[EDITORIAL NOTE: Long before Time Goes By made its debut in 2004, I was reading Pure Land Mountain by Robert Brady, an American who has made his home in Japan for decades. I only recently discovered that he is a published poet and that makes sense - even his prose is lyrical as you will see in this story, Cutting and Burning at 90, that he graciously agreed to do to fill in for me while I'm in Maine this week.]
My father–in-law Kodaira Keiji (Keiji Kodaira in the Western style), who is descended from a long line of samurai, and about whom I posted earlier when he did his Beiju ceremony, will be 91 years old in October. In addition to having been a teacher and principal all his working life, he is a woodcarver, athlete, painter, calligraphist, pianist, theatre director, actor and mountain climber, though he sticks to the flatlands these days, where he lives with wife Kazuko, who will be 90 this year.
I’d known from before I met him that Keiji was a renaissance man, and I was impressed when he became the second oldest person ever to get a college degree in Japan (at 80). But I was amazed to learn, when my wife Etsuko returned from a recent visit to her parent’s house in Nagano, that for the past 50 or more years Keiji has been composing old-style Japanese songs, with lyrics.
Even more amazing was the fact that he and his younger brother Kozo, a stripling of 85, had, completely by themselves, on computers and using complex music and printing software, cut and burned a CD selection of Keiji’s songs, engineered and vocally introduced by Kozo, with Keiji introducing the collection and doing all the illustrations for the cover and disc labels, the latter including a photo of the smiling composer with his Imperial medal for honored public service.
Keiji wrote the music during his travels as a teacher and in later years, about scenes and moments in his life and experience. It’s called Pampas-Grass Field: 38 Years in a Teaching Life, and was produced under his artistic name, Kofunami Koichi (roughly, Rainbow Viewing from a Small Boat). The music is evocative of Japanese times past, and is lovely to have playing; I’m listening now, to half a century and more ago…
The disc also includes a Keiji-illustrated complete songbook! As Kozo says in the introduction, it took them two months, working day and night (not counting the 50+ years) to do Volume 1, and they have just completed Volume 2 (50 copies each, for relatives and friends)! I am astonished on many levels. Even if I knew how to write music and had been composing for half a century, I’d still have to live another 25 years before I could even begin to do the same; heartening stuff for a boy of 65!
That’s another great thing well-spent elders do: besides setting examples as they lead the way, they raise the bar.