VOICE LAB / Selections from Mieko Hokama's "Miyara Choho Songbook"

Hatoma-bushi (1921, age 38)

This piece was Choho’s first composition in which he wrote both music and words. With the completion of this piece, he started premiering his compositions at concerts and other public performances. Choho wrote poetry for only a handful of songs. These pieces include: “A Song to my Teacher,” “A Children Group Song,” “Diction Song,” and “Sonoko’s Song.”

His music was acknowledged by Naoaki Fukui of Tokyo Ongaku Gakko (present day Tokyo Geijutsu Daigaku) later to become the first dean of Musashino Ongaku Daigaku4. He became the first Okinawan composer ever to have his work published. His unique composition techniques and poetry inspire the listener to imagine and feel the abundance of nature, serenity, and peace found on Hatoma Island.

Haru Kosame Light Spring Rain (1928, age 45)

The poet’s depiction of the gently falling rain conjures images similar to a Japanese sumi-e painting; simple, hazy, and beautiful. In the middle section of this arrangement, in stark contrast to the first half of the piece, the accompaniment boldly portrays the torrential energy of a spring storm. The last section of the piece regains calm. As the spring rain continues to fall quietly, time moves slowly. The beautiful landscape along the riverbank brings peace to the soul.

 

The original song is written as a two-part chorus, but there is also an arrangement for solo voice with orchestra. The editor, Mieko Hokama, was fortunate in performing this piece at the Choho Miyara’s 130th Birthday Anniversary Music Festival in 2013.

Kuwa no Mi The Mulberry (1932, age 49)

Words by Kumejima born poet, Seiko Miyazato. Miyazato was a student of Choho at the Okinawa-ken Danshi Shihan Gakko.

The island of Kumejima is known for the production of handspun silk. The mulberry tree, a food source for the silkworms, was commonly planted by households in Kumejima.

The lyrical melody depicts the heartwarming scene of children enjoying the mulberry harvest.

In my youth, when the season was right, my friends and I would go to the fields and mountains to pick fruits like guavas, mountain peaches, gumi, and strawberries. We didn’t have to go far to pick mulberries because there were many trees in the school’s fields. When the berries were ripe, the kids who could climb trees would make their way up and climb from branch to branch in search of the berries. They would shake or pick the berries off the branches and drop them below to the girls who would be waiting to catch the berries with their skirts. The teamwork usually led to a great harvest, and the children would stuff their faces with the berries. By the end of the harvest, my skirt’s hem was always dyed in the deep purple of the berry’s juices. This melody conjures these nostalgic memories of my childhood.

Haha Koshi  Longing for Mother (1924, age 41)

This song is based on the sad story of Aji, referred to as “Waka1-Chara,” who died on Kume Island during Okinawa’s Aji period. Seigen Ukumoto, who was originally from Kume Island, wrote a children’s play based on the legend of Waka-Chara while he was at the Okinawa-ken Danshi Shihan Gakko. It is said Choho composed the music for the play.

Because Waka-Chara was a wise and popular young man compared to his half-brothers, his father grew wary of him and started to worry that Waka-Chara would stand in the way of his other son’s claim to the family’s power. His father secretly plotted to exile Waka-Chara and his mother and eventually succeed in exiling his mother to Aguni Island.

Waka-Chara mourned the misfortune of his mother. In the morning and evening, he sat on a hill where he could see Aguni Island and sang this song in her memory. His father's army attacked Waka-Chara, and despite the shock of the assault he was able to fight back the army. However, with the enemy’s continued attacks and betrayal from within his own army, Waka-Chara eventually lost the battle. Defeated and full of resentment towards his father's heartlessness, Waka-Chara committed suicide.

The melody is a motif based on the Okinawan classical melody, “Kawaraya-bushi.” This song was very popular among the female students of the time.

Ashimiji Bushi Sweating Song (1929, age 46)

After World War I, Okinawa suffered a deep economic recession known as the “Sotetsu-jigoku” (Cyad-Hell;The cycad was a poisonous plant people were forced to process and eat to avoid starvation). In 1928, the Okinawa Prefectural Affairs Department Social Affairs Division invited the community to submit “Folk Songs to Encourage Savings,” in which Minoru Nakamoto (The first director of the Gushikami Post Office) did and was successfully chosen. Choho Miyara composed a song for the winning submission. The title was "Ashimiji-bushi." It is a song that preaches the diligence of working, the importance of learning, and community service. The song spread quickly in the community as if to blow away the hardships of the time. The people who left the island to earn a living are said to have sung this song to cheer themselves up. The people so loved the song that many often mistaken it as a Ryukyu folk song. It is also a very little-known fact that Choho Miyara composed it.

Endo no Hana Pea flower (1924, age 41)

This song may be considered the most popular song in Choho’s repertory. It was designated the school anthem in the pre-war era and has been loved by many people for over 100 years. It is a beautiful melody that invites nostalgia. Choho did not compose an accompaniment for the melody, so it has been performed in various arrangements. The poet Eiji Kinjyo wrote famous poems such as this one but is not very well known.