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There is something quite satisfying about getting up in front of hundreds of people and singing your heart out. It’s scary, but I was lucky enough not to have even known it was coming so didn’t have time to freak out. The adrenalin was pumping but all my stresses and frustrations just seemed to ebb away. As soon as the nervousness subsided, I was reluctant to give up the microphone.

Sound like fun? You can do it too.

The Anointed Mass Choir and The Brighten Mass Choir were formed on the 20th of June, 1999. Since then, they have not only provided a setting where people can express themselves through music, but have become such a hot item that even the big names are wanting to use them in their performances and on albums. To list just a few: Chie Ayado, DA-PUMP, Crystal K, Maiyo Okamoto, Star Dust Review and Ayaka Hirahara. Not a single month goes past without at least one of the choir groups performing on T.V., singing at an event or recording backing vocals for a high caliber performer. At this point there are almost 1,000 members across Japan. Branches can be found as far away as Fukuoka.

To keep such an “in demand” commodity functioning smoothly requires the talents of an exceptional leader. No better person can be found than Miyuki Kawahara, the choir’s leader and an accomplished singer in her own right.

I asked Miyuki about her musical background. “My earliest memory of singing was when I was three. My father was a jazz pianist so music was always a part of my life from very early on.”
Obviously, Miyuki’s father had an impact on the direction her talent for music would take. Asked about her favourite artist, she said without any hesitation, “Ray Charles. But I like lots of different artists and tunes; Song For You, by Ray Charles and the Carpenters; You’ve Got a Friend, by Carol King and Aretha Franklin, and Can’t Give Up Now by Mary Mary.”

Aside from being the choir’s leader and music arranger, Miyuki also collaborates and sings with the Hamamatsu Rehearsal Jazz Orchestra, consisting almost exclusively of ex-Yamaha brass band members and considered by many to be the best band of its type in Japan. When asked about her intentions concerning her personal performances with the band, she laughed and said, “I am going to be too busy until next autumn to even think about it.” Now that is busy.

While we were on the topic of schedule, I mentioned that whenever I see her, she is always in a rush to go somewhere, or do something. She explained what a typical day in the life of Miyuki Kawahara is like. “I’m up at 7:00 a.m. and I get to bed at 3:00 a.m. I usually travel to several different places a week to work with the other branches of our choir. I travel to Kochi, Tokyo, Fukuoka, and everywhere in-between. The appointments and events are endless; never mind the multitude of meetings. I rarely have five minutes to myself, let alone a whole day. But I really love what I’m doing, so that makes all the organizing and traveling worthwhile.”

That dedication shines through in the respect and love, her choir member’s have for Miyuki. Having seen the choir perform several times, the cohesion that comes from mutual respect was all too evident. The choir members really take away more than just vocal practice and the chance to perform. Miyuki told me her hopes for each member of the choir: “It really is about them enjoying the music, being satisfied with themselves and their part in the music. But most importantly, it’s about joy.”

Gospel isn’t usually recognized as the most ‘Japanese’ of genres. Intrigued by the apparent lack of Japanese Gospel, I asked whether Miyuki had a special plan for the genre, in Japan. Miyuki explained that, “Generally, gospel music is associated with Christianity throughout the world. However, in Japan, Christianity is only one religion in a mix of many. Elsewhere, the only gospel songs you will find are about praising god. For our choir, of course we sing the traditional gospel songs, but we also lend the gospel sound to songs not traditionally seen as gospel. My hope is to create a new genre of music; Japanese gospel.”

So how can you become a part of this new genre of music? Currently there are only a small number of non-Japanese members, but Miyuki is hoping to add an international section to her choir. You don’t even need to be a great singer. As Miyuki said, “Music is many colors. Even someone who doesn’t have the greatest voice can play an important part in the creation of a multilayered sound.”

I would urge all of you to give it a try at least once. I would even go so far as to say, the gratification you will feel afterward far exceeds the euphoria that comes from a good work out.

For all enquires please send an email to: brighten@iris.eonet.ne.jp or you can check their website (Japanese) www.anointed.jp for more info.

If the prospect of being the only English speaker in the room has you a bit ancy, you need not worry. Miyuki can speak English as can some of the other choir members.

You’ll definitely be looked after.