverside and Sendai have been linked through Sister Cities since 1957. Yoko Boucher, chair of the Sister City Sendai Committee of Riverside’s International Relations Council along with a contingent from Sendai, met the La Sierra group at a Sendai train station on July 5 with a large welcome sign. 

 La Sierra’s musicians are greeted with a welcome sign upon arrival at
 Sendai, a Riverside sister city, on July 5.
 Photo provided by La Sierra University


Boucher, together with high school owner and principal, Chihiro Matsura, coordinated the friendship concert at the high school which consisted of separate and joint performances by Tokiwagi and La Sierra students in the school’s Strauss Hall. The concert concluded with a combined group performance of “Kojo no Tsuki,” a traditional Japanese song that describes the moon shining on Sendai’s Aoba castle ruins. Several Sendai officials attended including the arts council president, and Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey sent a message that Smith read and Boucher interpreted. The evening concluded with an elaborate reception.

“This concert was one of the most memorable in the sister city exchange program,” said Boucher. “The best part was exchanging friendship between young musicians. It was great to see both Tokiwagi Gakuen High School and LSU students were having fun together. This is the peace making” advocated by the Sister Cities program, she said. 

“It was a wonderful time of interacting with the Japanese students who treated our musicians like rock stars, taking selfies with them and asking for autographs,” said Smith, who performed a set of piano variations on “Kojo no Tsuki” during the concert. “All of us who were able to be a part of this experience regard this as not only one of the highest points of the tour, but as one that we will remember and cherish for the rest of our lives.”

For many of the musicians the journey proved life-changing, and by many accounts, most of their audiences felt the same way, particularly when the group performed the traditional Japanese children’s song, “Furusato.” Specially arranged by Quintana for the tour, the singers stood in a circle around their audiences and performed the piece in unannounced finales in churches, hospitals, schools, and civic auditoriums.

“It brought tears to our eyes hear the people singing along with us because it just felt so great to know we were making the people feel happy,” said La Sierra music major and alto Michaela Reid, describing one of her favorite moments performing “Furusato” at a hospital in the city of Kobe.

“All the faces immediately had smiles of disbelief,” added singer Sandra Fermin. “I think they couldn’t believe that an American choir took the time to memorize and sing a tune that was close to their hearts. This piece united us in a way that cannot be described but through the harmonies in our voices,” she said. “Truly we were blessed, and I thank God for that.”

Quintana is an avid composer and arranger whose works have been performed at the Hollywood Bowl, Walt Disney Concert Hall, and New York’s Avery Fisher Hall. His music has been published by a number of companies and distributed for nine years by PanaMusica based in Kyoto. Quintana met a PanaMusica vice president during a conference last year in Salt Lake City, Utah, and from that meeting sprang the conversations leading to this summer’s Japan tour.

For Quintana, the tour’s musical high points included festivals in Tokyo and Kyoto where the Chamber Singers joined forces with Japanese choirs to perform his composition, “Mass From Two Worlds,” and his arrangement of “Furusato.” “They were very, very well trained. It was like we’d been singing together for years. That was quite special,” Quintana said.

The La Sierra University Chamber Singers perform at the SDA Kofudai Saniku Elementary School in Japan on July 4.
Photo by Yoshikazu Nemoto


Luke Hagelgantz, a singer and recent high school graduate of Mesa Grande Academy in Calimesa was invited to tour Japan with the La Sierra musicians. “[This] has been the best experience of my life so far,” he wrote in a reflection about the trip. “It was my first time traveling outside of North America. Seeing the cool things like temples, castles, and palaces really made my eyes shine of excitement, they were so beautiful and well built. I would love to go back one day.”

Back home in the United States, family members and friends of the musicians followed the tour through social media.

“I spoke with Jacob earlier today,” Myrna Benetiz wrote in a note to Quintana. She is a parent of violinist and recent La Sierra graduate Jacob Benetiz, who participated in the tour. “It was almost like I was talking with a different kid who I didn’t know. My son was touched on this trip. And as I have been following your travels on Facebook, I see that this was not just a music tour to another country. This was an event that touched the hearts of many, many people. I truly believe that God uses you to show others about Him.”

— This article orginally appeared on the La Sierra Univeristy website.

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