Japanese women fulfill dream to march in American corps

by Paul Mordorski, DCW staff

One could call this four-month “vacation” Ikumi and Yui’s most excellent adventure. It has turned out to the fulfillment of a long-time ambition for Ikumi Aoki and Yui Sugiyama, of Mie prefecture, Japan, 2009 members of Minnesota Brass, Inc., as they have marched this entire season with the DCA all-age corps.

They arrived from Japan on April 10 and, after auditioning and receiving moderate instruction on marching style, were somewhat ready to take part in MBI’s first show camp, May 2-3. Ikumi has blended into the contra base section, while Yui fit in nicely as a mellophone.

As Minnesota Brass nears the conclusion of their season, the two have marched in every public performance and are working hard in anticipation of DCA Finals in Rochester, NY.

Background on the adventurists: Ikumi Aoki, 25, and Yui Sugiyama, 24, both started playing piano at the age of three and met in high school when they chose what instruments to play. Ikumi chose the tuba because it was the biggest horn. Ikumi followed the Japanese proverb, “Dai wa sho wo kaneru” which means “big is better than small.”

Yui plays mellophone because she likes the timbre, or the snug, warm tone color of the horn. The women have stayed in touch by playing in the Salty Dogs Drum Corps in Mie for the past five years.

The idea started about one and a half years ago when Yui and Ikumi were having lunch. They then decided to march in an American corps within the next three years. They began research and considered prominent DCA corps like the Hawthorne Caballeros and Reading Buccaneers.

Yui then contacted her friend Ohigashi, who at the time was the director of the Yokohama Inspires. He recommended Minnesota Brass, reporting that they had a very good musical program, played B-flat instruments which is very important to Ikumi and Yui, and Minneapolis would be a safe and friendly city in which to live.

After viewing 2008 MBI on YouTube, the young women were sold and began making plans to march the 2009 season.

Ikumi and Yui flew into Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport and were met by Corps Director Ann Jones, soloist Tom Jones, mellophone section leader John Horst, tuba section leader Jon Benesh and a host of others.

Thanks to the efforts of Teri Davis of Oakwood Properties, the young women were able to secure residence in downtown Minneapolis at Symphony Place, a high-rise apartment complex near Orchestra Hall. Ikumi and Yui reside in a two-bedroom corner unit on the 21st floor.

They decided downtown would work best since they did not have a car and have adapted to taxi, bus and light rail, especially to the Mall of America. They take their horns to Loring Park, near their residence, and practice frequently.

Ikumi and Yui have marched seven competitions, five parades, many exhibitions and standstill concerts, plus countless hours on the rehearsal field. As early as June, both blended in with the other MBI members and were marching and performing the music comparably.

Not only have the Japanese women played in Minnesota Brass, but they also participated in MBI’s mini-corps, Minne-Brass, which plays a really fun repertoire titled “Animated Adventures in Brass,” featuring music cartoons and animated features. They have enjoyed performing this unique repertoire of Johnny Quest, Batman and The Incredibles. It not only provided more music to work on, but gave them an opportunity to play in a smaller, unique venue and to develop new relationships. Minne-Brass will perform at DCA Mini-Corps competition DCA weekend.

One relationship that is beneficial was meeting MBI soloist Roger Grupp and his wife Tina Cavitt, both members of Minne-Brass. Roger is co-director St. Paul City Band and the Capitol City Wind Ensemble. They were willing to drive to Minneapolis and pick up the women for rehearsal in downtown St. Paul on the lower level of City Hall.

This gave Ikumi and Yui the opportunity to play their concert instruments, tuba and trumpet, respectively. They performed at such venues as Como Park Lakeside Pavilion, Bethesda Hospital picnic and Kellogg Park in downtown St. Paul for the classic car show, “Downtown Beat.” One aspect thrust on Ikumi was during the classic March Teddy Bear Picnic, where she received notoriety for her “bear growl” on tuba.

The high-point of the Minnesota Brass, Inc. season to date was competing in the “Parade of Champions,” August 1 in Scranton, PA, where they placed third with a score of 85.925, three points behind the DCA Champion Buccaneers. This provided a unique travel opportunity for Ikumi and Yui as after the show they boarded the Hawthorne Caballeros’ busses and headed for New Jersey. They spent time enjoying the Cabs’ hospitality at their “club house,” got to view the corps’ performances on DVD and toured New York City, with the Statue of Liberty being the highlight.

They also attended Broadway shows, with Yui taking in “The Lion King,” Ikumi enjoying “Chicago” and both attended “Phantom of the Opera.” They then hopped an airplane back to the Twin Cities in time for Wednesday evening MBI rehearsal.

A member of MBI observed that’s it’s like they’re cramming a lifetime of experiences into one summer. The women have kept busy, rehearsing and playing with three different musical groups and traveling and touring throughout the Twin Cities and country. They’ve shopped at Mall of America, enjoyed natural beauty at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, heard the Minnesota Orchestra at Orchestra Hall, went to “Phantom of the Opera” numerous times in downtown Minneapolis, visited Como Park Zoo, Conservatory and Japanese Garden, and are planning to catch a Minnesota Twins Game at the Metrodome. A drum and bugle corps highlight as spectators was traveling to Indianapolis and experiencing DCI Finals.

With all the cultural and national experiences gained, both women list drum and bugle corps experiences as their favorites. “I would say that my first day of show camp, of marching with a large, very good drum and bugle corps, would be my favorite memory,” said Yui. “For me, competing at a high level DCA show in Scranton, PA, in front of a very large crowd would have to be my favorite experience,” said Ikumi.

Both feel it has been the greatest experience in their lives. Would they do it again or recommend it to friends in Japan? “Of Course,” said Yui. “I want to come here to Minnesota and march with Minnesota Brass again!”

“I have already encouraged our marching friends in Japan,” said Ikumi. “This is one of the best places to learn about marching and I want more Japanese people to be able to experience American drum and bugle corps.”