The Challenges of Self-Recording

I’m going to jump right to the point of this post; recording yourself is not an easy thing to do.  Be it audio alone, or a video, many are rarely afforded the luxury of a quiet, distraction-free recording studio.  So one must make do with what they’ve got; and a vast variety of little challenges waste no time in presenting themselves once you get started.

Now, there are many problems that can arise from yourself, (i.e., yawning in the middle of a recording, having your voice crack unexpectedly in the middle of an otherwise-good recording, etc) but right now, I’m going to focus on the others; the third-party recording-ruiners.

Let’s start with something adorable: kitty cats.  Kitties are adorable, aren’t they?  I have several, and usually let one or two join me when I practice singing.  Some really like being around it (probably because the higher-notes sounds like my “talking to kitties voice”, but I like to think it is because they have fine taste in music and love Enka like me).  And I like to think that if I let one or two be around me, that they will bless it with their kitty luck, their kitty-good-luck-energy-goodness… or something along those lines. 

(click on any picture to enlarge it)

comic 1

So for maximum kitty-good-luck exposure, I like to practice and record with a couple of kitties nearby.   I am pretty sure they know that I know about their good luck rays, so they try to push their luck sometimes.

Let’s do a walkthrough of some recent events that happened while I was recording a song:

kitty eating foodbasty litter box

kitty catches mouse

That’s to name a few.  They also enjoy sitting directly in front of my recording device, and lick all of their fur… for hours.  And fight with each other, and knock heavy things down, and so on.  If ruining my vocal recordings could be a profitable talent, I’m pretty sure my kitties would be world-famous billionaires.

Now, once in a while, even I can feel like enough is enough, and try to put them out of my recording room.  It’s really, really not easy.

Basty sadbasty mad

..Usually, I feel much too guilty when I try to put a kitty out, and I give up before I do it.  But, on the rarest of rare occasions, it does get to the point where I decide to clear out the room, even if means I am relinquishing any cat good luck.

But then, I feel even more guilty.  Things like this happen.

Okuni's hand

My cats have perfected this art; when they want to come in, they will leave their paw like this.  There’s not any scratching or meowing involved, they know that will annoy me. Instead, they just stay motionless like this, knowing that every minute I have to see that arm while I do my thing, is an absolute assault on my kitty-loving heart.  They’ve kept their arm sticking out like that for very long times; sometimes they fall asleep in that position.  I am convinced that even the most iron of willpowers would not survive the sight of this long-term.

There are many, many other non-kitty challenges that one has to deal with when doing self-recording, but I will cover those in future posts.

-Savannah Jhee

P.S. Special thanks to my kitty Basty who allowed me to depict her to be much meaner than she actually is. ❤

Chindo Monogatari (珍島物語): A Japanese song about Korea

For any who are even slightly familiar with Japanese word-sound and reading, this song already stands out due to its title; “Chindo” is not a Japanese word.  The song, “Chindo Monogatari (珍島物語)”,or “Chindo Story”, is a cleverly-written song whose lyrics tell a story that may not be realized upon first listen.

umi ware (2)

An example of Umi Ware

The song begins with:

“The sea will be divided, and a road will appear
Two islands will be joined together”
 
 

The first line is referring to something called “umi ware” (海割れ), we don’t have an exact term for it in English to my knowledge.  If you look up 海割れ on Google, you will see many photos showing this type of event.  In some island-laden countries, such as Japan and Korea, when the tide is low (usually happens just once or twice a year), a land pathway or road will appear, connecting the two islands.  Aside from being “neat” and beautiful to behold, it is also a romantic idea for many.  In modern-day times, many people use these temporary roads for matchmaking now; crossing this road to meet their true love.

umi ware 3

People beginning to cross an Umi Ware (海割れ)

Now, “umi ware” happens in Japan with some of their islands, so from a casual listen, one could think this song takes place in Japan (the song is in Japanese language, after all).  But it doesn’t; from some further listening (and possibly a Korean dictionary), you will see that this song is about a family separated in North and South Korea.  The wife of the family, in Chindo, is praying for the Umi Ware to happen, and connect the two islands, so her family may be reunited.

Below is the full translation of the song, with some notes/explanations as well (I put words that are Korean in bold):

“The sea will be divided, and a road will appear
 
Two islands will be joined together
 
From here, Chindo, to the other side, Modori     *(Chindo is in North Korea, Modori is in South Korea)
 
Bless the lord of the sea! Kamu sahamunida   *(means ‘We are grateful for you’, something you say when praying)
 
Yondon Sari is our only hope that our separate family will meet again     *(Yondon Sari is a festival involving people crossing Umi Nari)
 
You know… I am here, praying that we will love again
 
I am living here with full conviction
 
Even though far away from you, I believe in you
 
Yes, I am sure we will meet again in the future
 
Bless the lord of the sea!  Kamu sahamunida
 
The joined road between the two islands will lead to the far north
 
You know… I love you, I love you with all of my life
 
Our family will love together forever…”
 
 

This song was originally performed by Tendo Yoshimi (天童よしみ), a woman of amazing talent.  She deserves more than a one-line mention though; I’m going to have an upcoming article about her and why I find her amazing.

-Savannah Jhee

photo_tendo

How I began singing Enka

I started “getting serious” about singing Enka in late 2007, when I was 23.  I’d done the typical “sing my favorite songs when I’m alone” before that, starting with “Sake in the Jar”, by Yano Akiko (矢野顕子) in 1998, but I’m not going to count that, because I didn’t do vocal warm-ups, exercises, or anything fancy at that time.

I decided that I really wanted to get good at singing Enka, I was realizing more and more just how much it touched my innermost emotions, and that singing it made me feel wonderful.  The more Enka I heard, the more I realized, “Wow!  This is music made just for me!”.

Photo from 2007; the timeframe when I began singing Enka (for the record, I did not know someone was giving me "bunny ears")

Photo from 2007; the timeframe when I began singing Enka (for the record, I did not know someone was giving me “bunny ears”)

 

Now to be clear, I didn’t particularly think I was good at singing, I’m not trying to insinuate that I’m a grand star talent waiting to go big, but I knew at that time that it made me feel really, really happy.  So I started the way most people probably do; I got lyrics to some of my favorite songs, and would sing along with them, trying to memorize it’s tune and which keys were sung in which parts.  Knowing what I know now, I see how wrong that was, that’s not the way to do it, but I didn’t know any better just yet.

enka collection 3

After several months of singing my favorite songs daily, I started experimenting with recording.  I got the instrumentals to my favorite songs, and tried singing to the instrumentals.  It sounded nothing like the original songs; the keys I sang in were completely off, and I had no vibrato.  I got very sad, and started to think that I just couldn’t do it… maybe you have to be Japanese to sound good at Enka.

But, despite that pitfall I encountered, I still knew that singing Enka made me feel good, so maybe I could always sing alone and be happy.  I dedicated a closet in my home just for singing, it became my tiny singing room.  I would go in that little closet, close the door, turn on a small lamp, and practice for hours.

At the same time, I started doing research about singing basics.  This is what I should have done from the start.   The more I learned about “how” to sing and condition the throat, the more I realized how incorrectly I had been doing it.  No wonder I sounded silly!  I found some great free videos by vocal coaches online with various exercise methods for vocal warm-ups, breathing exercises, techniques for improving tone and developing vibrato, you name it!  I will include links to some of my favorites at the bottom of this article, for any who are interested.  Now that I had the proper tools, I could really, truly practice singing Enka.

~3 Years of Seclusion~

The front yard of my Colorado home, 2009

The front yard of my Colorado home, 2009

 
 

Months soon became years; from the end of 2007 to halfway-through 2010, I was secluded to my home.  I’d recently moved to Colorado and had no friends or family there; I also began working from home at that time.  For private reasons, my family did not speak to me during this time either; it often felt like I was the only person left in this world.  Surely my family was out there, somewhere, but they seemed to have faded away and disappeared amidst the endless horizon of falling snow, forever beyond my reach.

I was very comforted by watching the snow while listening to my Enka; watching the snow fall for hours, days, weeks, months…in retrospect, I think I would have been much worse off if it was not snowy.  Snow (as well as Enka) is a great friend for lonely nights longing for the company of people who care for you.  This is probably the closest thing to a “hermit experience” that I will have in this life.  Countless days of falling snow, dark skies and solitude; but for the company of my Enka.  I was a bit sad during this time, but I tried not to become self-pitying, and to stay focused on what I loved, so I followed my Enka practice very regularly.  Needless to say, Enka and I formed a close bond.

Me in 2009; I was very sad and lonely then. I have an odd habit of taking photos when I am especially sad, so I will not forget how it felt, and can later feel glad that I’m no longer in that state when I look back on the photos.

Me in 2009; I was very sad and lonely then. I have an odd habit of taking photos when I am especially sad, so I will not forget how it felt, and can later feel glad that I’m no longer in that state when I look back on the photos.

 

Something I came to realize in time, was that my song choice was also a reason for my poor test recordings.  I chose the songs that I did, because I liked the songs.  Now I realize that if I want to sing those songs, I certainly could try it, but I would have to sing it in a different key than the original singers did.  I discovered Voice Types, and that mine was contralto; therefore the most logically easiest songs would be ones that are also sung by women with contralto voices.  I cannot stress enough how important these findings were for me!  Once I tried out some songs done in my voice type, it was a million times easier!  Coupled with regular vocal warm-ups and exercises, it became so much more comfortable for me.

At the beginning, it was: “Well, I don’t think I sound particularly good, but maybe it sounds okay to others.  I know I like this song, so I will sing it.”

Now, it is: “This song has notes I know I can comfortably reach, the voice type is similar to my own, I’ll sing this song because it’s within my current capabilities to (and because I like it!).”

–  Savannah Jhee

Sources for vocal lessons online:

Eric Arceneaux, “Arceneaux Approach”

Eric is a vocal coach and singer; his style is primarily R&B, which isn’t my thing at all, but his lessons are great for any genre, his youtube lessons are here: http://www.youtube.com/user/EricArceneaux/videos?view=1&flow=grid

Aussie Vocal Coach

Website is here, he also has videos online  http://www.aussievocalcoach.com/

Nakamura Mitsuko (中村美律子): The happy Enka singer

“For me, singing gives me life.  My managers say jokingly, ‘If someone wants to kill Nakamura, they don’t need a knife, all they have to do is take away the microphone.'”-  Nakamura Mitsuko

nakamura mitsuko

Where can I begin with the subject of Nakamura Mitsuko?  There is so much I can (and will!) say about her.  But I will start with basics, I suppose.  Nakamura-san was born in 1950 (on July 31, so her birthday was just a few days ago!  Happy Birthday, dear woman! ❤) which makes her 63 at this time.  Unfortunately, most people view this age in a negative light; as a group that is low-energy, and past their prime…. which couldn’t be further from the truth of Nakamura-san.  Nakamura Mitsuko is by far the most energetic Enka singer I have ever seen; you can tell from just a few seconds of watching her perform, that she really, really enjoys what she is doing.

At the beginning of every single performance I’ve seen her do, she will flash her most brilliant of brilliant smiles, brighter than the brightest rays of sunshine, a smile that immediately says, “I’m going to give this my absolute best, I will make sure you all are smiling when I am done!”.  Really, her smile is just amazing to me, I love it.  I wanted to use a photo for this topic that really captures that smile, but nearly every single picture of her that I found has that wonderful, dazzling smile!  Try it on a search engine yourself sometime! 😊 (use the characters/Kanji for best results, rather than Roman/”English” letters)

How I see things: (click image to enlarge)

danjiri for me

Granted, Nakamura-san sings her fair share of sad songs, and naturally doesn’t smile a whole lot on those types of songs… but what stands out to me by far, are her happy songs.  The first song I saw her perform is Shimada no bun bun (島田のブンブン, the last word is pronounced “boon boon”); it’s probably my favorite Enka song to see performed.  On most performances of her singing this song, you will see she has an entourage of dancers, who dance in the back- or foreground of the stage while she sings.  The song is about the “buzzing” of the city Shimada at night; about hearing people dancing, singing, piano and guitar music in the background, and so on.  The chorus repeatedly mentions “Shimada no bun bun” (Shimadano’s “bun bun”, sort of like “boom boom” or “buzzing” in English) and every time she says “bun bun”, the dancers will hop to the beat of the music, or sometimes turn their backs to the audience and (tastefully!) move their rear ends to the song.  Everyone I’ve shown these performances to loves them like I do, and laugh!  I wish more music performances were so fun; music is made to be enjoyed, let’s enjoy it and have fun!

shimadano

She’s done similar things with other upbeat songs, my absolute favorite song by her is Danjiri (だんじり), a song about the Japanese festival after which the song is named.  It is utterly, completely impossible for me to hear her sing this song, and not start to boogie a little.  If this song somehow came on during a dead-serious, focused meeting at work, I’m afraid I would be doomed.  I found this song so immediately irresistible, that I simply had to acquire the single, with it’s juicy karaoke instrumentals.  Hers is voice amongst the most unique I have ever heard; she often rolls her R’s and her vibratos seem to have their own vibratos; but I still really want to sing a cover of it sometime, because it would be such utter fun, if nothing else… it would be like giving myself a piece of vocal candy.

When she performs this song Danjiri, her explosive energy really shows.  She’s hopping, jumping, clapping, she doesn’t just sing; she performs.  Usually she will get (force?) the audience to participate too, and wave fans and dance and sing with her.  Sometimes she has very acrobatic dancers in the background too (in the flavor of the song’s namesake).  I would share specific videos from Youtube, but Japanese videos are notorious for being removed by the record labels soon after they are added to Youtube.

It is amongst my greatest dreams to be like her when I am her age, if not sooner.  I find her positive energy and eagerness to make others happy to be infectious and admirable.   If I even end up with a fraction of that charismatic glow and friendly sense of humor, I will be more than content.  Sing on, Nakamura-san!

-Savannah Jhee

event1

How I discovered Enka

My understanding is that many, if not most, Americans who become lifetime fans of Japanese music, did so as a result of liking Japanese animation (anime).  That is not the case for me at all; even the jpop I listen to has no connection to me finding it from an anime.

The first Japanese song I heard as a child was “Sake in the Jar”, by Yano Akiko (矢野顕子).  My little sisters loved this song, too; we’d listen to it countless times over the years of our youth.  In retrospect, this song really isn’t very Enka-y at all, it’s more like Min-yo, kind of…. but in any event, that song is what started my journey for Japanese music; that might be the same case for at least one of my sisters, too.  At first, I didn’t know the names of the styles of music, I just called it, “old-fashioned Japanese music”, and for some years afterward, I listened to very traditional Min-yo music.

kaji meiko

Throughout my pursuits of finding more “old-fashioned Japanese music”, I started coming across songs that weren’t limited to traditional instruments.  Some had guitars, saxophones, even full symphonies.  Many of the songs would start off quiet, and slow, then suddenly transform into a torrential quick tempo with instantly-catchy beats.  What was this?  For too long, I didn’t know the name of this genre of music, let alone that it even had a name.  I found an artist whose music had a lot of this style, Kaji Meiko (梶芽衣子), and subsequently acquired every musical CD of hers that I could find. She’s not really an Enka singer per se, but she sang Enka, and through researching her name and genre, I found the word I was looking for: Enka.

enka

After confirming that this was the word for the music I liked, I started buying CDs of Enka.  My first true Enka CD, was titled “Enka Best” and had a very cool and realistic drawing on the front (shown above).  It’s a great starter CD for Enka; it has an introduction written in English, as well as English translations of the lyrics of each song.  Even now, of the many dozens of CDs I have of Enka, this Enka Best CD is the only one that has English in it’s booklet.

Thus began my very long journey down the path of discovering all there is to know about Enka music….

Savannah Jhee

My Opinion of Hashi Yukio ♥ (橋幸夫) 

My idol-fan relationship regarding Hashi Yukio is a bit of a unique one; of all the Enka singers I adore, he is definitely the one I am most giggly, girly, fangirl-ish about.   Hashi Yukio’s songs have kept me company in countless moments of solitude, happiness, and sadness; he has songs for such a variety of emotions.  Hashi Yukio’s CDs outnumber any other Enka artists’ by far in my collection; I have singles (great for getting karaoke instrumentals) and several zenkyokushuu (complete song collection, a term used widely for CDs in Japanese).

Image

So what makes Hashi Yukio so special to me?  I will tell you why.

Image

Hashi Yukio has been immensely popular in Japan, he was born in 1943, and has had countless hit songs for decades-straight.  He also starred in dozens of movies, and some revolve around him singing his actual songs.  I suppose his peak popularity can be said to have been the 60’s and 70’s, but I have a hard time saying this, because I think  all of his career is peak for me.

Even though I call him my favorite Enka singer, he actually does a lot of non-Enka music; but speaking very generally and vaguely, some consider pretty much all popular music of Japan from the 60’s and 70’s to be Enka.  Hashi-san has done many Min-yo (true traditional Japanese music) songs, many have become staples of traditional Japanese cultural music, and often have little “dances” that go along with the songs.  I have attended at least a dozen or so Japanese cultural fairs, and every single one I’ve attended has Hashi-san’s Min-yo music (and accompanying dances) playing at some point.

koino mexican rock

Hashi-san, like so many other Enka singers, is not afraid to act silly while performing, either.  Many of his single covers have him dressed up in flashy outfits with a gleeful smile on his face; he’s ready to rumble!  One particularly adorable song of his is titled, “恋のメキシカンロック” (Love of Mexican Rock); a cute, upbeat song about traditional Mexican lifestyle.  It even has bits of Spanish sprinkled into the lyrics.

One aspect of Enka that I absolutely love, is its longevity in terms of performing age.  In typical modern pop music, after the age of 30 or so, the curtain slowly begins to close on you, you are getting “old” in the industry’s eyes.  But with Enka, many great performers continue to record amazing hits well into their 60’s and beyond.  For me, it was Hashi-san’s newer material (recorded in his 60’s) that first hooked me in.  Hashi Yukio would be, without a question, the first Enka singer I’d want to meet in person, if I was ever given a choice. ♥

Savannah Jhee