Sakamichi no Apollon: A Mountain of One Moment of Music

When a performer is in the zone, it's all too easy to draw observers into it as well.

There’s something magical that takes place within the span of a few minutes of a live performance. The expression and passion put into one’s craft somehow manages to reach out to an audience and sinks deep into the soul. From the perspective of someone observing artistry in real time, the experience itself is fleeting; time slips away and suddenly, the performance stops, but in the same amount of time, the memory slips away into a place we hold dearly for the rest of our lives.

In Sakimichi no Apollon, we are treated to such a moment, perhaps a defining one, in the life of an awkward, introverted Kaoru Nishimi, as he takes in a drum solo that eventually captures his soul. Initially repulsed by the piercing noise, the rhythm and raw power of the performance gradually seeps into him, and it opens him up to a world that his less-than-ideal life at home could never provide. Even more striking is the person on the other end of the performance, truant and delinquent Sentaro Kawabuchi, who embodies the spirit of 1960’s jazz music in Japan.

The connection between Kaoru and Sentaro is founded on this single performance, and say what you will about the originality of a story of two polar opposites, the moment that set the relationship between these two characters into motion took place in the basement of Welcome Records. A drummer did the only thing he knew to do, and a pianist would never forget.

What makes this moment so genuine in the eyes of the audience is that the individuals involved with the creation of this scene knew exactly what it meant to capture that moment within a frame, both visually and audio-wise. Every angle was cut perfectly, and the sound of the performance was all that was present. The audience saw everything from Kaoru’s view, and his memory becomes our own.

But to some, myself included, we already have our memory, our one moment where the music played, and everything else just stopped mattering. We already have that memory that we hold dear to our hearts even though we’ve since moved on from those carefree phases in our lives. But the ability to keep them is something that leaves us so grateful for having them, that we either desperately cling onto them for ourselves in fear of eventually forgetting, or we share them with others, so that we pass on the same gesture that was done to us long ago.

For you, my dear readers, it would be a pleasure for me to do the latter. The next section was written in its entirety, without edit, within the span of listening to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8, 1st movement. It is a song that was performed to me by my high school sweetheart, who had captured my heart with a single performance. I encourage you to read along with the music itself, which is embedded below.

Pathétique

That C minor chord at the beginning of Pathetique is a sound that I will remember forever. It rang sharply into my ears as my girlfriend of barely three or four months began her performance. While I still remember the piece and her performance of it very fondly, I had somehow lost track of how it came about, over time. She sat down at the bench, and I sat cozily off to her side on a velvet chair that was owned by her father. And by this I mean owned, the way one owns his own moustache. He would sit there and listen to her play her entire lifetime, and I was lucky enough to sit there for one song.

It was slow, and fast, and everything at once. She was expressive, and I often leaned in to get a view of her face. She had closed her eyes in some sections, and I wondered to myself whether or not she was trying to be expressive, or trying to show off, especially during the fast passages. I felt an aura coming from her, as if she were commanding the energy of the entire room, and bringing it out in a flurry of notes, scattering them in every single direction. It was wild, chaotic, but intense and carefully built up and relaxed as the score instructed.

One moment had her eyes crossing mine in the middle of the piece, when the music would simply stop out of nowhere, and repeat the slow c-minor introduction. She would glance up, and then glance back. I was no longer aware of myself. I surrendered myself to the colours of the notes that played. I could have closed my eyes, and the room would not have changed its appearance. My ears became the window into this world that only existed in sound, and I was next to a goddess of its creation. She controlled me in every single way, and thinking back, I wonder now if that was something truly special, or simply a siren song. I would have to organize my feelings and my reactions to what had happened. When she had finished those final chord shots, I sank into my chair and made sure my sweat had not stained the material.

It’s such a weird exercise to try and reach into your memories and just write about them. It’s almost like re-tracing the steps you took whenever you get lost and try to find your way back home. Sharing those steps with others is like giving directions to them. You give a general description of how to reach a certain place, but the journey that they eventually take there is never the same as the one that you took yourself.

Which is why I read over this little writing experiment and smirk fondly at the prospect that whatever keys I had punched resulted in this description that doesn’t come remotely close to what I actually felt and what I actually saw and what I actually heard. It’s so hard to describe the experience of music, but it’s pretty damn amazing how different people’s experiences are. I shared mine to the best of my ability, and even if it ends up being a complete lie because I actually don’t remember anything at all, and I’m just being delusional, it’s still something I shared with people.

I think that’s the magic that came with Apollon’s first episode. That one moment that was shared between Kaoru and Sentaro felt so genuine, but had this been an actual thing that happened between a person named Kaoru and a person named Sentaro, and had this all happened way back in the 1960’s inJapan, it probably would not have been the exact representation of it.

A memory is a mountain, and time erodes the grandest of them, but there they still remain, and they are still a wonder to behold. I feel for Kaoru when he experienced that for the first time in his life, and his mountain of a memory will remain with him for as long as he knows. It makes me wonder what that mountain will be in his old age, should he choose to share it with people.

Should he choose to blog about it.

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14 thoughts on “Sakamichi no Apollon: A Mountain of One Moment of Music”

  1. thank you for sharing that moment even though it might be a lie. It was beautiful.

    I was completely in awed when Sentarou started playing the drums and I was wondering why it is so, besides the fact that I am usually rather fond of drummers to begin with, and you have managed to capture that fleeting moment in one post. This is nothing but brilliancy from your part. Thank you again for making me remember all the little details just like it was me who watched Sentarou playing that day in 1960’s

    1. Thanks for the praise, Klux. I’m beginning to think twice about describing a memory as a lie. It comes off as a bit negative, but I wanted to express the concept of time having an effect on the accuracy of one’s memories. We are the unreliable narrators of our own lives, but the stories themselves are pretty damn great regardless.

      1. if that wasn’t a lie, then it certainly is more beautiful. It makes me wants to sit down and write all the best memories I have. This is inspiring and I am happy you got to experience such great memories

      2. Seeing Serika write in her journal in episode 3 of Space Brothers made me wonder if I should do the same. I could stand to write about 200 words or so worth of my day, just so I can look back and see what I did without having those memories erode over time. Kinda feels like cheating, but the effort required gives you the right to have them.

  2. Excellent and very touching writing! Thanks for sharing with us a beloved memory!
    Music and love make for the strongest combination, don’t they? I remember when I was introduced to QUEEN from someone I had a crush. Still, I think there are stronger moments of musical apocalypse and those when I was lonely or heartbroken. I could try linking, but they are greek songs and I’m not sure you’d be interested.

    1. I would be quite interested, actually! Just because it’s in another language or from a different culture doesn’t necessarily mean it’s something to shy away from. As Morgan Freeman’s character in The Shawshank Redemption, Ellis Redding, describes:

      “I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t wanna know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful it can’t be expressed in words, and it makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you those voices soared, higher and farther than anybody in a grey place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made these walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.”

      Then again, this would be my own context of taking in your shared experience. It will mean differently for you than it will for me, but the concept of sharing experiences is something magnificent in itself. do whatever you feel is comfortable. But having that memory for yourself is always great too. There’s immense value in having something exclusively for yourself.

      1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rgN_1ypGQms – it’s more about life, speaking general truths really poetically . I listened it on the radio while waiting in the car and the lyrics ‘fell’ on me with such a subtle force
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNPucHgM4Y4 – I always follow this singer. Her voice and the lyrics are so powerful each and everytime. This song is focused on loneliness, the feeling of void and suffering

        and here a song in english 🙂 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZKc_isGLk0Q First hearing in Charmed series

  3. Wow. Such beautiful writing, made even more poignant for me because the Sonate Pathétique was the last major classical piece I ever learned on piano before I started…well, playing jazz. For me this was always a showpiece: I’d literally pound the piano on the opening C-minor and play ridiculously fast in that descending figure into the main melody. Like with you and your girlfriend at the time, hearing this piece again (albeit played very differently than the way I did) brings back very strong memories of struggling to get certain passages right, of recitals where I hoped and prayed that I wouldn’t mess up a passage. Now, it’s Beethoven’s tempestuous voice that comes through more clearly than when I was in the middle of figuring out everything.

    I love how Kids on the Slope is inspiring such memorable writing from so many bloggers. I think there’s something about quality shows that leads to quality writing. And judging from the pickings this season, there’s more quality than usual. Looking forward to reading more of your posts!

    1. Thanks Mike. If I recall correctly, her playing style was fairly standard. The main ascending melody section, she played a little bit slower than most recordings, but not too slow to sound draggy. It was just the right amount that I could hear each note in the octave individually on the left hand. It really sets the rhythm when you get that part just right. Now that I have a pianist person to speak to, I think I can get into further technical details that you might enjoy. Her crescendos were remarkably intense because of said left hand, but her right hand was soft and feathery across the fast passages. It was a very interesting thing to behold. Her performance inspired me to learn piano myself; in just a year, I had learned to play Fantasie Impromptu. Not well, mind you, but just enough to play through without pausing due to mistake.

      Is that the power of a lasting memory? I can’t know for myself, but I surely hope that Kids reels me in on the same journey that I foresee Kaoru taking. Such a wonderful show. Thank you very much for commenting!

      1. I played Pathetique very, very melodramatically: huge contrasts between the loud, declarative chords and the more delicate parts. Gentle, I was not. I can hear in my head what you’re talking about with the way your GF was playing it, though. It’s much more like the recordings of the piece I’ve heard, but I never had as good control over my left hand as with my right like the way she apparently did. My left tended to plod, even thud, on the keys a bit.

        I remember being shocked at how differently most recorded pianists handled it, and it showed me that there are some classical pieces where you can add quite a bit of individual flavor and expression. This one almost seems to invite it.

        That’s extremely impressive, btw, that you were able to play a Chopin piece like that in just a year. You must have practiced a lot! I remember I was never able to wrap my head and fingers around the rhythm of the Chopin preludes and nocturnes, though they are still so beautiful to listen to even now. Do you still play often? I mostly play for church now, and haven’t done anything classical in a while. Once I started with jazz it’s been hard for me to look back.

      2. Unfortunately, I stopped playing somewhere along the way (coincidentally, shortly after my relationship with that girl ended), and due to not having the years of experience behind me, I had lost most of my skill. Believe me, it wasn’t so much about practice than it was just a firm background in general theory and a natural talent at learning instruments. I know how to play quite a few, but during that time, I temporarily gave up my Jack of All Trades with music and focused solely on piano.

        I never got around to learning that many pieces, considering how little time I had to learn them along the way. My repertoire started off with easy pieces like Fur Elise, but gradually progressed towards that end goal of Fantasie, which my girlfriend at the time played to utmost perfection. I never tried the nocturnes and preludes, but I did learn a few waltzes: B minor and Db major (aka the minute!). I learned a few preludes from Bach, but learned his Toccata in D minor, sans Fugue. I think the Toccata is the one that I can probably do from memory even now. It’s pretty simple, but remarkably fun to play. I think that piece definitely suits me the best as a piano player.

  4. Music can conjure up memories that you may have thought you’d forgotten, or perhaps makes new, more recent memories even sharper, and more distinct. Something about this series is very evocative for me, not because I was alive during the 60s, but because of the music, and the way it was introduced to the cast and the audience. I am a jazz musician, and have played the songs that were introduced to us in this episode, but more importantly, when Sentarou started playing the drums I was reminded of the first time I had ever heard Jazz music.

    The rhythm created by a good jazz drummer for me goes right through my entire body to the point where I am oblivious to the world and start playing my Saxophone, it is infectious and quite sublime. There have been moments like this while performing live when the world appears to stop, apart from the musicians on stage, it is a curious feeling actually, and again, watching Sakaichi no Apollon brought back memories of first performances in front of schools and friends.

    1. Being part of my senior jazz band in high school for two years, I can certainly relate to the feeling of euphoria when playing this kind of music with other people. I played trumpet myself, and even though my improvisation skills left quite a bit of room for improvement, it doesn’t take away from the memory of performing music as a whole. I really am envious of people who are talented enough to make a comfortable living out of it.

      I play a little bit of drum as well, but not to that extent that I can create an infectious beat. Being at that level of drum ability makes me appreciate the skill that great drummers have whenever they’re doing their thing. Sentarou is certainly portrayed flawlessly in that regard. The animation detail in his performance in Apollon was something that Nodame Cantabile would feel insecure about.

      1. Indeed, the actual animation quality and detail of his performance was fascinating to watch, and of course brilliant. I used to play drums and i’ve played trumpet, never especially good on either, but i was certainly a better jazz drummer than a trumpet player. Improvisation is one thing that I love about jazz, its like being a composer, except you have a single opportunity to create your piece of music, or at least its more immediate, without any chance of redoing it since the performance has been and gone.

        I wouldn’t say that I can make much of a living out of playing jazz, but it keeps you going, and is more of a hobby I suppose. It’s more about the joy of playing than it is the actual performance, which is something that I felt this first episode of Apollon captured with that particular drum sequence.

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