17. Toro nagashi (Lantern-floating)

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Text: 5 short tanka poems from the 13th-century “Ogura Hyakunin Isshu”. English translations (based on those of Clay MacCauley, 1917) are provided, and the piece may be sung in either Japanese or English. (Currently, the Japanese is represented by western Romaji characters.)


In a mountain stream
There is a tangled barrier
Built by busy wind.
Yet it's only maple leaves,
Powerless to flow away.

Like a driven wave,
Dashed by fierce wind on a rock,
So am I: alone,
Crushed and broken on the shore,
Thinking of what used to be.

Over the wide sea,
T’ward its many distant isles,
Sailing to the door.
Those ahead will lead me on;
Heavenly fleet of stars.

Swiftly rushing stream,
Divided by a boulder
In its headlong flow:
Though divided, on it runs,
And at last unites again.

Though we are parted,
If on Mount Inaba's peak
I should hear the sound
Of the pine trees growing there,
I will come back to you.

Musicians: SATB chorus & piano

Length: 7 minutes

Program notes: This piece is dedicated to the victims of the 2011 tsunami, and to their surviving relatives. The first two poems were selected because they serve as metaphors for the disaster, and the last three poems were selected because they serve as metaphors for the summer Obon festival observances that may provide a measure of healing for some.

First performances: The first performance was virtual, by humanoid persona Hatsune Miku (on the soprano part) with virtual backup singers and virtual piano, in a YouTube video crafted by Sadayuki Umezawa.
The first live choral performance, of the middle section, was by the Shining Jazzy Chorus of Beijing, on 19 October 2013.
The first full-length live choral performance was on 20 May 2016, by the Washington International Chorus, under the direction of Joshua Brown.

Another notable performance was by the Oakland City Chorus of Laney College, on 21 May 2017, under direction of John Reagar.

[an Obon offering]

An Obon offering at Okunoin Cemetery, Koyasan.

Obon or Bon is a Buddhist holiday to honor the departed spirits of one's ancestors.

Flickr.com user "Blue Lotus"

WickiMedia Commons 2011

[toro nagashi]

Volunteers place candlelit lanterns into Sasebo River during the annual Obon festival.

U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Jonathan R. Kulp

WickiMedia Commons 2011

Fresh Choral Music Online, by Peter Bird of Los Angeles