The Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta Visits Boston

The Tohoku disaster, memorialized by its date “3/11,” proved to be one of the most trying times in Japanese history. The earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disasters that occurred on March 11, 2011 devastated the country, especially those living in Fukushima.

With the perseverance so essential to Japanese culture, the citizens of Fukushima refused to have their spirits broken in the aftermath of the devastation. From the disaster came the rise of the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta. The Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta is composed of young Japanese musicians from middle schools in Fukushima City. These students found solace and healing in the creation of music. With great passion, they practiced their instruments for months until achieving perfection. Their music has proved to be more than pleasant rhythms: it is a symbol of strength and hope.

The Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta took their talents to Boston Symphony Hall recently in an event made possible by the the TOMODACHI Initiative of the U.S.-Japan Council, Japan Society of Boston, Keys of Change, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, and the Consulate General of Japan in Boston. 

The performance began with a videoclip of the Japanese students visiting Boston for the first time. Images flickered across the screen of the students excitedly exploring the city of Boston and learning about its history. Being a part of the Sinfonietta has allowed the youth to visit places they had never been to before, and see the world while sharpening their craft.

Speeches of reflection and gratitude were given before the performance, setting the mood for what would be a night full of emotional energy. Speakers included Panos Karan, founder of the non-profit organization Keys Of Change that works to bring music to those living in difficult circumstances across the globe.

All eyes followed the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta as they took the stage. Brilliant notes filled every inch of Symphony Hall, the music as lively as the spirits of those creating it. It was hard to believe that the larger-than-life sounds being heard were coming from the children on stage. The beautiful and moving music played as a testament to how far these youth had come since the Tohoku disaster.

For some, the night ended with tears. For most, the night ended in roaring applause and standing ovation. For all, it ended with hope.

Only this was not an ending – this was a beginning. The beginning of the triumph of the survivors of 3/11, their energy channeled into profound music being played across the world.

“You were Boston Strong – now we are Japan Strong!”

Local Music, Rising Talent: The Red Room

In the Boston area and want to see up and coming talent? Look no further than the Red Room. The Red Room is a part of Cafe 939, owned by Berklee College of Music. Berklee is home to some of the world’s greatest young musicians. Notable names that got their start at Berklee include John Mayer, Esperanza Spalding, and Annie Clark. The Red Room is a great place to support local talent and catch a glimpse of artists who will help mold the future of music.

Bands Jive McFly, Cherry Mellow, and ZILLA recently took the stage at the Red Room. The concert awarded listeners a multitude of sounds, from the funk vibes of Jive McFly to the aggressive rock notes of Cherry Mellow to the soulful jazz of ZILLA. The variety of genres made for an energetic live show that kept audiences guessing what was next. It was a unique combination that made for a memorable night. Undeniable was the talent of the young musicians who came from different backgrounds and homelands to make their mark on the Boston music scene.

Check out footage of the concert above, and click here to see which bands will be making their rounds next at Cafe 939 (many of the shows are free).

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TOMODACHI Inouye Scholars Take On Japan

23 students from Emerson College were selected to attend a ten-day trip to Japan as TOMODACHI Inouye Scholars. The fellowship is in the name of Daniel Inouye, the first Japanese-American serving Senator who committed himself to strengthening ties between the United States and Japan. The program is part of the larger Government of Japan’s KAKEHASHI Project, which seeks to promote deeper understanding among Japanese and Americans as well as inspire future leaders and encourage participants to take on active roles at the global level.

Students traveled to Tokyo, Kyoto, and Shiga to learn about Japanese culture. They were also able to tour government buildings and meet with Japanese officials. Highlights included staying with a local Japanese family in a Minshuku, using chopsticks and eating traditional Japanese cuisine, visiting numerous Shinto and Buddhist shrines, practicing speaking Japanese, creating works of calligraphy, meeting students at a local university, and learning more about the life of Senator Daniel Inouye.

See video below.

Backroads Boston: The Hidden History of Beacon Hill

Remnants of Boston’s History: A Walking Tour of Beacon Hill
Gas lamps lining the streets. Brass knockers on tall wooden doors. Boot scrapers perched outside townhouses. You may think this is a backdrop for Colonial times, but the year is 2016. This is Beacon Hill, Boston.

Beacon Hill is a certified U.S. National Historic Landmark District, with its famous brownstones dating back to the early nineteenth century. What was once grazing land for cows now stands as the homes of the wealthy and elite. They line the northern border of the present-day Boston Common.

Beacon Hill isknown as Boston’s most historic neighborhood, yet the best glimpses into the history it offers often go overlooked. It is the details, closely observed, that truly show Beacon Hill as a portal to the past.

So come along.

You can use the map below as a guide in navigating some of the historic remnants of Beacon Hill. Click each pin for more information on a site. Read under for more details and visuals on these lesser-known but important spots.

Bootscrapers – A Walk Down Manure Lane

West Cedar Street, Chestnut Street

You probably won’t notice them at first, but once you see them, they are impossible to ignore – the little iron fixtures along West Cedar and Chestnut. They come in quirky shapes and sizes, and stand along the entryways of old brownstones. They’re called bootscrapers, and they remind us of a time before automobiles. These bootscrapers were once used to scrape off dirt from peoples’ feet before entering homes. Before cars, horses were the way of transport – and they didn’t come without manure. Since no one wants to drag pieces of horse poo into a clean house, these bootscrapers helped resolve that issue. Some have lost a leg, but many still stand unharmed today.

 Sunflower Castle – An Artist’s Haven

130 Mount Vernon St.

When people think of Boston’s art scene, their minds gravitate toward the South End. But Beacon Hill was the center of a flourishing art scene during the 1800’s and early 1900’s. This red and yellow house off of busy Charles Street stands as a symbol of Beacon Hill’s role in the developing art world. It was once home to Gertrude Beals, a watercolor artist who used the third floor of the house as her painting studio. The nickname “Sunflower Castle” comes from the colorful carving of a sunflower on the exterior. This house can be yours today for a measly $4.6 million.

Vilna Shul – Original Prayer House of Eastern European Immigrants

18 Phillips St.

Aside from being breathtakingly beautiful, this synagogue is steeped in rich history. The Vilna Shul was built in 1919 by Jewish immigrants who came over from Vilna, Lithuania. The Shul came very close to being torn down more than once, but it still stands today. When paint covering the walls was peeled back in the building’s main room, a traditional decorative mural was revealed. It turns out these colorful interior murals are some of the only examples of pre-war Jewish mural art in the United States.

Charles Street Meeting House – Church of Change

70 Charles St.

It’s easy to overlook the Meeting House’s significance as you sip a latte and nibble a croissant in the cafe that now inhabits it, but the history of the Charles Street Meeting House is not to be forgotten. Built in 1807, the building was home to three different church congregations. Under its third owners, it served as a hotspot for abolitionist activity. Famous abolitionists who spoke here include Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman. Today it stands among trendy clothing stores and business offices, but the legacy of the Charles Street Meeting House lives on as it is an official National Historic Site and part of Boston’s Black Heritage Trail.

Louisburg Square – Home to Little Women

10 Louisburg Square

Louisburg Square is arguably the most elite nook of Beacon Hill. Gorgeous brownstones circle a strip of greenery, and cobblestones serve as an alternative to pavement. Many flock to the Square for photos and a hopeful glimpse of Secretary of State John Kerry (who lives at No.19), but few recognize the history over at No. 10. House No. 10 in Louisburg Square was the final dwelling of Louisa May Alcott, author of the classic Bildungsroman novel, “Little Women.” The best-selling author moved to No. 10 in 1885 and lived here with her father,  transcendentalist Bronson Alcott.

African Meeting House – Oldest Black Church in the USA

8 Smith Court

Built in 1806, the African Meeting House was no stranger to the voices of leaders who changed the course of history. Abolitionists who led monumental movements came and spoke here, ranging from William Lloyd Garrison to Maria Stewart. Today, it remains the oldest standing black church in the United States and houses the Museum of African American History.

Dwelling of Former Mayor – The Last Carriage House

45 Beacon St.

Overlooking the Boston Common at 45 Beacon is a Federal style mansion that was once home toHarrison Gray Otis. Otis served as Boston’s third mayor from 1829 to 1832, and was also elected as Massachusetts State senator in 1817. He had three homes, but this particular one stands out because it features what is the sole extant carriage house in Beacon Hill. Aside from the lovely final-standing carriage house, the mansion itself holds a grand 37 rooms. That includes 10 bathrooms, 15 fireplaces, and a wine cellar. Otis lived here until his death in 1848.

 Gas lamps – Lighting the Way to Boston’s Past

throughout Beacon Hill

Starting down Charles Street, the attentive eye will notice features that separate Beacon Hill from its more modern neighbors of downtown Boston who have freshly paved roads, high-rises, and technological innovations. One of the historic emblems that stand proudly all throughout Beacon Hill and set it apart from the rest of an ever-changing Boston are gas lamps. These fire-lit gas lamps were used as a light source in a time before electric streetlights. Today, they add an old-time charm to the neighborhood,, which feels especially romantic during nighttime.

Old Fashioned Doorknockers – Reminding Us “Who’s There?”

throughout Beacon Hill

Growing up, you likely rang your pal’s doorbell when you arrived. Today, you probably shoot him or her a text saying you’re here. This kind of technology simply didn’t exist in the nineteenth century, so when you showed up to a home, you had to do that thing where you make a fist and pound it on the door. The residents of Beacon Hill kept it classy and had knockers installed on their front doors. Many of these doorknockers are still present, though mostly for the aesthetics rather than actual usage. They come in unique shapes and concepts, from lion heads to anchors to bald eagles. Despite winter’s cold love affair with Boston, these brass doorknockers have remained in good condition even after many years.

After Attacks, Boston Stands With Paris

Bostonians shared their empathy after the tragic Paris attacks with a growing memorial outside the French Consulate building.

The memorial includes personal handmade signs expressing support and love for France during this difficult time. As a city that has faced a terror attack on its own grounds during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, the citizens of Boston know first-hand the realities of living with fear and heartbreak in the days after such an event. But they also know of the resilience, bravery, compassion, and community that rises from the tragedy.

People have taken the time to stop by the Consulate on Stuart Street this week to drop off fresh flowers and light candles to commemorate the lives of those lost in the attack on Paris. The colorful memorial has been a safe place for prayers, mourning, and paying respects. Visitors range from people with loved ones in France personally affected to regular passerby who want to show their support. At any given time of day, people can be seen hugging, consoling one another, or adding personal items to contribute to the memorial. A light shines on the memorial so that it remains visible even through the night.

Bouquets of roses and handwritten words of encouragement can also be found outside the French Cultural Center on Marlborough Street in Back Bay. Many stores also have the French flag displayed in their windows.

“On Est Paris” and “We Are All France” read two of the signs propped up at the memorial, surrounded by multicolored flowers and the warm glow of candles. “Our Hearts Are With You – Vive La France!”

Boston Calling: To VIP, Or Not To Be?

Music lovers rejoiced as the Boston Calling Music Festival made its return to City Hall Plaza from Friday September 25th through Sunday September 27th. The lineup featured bands such as Walk The Moon, alt-J, Of Monsters and Men, the Avett Brothers, Twin Shadow, Chromeo, and Hozier.

As always, two different types of tickets were for sale: General Admission, and the VIP Experience. Which one to choose? Well, depends on your preferences. One is rougher, but more community oriented. The other is flashier, but more isolated. Pre-sale three-day tickets to the festival sold at $110 for General Admission and $250 for VIP.

Is that $140 price difference really worth it? Probably not. I was fortunate enough to be given a free VIP ticket from a good friend and got to photograph and write from the event. There are many pros to having the VIP bracelet wrapped around your wrist, but I can’t say that if I had to purchase the ticket myself I’d be wearing that arm candy.

PRO: NO WAIT, NO HASSLE

Running over from work, I arrived at Boston Calling later than I would have liked. As I approached City Hall Plaza, I could hear the dreamy crooning of opener Gregory Alan Isakov. I was eager to get into the festival grounds, but when I finally reached the entrance, my eyes just about bugged out of their sockets. The entry lines were massive, and moving at an extremely slow pace. I’d be lucky if I got in in time to see the headliner. Alas, there it was – my beacon of light in the dark – the VIP entrance tent. In celebrity style, I gracefully passed by the seemingly never-ending masses of attendees, and parked myself right up front at the entry tent. There were only four other people there getting their bags checked. Within moments, I had my bracelet strapped on, and I was in.

CON: LOCATION

It took me a few minutes to be able to find the VIP area. After following arrows and confirming with a security worker, I was checked in and headed up the steps of City Hall. I was very confused by the location of VIP. It was just about as far away as you could get from the main stage. It did face toward the stage and had an aerial view of the crowds below, but you had to squint to even attempt to see the figures on the stage. The man standing next to me had brought a telescope. I’m not joking. A telescope. I couldn’t help but compare this to past experiences. When I was VIP at Governor’s Ball Music Festival, it meant being right up close and personal to the artists as they performed, standing in a side area where the general masses couldn’t enter. You were essentially paying to be closer to the band without the aggressive pushing and sweatiness of other fans. There was certainly no pushing or sweatiness in Boston Calling’s VIP, but there was no connection to the musicians either. A huge part of live music events for me is being able to bond with the crowd and feel a common passion for the music being played with others. BC’s VIP felt like it was more about sipping your drink from high above and gazing down at the peasants below.

PRO: TREATMENT (AND FOOD. ALWAYS FOOD)

The VIP title does get you the VIP treatment. The platform around City Hall was converted into a lounge, with plenty of tables, comfy couches, and chairs to sit with friends and wait for the next act or to have some down time to eat. Speaking of eating – hello free food! Guests had the choice between pulled pork sandwiches, or the vegan option of a tofu Vietnamese sandwich. For dessert, there were chocolate, vanilla, and red velvet cupcakes. Fridges held bottles of different flavored seltzers up for the taking, and there was a bar for the 21+ crowd. Trendy pink and blue lights illuminated the area, adding to the lounge feel. It was fun to walk around and explore the different levels. There was even a mini art popup exhibit and two big screen televisions (although I have no clue why you would want to watch TV at a concert). Staff was very friendly, and there were several viewpoints to watch the band on stage – you were never confined to one area and always had the freedom to move around.

CON: ATMOSPHERE

There have been many occasions where I show up to a music festival with a group of friends, but then part ways with them at some point because there’s a band I want to see that none of them are interested in. I guess that technically makes me “alone,” but I never feel alone. The crowd becomes like a second family. It doesn’t matter if you don’t personally know the people next to you – you’re all sharing the joys of music together. Heck, I’ve even made a few dancing partners and new Facebook friends while vibing in the GA crowd. Unfortunately, Boston Calling’s VIP experience was nothing like that. Going solo would probably have felt very awkward if it were not for the fact that I’m super independent and enjoy doing things on my own. People mostly clung together in groups and didn’t interact with anyone else. I only spoke with dude-with-telescope, and a girl who bitterly asked “Um, do you just want me to take it…?” when I was attempting to take an awesome selfie with the stage and crowd below. There were other photographers and music journalists who had also come alone, but none of them seemed too excited. I still very much enjoyed the music, but there were times I would look down below and imagine myself dancing in the crowd.

So, when is VIP a good decision? For one, it’s an extremely cute date idea. You’re able to eat together, jam out together, and still be able to talk and get to know each other without the roaring of a crowd drowning out your voices. As I said before, there are plenty of couches and lounge chairs to chill out on, and later when you go to watch the live music, you can have some privacy to share the experience together. VIP is also prime for people who like their music, but without all the fuss of the crowd. This usually pertains to adults. I’ve met some 55 year olds at concerts of “young and hip” bands, and honestly, good for them! (It’s very likely that’ll be me some day) But the reality is, I can’t imagine my mom being in the middle of a crowd at a music festival. Nope. Not even for a second. So for the more mature that prefer not to be swarmed by college-age kids, VIP is a nice option. It’s also good if you just want a peaceful night, no hassles, and sweet accommodations.

Who is VIP not good for? Anyone who loves the traditional concert / music festival feel of being surrounded by people, lost in the music, and up close and personal to your favorite bands. Also, if you’re like me and enjoy singing along to every word of every song, that’s probably not going to fly in VIP. But in the general admission crowd? You’ll be one of the many screaming the words. As a photographer, I would recommend VIP for other music festivals where it can get you close, but certainly not for Boston Calling. There was no way for me to capture close-up shots of the musicians or the expressions of people jamming in the crowd. Not even with a zoom lens. If you’re looking for a social time and a feeling of community, this probably isn’t the place for you.

It all boils down to the type of person you are, the type of experience you’re seeking, and whether you’re okay with getting your shirt ruffled (hint: was able to rock my leather jacket the whole time in VIP. This would have been a disaster in GA). If you’re looking for a calm evening gazing out at some amazing bands from the comfort of your roped-off lounge, click “purchase “on that VIP ticket. But if you need me next time, I’ll be rocking out in the crowd: my feet sore from dancing, my voice hoarse from singing, and a gigantic smile on my face.