Chuya 中也


I heard the name Nakahara Chuya for the first time in 2021. One of the classes I teach at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (TUFS) is team-taught with a department colleague, Professor Arakawa Yohey. There are a few such classes in our department, and the idea is that two professors discuss various topics from the perspectives of their different disciplinary backgrounds. One of the topics Arakawa-sensei chose was Nakahara Chuya’s poem Natsu no Umi (The Ocean in Summer). He analyzed the use of metaphor in the poem, and I discussed it from the perspective of tourism studies.

Nakahara Chuya (1907-1937)

Chuya was a student at Tokyo School of Foreign Languages (the predecessor of TUFS), where he studied French. Being an alumnus of the place where I work immediately created a connection for me. Furthermore, in his home city of Yamaguchi there is the Nakahara Chuya Memorial Museum. This is a site of literary tourism, which connects to my tourism research. He has also been popularized recently by the anime series Bungo Stray Dogs. Now we are clearly into the realm of tourism induced by pop culture, or “contents tourism” (if the term is unfamiliar, an explanation is here)!

Reading the poem in preparation for class, I immediately felt that it was ideal as lyrics for a song. The ocean setting suggests an accompaniment that rises and falls like the waves. In each stanza the mood shifts slightly, so each verse can have a different atmosphere. I started gathering ideas, and after I had the basic motifs the song quickly wrote itself.

This is my first attempt at writing a piece with lyrics in Japanese. The lyrics seemed to pull me towards a more Japanese sound than I usually have in my compositions. And given that Chuya majored in French, I also felt drawn to the style of a chanson. Another new thing that I am trying with this piece is not to specify any dynamics. I think there are various dynamic ranges in which the piece can be interpreted, and I will leave it up to the performers to experiment.

The first performance is scheduled to take place on 29 July at a salon concert given by Kaku Toru. It is truly an honour for the piece to be given its first public performance by one of Japan’s finest baritones. The salon concert also features compositions by his regular accompanist Matsuoka Asahi, who is something of a rarity in the classical music world in that he is a genuine composer-performer. I said years ago that I believe composer-performers are the heart and soul of classical music, so this is also truly an honour. His works are beautifully crafted and very accessible, for example do check out Suizokukan (Aquarium) on the album Moment (also on streaming services) …

Kaku Toru, Matsuoka Asahi, me, and violinist Mizutani Yuri (who plays in Summer Songs) at our rehearsal on 8 July

Hearing The Ocean in Summer for the first time at our rehearsal on 8 July was a total treat (the programme also includes Four Songs of Love and Loss and Summer Songs). Of course, concerts are a thrill, but behind the scenes there is the pleasure of getting to know the musicians and discussing what interpretation works best. We found a couple of little mistakes in the sheet music … the first play-through always doubles up as proof-reading prior to publication. But the piece sounds just as I hoped it would. I can’t wait for 29 July!

8 July 2024