Brazilian immigrants have it hard in Japan. Could music help?

Nice story on music as a means of recognition and integration:

The three music teachers — armed with a violin, a guitar and a drum — are ready for class. But the elementary school students jump around the room, screaming and laughing.

“Quiet! Stand up straight!” one teacher shouts.

“OK,” another says. “Who remembers this song? Leticia — silence! Kenji, come on, we’re gonna make music.”

The scene plays out at a school here in Tokyo’s industrial hinterland, but all the chatter is in Portuguese. The students and teachers are Brazilian, and the music includes samba and bossa nova.

The class is part of a project called “Music Without Borders,” the brainchild of Rafael Kinoshita, a 35-year-old Brazilian who endured a difficult childhood here as an outsider and believes music can help spare his students from that kind of distress.

Japan has long considered itself the unique homeland of a single race: the Japanese. But when the economy faced an industrial labor shortage about 30 years ago, officials had no choice but to bring in foreign workers.

In 1990, the government started offering visas to descendants of Japanese immigrants to South America. Today, the more than 200,000 Brazilians living in Japan are part of a foreign community, including Koreans and Chinese, that makes up 2% of Japan’s population of 127 million. Immigration is set to increase under an expanded migrant worker program launched in April.

Kinoshita, whose paternal grandfather was Japanese, was 6 when his family arrived in 1991 and settled in Oizumi, a factory town 90 minutes from Tokyo. His parents worked in the factories, and he enrolled in Japanese public school.

It wasn’t easy.

“Even the teachers discriminated against us,” Kinoshita recalled. “If you made a mistake, the teacher would say right in the middle of the class, ‘Foreigners just don’t understand, do they?’”

Kinoshita learned Japanese within months of arriving, started karate when he was 8. But all he could think was: This is not really my country.

At 12, he discovered the violin when his family church, Megumi Baptist, started a musical group. He improved quickly and at 14 became the first Brazilian to join a local Japanese youth orchestra.

Still, like most Brazilians in Japan, he remained on the margins of society.

Immigrants are not granted Japanese citizenship even if born here, and children can face bullying in school. Brazilian schools have spread to relieve the pressure, but career opportunities remain limited for those without Japanese pedigree or native-level language skills.

Kinoshita quit school at 15 and went to work at Sanyo Electric’s sprawling plant in Oizumi. He kept playing violin at church on Sundays and took private lessons.

In time, he concluded that factory work in Japan was a dead end.

“All you have to do is be there, hammer some boxes, and you go home,” he said. “But what is it really? I’m selling my body by the hour, and I’m not imagining anything good for myself.”

In 2008, he decided to use his musical skills to show Brazilian children that life held better possibilities than making cars or air conditioners for a living. He started teaching violin in Oizumi, and things grew from there.

He now has 180 students, all from Brazilian immigrant enclaves scattered across three prefectures surrounding Tokyo.

On a Monday in July, Kinoshita is teaching at Escola Opcao, a cluster of single-story buildings wedged among rice fields along a potholed gravel road in Joso.

A green map of Brazil covers the wall of the dining room. In one classroom, a paint-splattered air conditioner blows through broken vents, and corkboard conceals a hole in the concrete wall.

The day starts with younger students, who work on rhythm and singing. Cristiano Petagna, the teacher with the guitar, leads the session. Kinoshita pitches in with violin.

After a mix of children’s tunes and traditional Brazilian songs, the morning crescendos to a rousing rendition of Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” with Freddie Mercury’s voice blaring from a Bluetooth speaker while the kids provide percussion by banging rhythm sticks on the tile floor.

Then the teachers split up. Petagna takes the guitar students. Kinoshita and a third teacher, Vitor Novak, a 20-year-old Brazilian born in Japan, take the violin students to another classroom.

Kinoshita often lightens his classes with slapstick. He grabs his head and staggers in mock surprise when students make mistakes. He dances around the classroom to the music, swinging his hips and rubbing his belly, making the children laugh.

He peppers lessons with snippets of encouragement: “Why are you playing? To get better!” and “It’s good to play music that’s difficult. Easy is boring, right?”

Today, he pumps up the confidence of his middle-school violinists for a public concert in September.

“You’re gonna be famous,” he tells them. “Japanese reporters will be taking photos, saying, ‘Oh, they’re so cute!’” The kids laugh.

The group warms up with the scales, moves to “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” then takes on the Brazilian standard “Asa Branca,” a favorite at Kinoshita’s concerts.

He hopes one day to attract Japanese students and create a bicultural orchestra to foster understanding between immigrants and their hosts.

“Discrimination is everywhere. Why? Because people don’t communicate. They don’t make contact,” he says. “I want to let these children dream, and forget this thinking that nothing but the factory can bring you money.”

But money is one of Kinoshita’s biggest problems.

His fees are modest — between $18 and $36 for a month of lessons — and the low wages he can pay assistants make it hard to retain help. In the fall, Novak quit for a better-paying construction job.

Kinoshita works nights doing clerical work and giving Breathalyzer tests to drivers at a 24-hour delivery company. The round-the-clock grind — and the fast food he eats on the go — has taken a toll on his health. The married father of a 2-year-old son is already on cholesterol drugs. By year’s end, he plans to quit his night job.

“I have no choice. I need to sleep,” he said. “I can’t die — I have to take care of my family.”

That means he’ll have to raise more money to keep the project alive. He’s planning a major push this month to win over skeptical sponsors and widen the scope of the program.

He said he’s thought about quitting. No one would blame him if he closed up shop and withdrew to a factory, where many in Japan think he belongs.

But that urge vanishes when he is teaching.

In the final session of the day at Escola Opcao, he and Petagna lead kindergartners in an original song featuring the sounds of different animals.

“Which animal has a sharp voice?” Petagna asks the kids, ages 4 to 6.

“Birds!” they scream.

“And what does a lion do?” he sings.

The children respond with a roar.

At the end of the session, Kinoshita leads dozens of children in a raucous conga line around the common room, waving a speaker over his head.

“Do the samba!” he shouts. “Do the samba!”

Source: Brazilian immigrants have it hard in Japan. Could music help?

When public prejudice can serve the greater good: Saunders

Usual interesting and sensible commentary by Doug Saunders on how the request from an exemption from music classes led to a good result and defence of a neutral and inclusive space where all can live together:

Many religious concessions are uncontroversial. Few Canadians object to cafeterias offering non-pork options for observant Jews and Muslims. After a period of debate, most people have come to accept public officials wearing Christian crosses, Jewish yarmulkes, Islamic head coverings or Sikh turbans while on duty. These things may offend logic and aesthetics, but they do no harm and don’t interfere with anyone else’s life.

But some concessions to the religious aren’t benign or harmless. When spirituality infringes on the working of the legal, educational or medical systems, we have a problem – even if we don’t notice at first.

Most shockingly, Canadian provinces allow religious exemptions to the requirement that children be vaccinated in order to attend school.

These exemptions, generally granted to people who claim to be members of ascetic Christian or Jewish denominations, are far, far more dangerous than a pass from music class.

Mr. Dasu is harming only the minds of his children (and mortifying most Canadians of Muslim faith). But if even 10 per cent of a community’s children escape vaccination, they endanger the lives of every child in their city, including those who are vaccinated. This is not a reasonable accommodation.

Groups of Christians and Muslims in Ontario have spent the past year trying to withdraw or exempt their kids from public schools because they’ve come to believe that the province’s rather anodyne reproductive-health curriculum is contradictory to their faith. As harmful as this is to their kids, the province can do little to complain because in the 1980s it granted Canada’s most extensive religious concession by allowing Roman Catholics to withdraw their children from public school entirely and self-segregate with a fully taxpayer-funded religious school system.

It’s unfortunate that people only began to notice these incursions when Salafi Muslims began requesting them. But it’s one instance where public prejudice can serve the greater good.

We saw a great example of this in Ontario’s 2005 decision on quasi-judicial tribunals. These tribunals, known as “faith-based arbitration,” had been created in the early 1990s to reduce the cost and workload of courts by letting churches and synagogues rule on family-law and property disputes. Their rulings, and rules, were often contradictory to Canadian values and laws. But people only began to notice in 2003, when mosques wanted in on the action: Suddenly, those tribunals, applying nearly identical religious laws became known as “sharia courts.”

Ontario responded wisely, by stripping all faith-based tribunals of legal authority. It was a rare moment when the ugly voices of Islamophobia helped secure a neutral, secular public sphere in which people of all faiths and backgrounds can live together. If we’re lucky, Mr. Dasu’s musical tastes will give us another.

Source: When public prejudice can serve the greater good – The Globe and Mail

Mandatory music classes hit a bad note with some Muslim parents

Reasonable accommodation is based on compromise. Not being open to compromise – the TDSB proposed a number of compromises that respected and acknowledged the concerns but was met by parents who rejected any form of compromise, another form of radicalization and extremism, without any flexibility.

And while I won’t enter into any religious debates regarding Islam and music, the Islamic societies I have lived in or visited in the Mid-East all have a rich musical tradition. And as Zarqa Nawaz notes in her Globe op-ed, that interest and richness is part of Canadian Muslims too (To the music-banning Muslim father: Rejecting compromise is extremism: Zarqa Nawaz):

When music class begins this week at Toronto’s Donwood Park elementary school, Mohammad Nouman Dasu will send a family member to collect his three young children. They will go home for an hour rather than sing and play instruments – a mandatory part of the Ontario curriculum he believes violates his Muslim faith.

The Scarborough school and the Toronto District School Board originally had offered an accommodation – suggesting students could just clap their hands in place of playing instruments or listen to acapella versions of O Canada – but not a full exemption from the class.

After a bitter three-year fight, however, Mr. Dasu felt he had no other option but to bring his kids home.

 According to documents obtained by The Globe and Mail, some parents insist they cannot allow their children to be in the same room where musical instruments are being played. Mr. Dasu, a Koran teacher who sometimes leads prayers at Scarborough’s Jame Abu Bakr Siddique mosque, says he has led the fight on behalf of parents. He has consulted with national Islamic bodies, and requested a letter from the leader of his mosque.

“We here believe that music is haram [forbidden]. We can neither listen to it, nor can we play a role in it,” said the mosque’s imam, Kasim Ingar.

Conceding that Muslims have to adjust when they send their kids to public school, he suggested that some matters, such as teaching music, are beyond debate.

“We do not compromise with anyone on the clear-cut orders and principles conveyed by the Prophet,” said Mr. Ingar, who also leads the Scarborough Muslim Association.

Within Islam, the question of whether Muslims are banned from music is divisive and nuanced. Similar to questions about whether women should wear veils, there is no consensus on the issue.

But Ontario’s primary-school curriculum is unambiguous on music class: It must be taught, without exception, to all primary-school-aged children. Officials at the TDSB say they can only bend the rules to accommodate religious students, but not exempt them.

The Globe used freedom of information laws to access TDSB e-mails on how the issue evolved at Donwood Park, where it first surfaced in 2013.

The released records redact the names of students for privacy reasons, and very few families appear to have been adamant over pulling children from music classes. Early internal e-mails show administrators wanted to find “some common ground.”

But Mr. Dasu, who says he represents many of the parents at the school concerned about the issue, pushed for exclusion for his own children by invoking the prospect of litigation and the religious freedoms clause of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In response, school administrators pitched an array of potential compromises. Records show one idea was to have the children “research the role of nashid” – or the Islamic tradition of oral music. Another was to have the children clap out quarter notes, half notes and full notes.

“Your children will not be required to play a musical instrument or sing in their music class,” read a formal note to at least one family.

The records show that as the standoff at Donwood Park lingered, TDSB officials prepared a media plan and sought legal advice from eminent lawyers, including Eric Roher of Borden Ladner Gervais.

They do not make clear how the situation was dealt with. But during the 2014 school year, two requests for music exemptions were made. When school officials struggled again to suggest accommodations, they were presented with a “Petition for Accommodation of Religious Beliefs of Muslim Students” signed by more than 130 parents, initiated by Mr. Dasu.

Mr. Dasu says he proposed alternative arrangements for his own children, which were rejected by the vice-principal, the superintendent, and a trustee of the school board, after which he decided to take them out of school for the duration of music and drama class.

By the spring of 2015, an interest group known as the National Council of Canadian Muslims was prodded by some parents to intercede further. After meeting with Donwood Park administrators, an NCCM spokeswoman referred them to a guide it has created for Canadian teachers. “Opinion regarding the place of music varies among different Muslim countries,” it says. But, it adds, “it is important for the school to discuss reasonable accommodations with the parents or guardians and the students themselves.”

TDSB officials wouldn’t discuss particular cases, but insist that religious students cannot cut themselves out of music class. “As per the Education Act, we can’t exempt students from the curriculum. But what we do is accommodate,” said John Chasty, a TDSB superintendent of education.

The TDSB says it does not keep track of the number of students who seek accommodations or exemptions. But Mr. Chasty believes the issue will come up there again in the coming school year.

Mr. Dasu has since moved to a different neighbourhood nearby, and is planning to transfer his children to a new public school. He says he will take up the fight again.

“My kids cannot participate in music or drama, that’s for sure. Let them sit in a library to read, or in an office, or let them volunteer around the school during that time, that’s all okay. We’re flexible.”

Source: Mandatory music classes hit a bad note with some Muslim parents – The Globe and Mail

To the music-banning Muslim father: Rejecting compromise is extremism: Zarqa Nawaz

Nawaz gets it right:

The school did its best to accommodate the father’s requests by offering alternatives to his children such as not playing instruments and writing a paper on Islam’s long history of religious-inspired music. But those compromises were rejected. Accommodation has to be a two-way street for it to work. To continually reject a reasonable compromise is also a form of extremism.

If a parent feels this strongly about an issue, they have two options: find a religious private school or home school. But to ask a public institution to create an environment that is micro-managed to appeal to every minute religious request is unreasonable. If you take the anti-music logic to the extreme, how can that parent buy groceries in stores where music is playing, eat in a restaurant or even go up an elevator in which many non-Muslims could get behind a music ban for the sake of some peace and quiet?

Muslims believe that Islam takes the middle road when it comes to dealing with issues. We are to be neither extreme in overindulgence or rejection.

The school board offered reasonable solutions and a middle way, which was very Muslim of them, but they were rejected. So if you’re going to be extreme in your response, then typically what happens is that people find enclaves to live their lives separately with their own set of rules. The most infamous example of this is the community of Mormons in Bountiful, B.C., where a sect of Christians believe that polygamy and child marriage is part of its belief system. Because these practices contravene the Canadian Criminal Code, the community has opted to separate itself from the larger majority to minimize their dealings with law enforcement. Muslims have chosen to not live in separate enclaves.

We have chosen to integrate and be part of the majority culture where we contribute and enrich the communities we belong to.

We have Muslim women and men creating art in the form of song, poetry, dance and music. Faith and fun don’t have to be mutually exclusive. You can have your cake and eat it while a Muslim screeches in a microphone near you.

Source: To the music-banning Muslim father: Rejecting compromise is extremism – The Globe and Mail

Glenn Gould In Rapture : Krulwich Wonders… : NPR

For fans of Glenn Gould (I do a lot of my writing listening to him), a great little article and video of him at work (3 minutes):

Whats going on here, I can only guess, but here’s what you’re about to see: In the video below, the great musician Glenn Gould, supreme interpreter of Bach, is sitting at his living room piano on a low, low chair, his nose close to the keys. He’s at his Canadian country house in his bathrobe.

Through the window, you catch snatches of his back yard. It’s a windy day and he’s got a coffee cup sitting on the piano top. He’s working on a Bach partita, not just playing it, but singing along in his swinging baritone. As he plays, he gets so totally, totally lost in the music that suddenly 1:57 from the top, smack in the middle of a passage, with no warning, for no apparent reason, his left hand flips up, touches his head; he stands up, and walks in what looks like a trance to the window. Theres an eerie silence. Then, in the quiet, you hear the Bach leaking out of him. He’s still playing it, but in his head, he’s scatting the beats. Then he turns, wanders back, sits down, and his fingers pick up right where his voice left off, but now with new energy, like hes found a switch and switched it.

Glenn Gould In Rapture : Krulwich Wonders… : NPR.