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Music in the japanese camps          Print Version/Afdruk Versie

To spend the time in the camps as useful as possible, in most camps the youth was being educated, and the adults attended lectures or followed courses that were taught by specialists. Many people understood that a mental counterpoise had to be found and they investigated the opportunities for that purpose in their secluded little world. In the mean time, people used to sing; anything from krontjong to edifying songs from e.g. "Valerius Gedenck-klank". Among the internees there were both amateur and professional musicians.
The Dutch pianist Loo Vincent, who was born on Java but educated in the Netherlands, used to conduct the chamber orchestra of Surabaya before the war, but he was also interned in various Japanese camps. Afterwards he delivered an absorbing report about his experiences in the music magazine: Mens en Melodie (Man and Melody).

"Every piece of paper was being used to note down musical scores. The scores were written from memory and, due to lack of space, in so-called numerical notation. After being discovered, these cryptical notations aroused the suspicion of the Japanese and they were burnt immediately. All the same, people started to study folksongs and carols under my leadership. The allied fellow-prisoners also contributed by adding folksongs from Scotland, Wales and Ireland to the repertoire. Apart from this, I taught general theory of music and I even had a few pupils who studied the theory of harmony and composition. Apart from this, self-made flutes, guitars, ukuleles, violins, wind instruments and even a cello came into existence. A few hundred musical performances were conducted by me. The gramophone also reappeared, of which I made grateful use by playing records and commenting upon them. I used to narrate the life-stories of composers like Bach, Debussy and Schubert on these occasions".

After the ship, the Pulau Brantas, had been sunk by Japanese aircrafts right before the invasion, while it was on its way to Ceylon with repatriates, a number of the passengers and crew found themselves in the internment camps as yet. In the book "De kracht van een lied" ("The power of a song") Helen Colijn describes the important role music played to many people in these difficult times. Two women managed to arrange musical scores of well-known pieces of classical orchestral music for choir by heart and to have rehearsals. Initially this didn't please the Japanese warders, who had forbidden assemblies of more than ten prisoners at a time. This so-called "Stemmenorkest" ("Orchestra of Voices") consisted of 30 Dutch, English and Australian women and girls, who by humming gave performances of pieces by, amongst others, Ravel (Bolero), Schubert (Unvolendete), Chopin (Prelude) en Händel (Pastorale). They also sang carols and folksongs. The Japanese soldiers couldn't believe their ears and in the end they condoned all this. The scores have been kept and later they were resounding on video and cassette tapes. Apart from this, a few years ago the film "Paradise Road", which is about this orchestra, was brought out.

The experiences of the famous violinist Szymon Goldberg, who disappeared behind barbed wire when he was on tour with Lily Kraus, with whom he formed a duo, are similar. In camp Tjimahi he formed an orchestra, consisting of 14 violins, 1 flute, 1 (broken) piano and 1 harmonium. The parts of the violin concerto of Beethoven were noted down by Goldberg from memory, then studied and performed, with the soloist playing a violin with guitar strings. (His precious Stradivarius had been locked away in a safe-deposit in good time and reappeared undamaged two years later). The Japanese secretly stood in awe of their international guest and more or less let him go his own way.

One day Goldberg had to appear at the gate with his violin where an elderly Japanese man asked him kindly to show his art. His playing-attitude, the placing of the hand and the methods for bowing were photographed promptly. The purpose of this meeting remained obscure for a long time. As a sign of appreciation Goldberg was offered a delicious dinner!

Many years after the war, this violinist gave a master class in Aspen (USA) where he was committed to the care of a Japanese violinist. After obeisance this young man told him that he had actually been his pupil for a long time. "But I haven't met you before, have I?" said Goldberg. -"That is true, but the pictures that my father sent home made studying much easier". Thus is the report of W.F.  Wertheim in his book "De vier Wendingen" ("The four Turns/ Swings").

The fact that Goldberg, who carried on his carrier as usual after the camp period, bore no malice against the occupiers may appear from the fact that at the end of his life he settled in Japan and married a Japanese woman there. He died in 1993.

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