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New International Choir Tunes Voices for Upcoming Concerts

By: Julio Barthson

Date Posted: 2000-03-10

Within the next few months, Okinawa’s chorus lovers may finally witness a concert performed by the island’s first international choir of the 21st Century. A group of singers, brought together by the enthusiasm of a longtime chorister, is currently rehearsing every Monday night to prepare for future major events on the island and elsewhere.

George Novinger, who has demonstrated his skills as choirmaster in several different countries before coming to Okinawa, is the founder and director of the recently established Okinawa International Choir. He says the group has real ambitions: “We want to be the one group that brings together all lovers of choral music, no matter their religious backgrounds, no matter where they come from. I’m sure that ours will be the best choir on Okinawa for many years to come, even after I’m gone from the island.”

Mr. Novinger is not only director of the group; he has been serving as Consul and Administrative Officer at the US Consulate General in Naha since he arrived on Okinawa in August 1999. He is the proud holder of a Master’s Degree in Choral Music Education from Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. He has previously directed school, church and community choirs in Los Angeles, Tokyo, Osaka, Hong Kong, Paraguay, Washington, DC and Brunei.

Some important moments in Mr. Novinger’s career as a choir director include performances for Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana of Wales in Tokyo (1986) and for US First Lady Hillary Clinton in Paraguay (1995).

The new group that he just set up meets every Monday for rehearsals at a church situated in the neighborhood between Camp Foster and the Kadena area. There are about 20 of them, mostly women; so Mr. Novinger says they are still in search of more male voices.

The Okinawa International Choir has people of various nationalities represented on the island, and people of all religious denominations. Even non-Christians are allowed to join the group. According to George Novinger, that is a very positive thing: “Choral singing is not only for already professed Christians,” he explains. “I believe that people who are exposed to spiritual music obtain an ulterior satisfaction at their own pace. My prior motivation is to share Christian music, and other good songs, not to proselytize. I do not discriminate in the choir on religious grounds.”

Shiho Hirakawa, a non-Christian Okinawan piano teacher at the Shima Piano Center, located near Plazza House in Okinawa City, joined the choir as a singer last week. “I am not a Christian, but I have no problem with singing the Christian songs,” she told Japan Update. “I just like this particular choir because it has people of many nationalities; German, Italian, British, American, Japanese...”

Masae Nakasone, another piano teacher who owns a personal studio in Ishikawa, joined Mr. Novinger’s group after having had the occasion to accompany Handel’s “Messiah” with him last December. Nakasone is on familiar territory, because she is a devout Catholic Christian and because she has done chorus accompaniment for over 15 years. “This Okinawa International Choir is really about fellowship and friendship,” she said. “It’s a great thing for me to meet with all these classical piano players and singers. I particularly like the Christian songs.”

Membership in the choir is open to all interested men and women, at least of high school age. However, at the moment, the choir seems to have recruited enough women and is laying emphasis on taking in more men. “Where are the men?” George Novinger calls out. Only a few of them have already joined, one of whom is Byron Jones, the famous African American Sanshin player of Okinawa.

Chris Riley, a 6th Grade teacher at Stearly Heights on Kadena, is also one of the “few good men” for now. It is his fourth year singing on the island, but he says he particularly enjoys singing with Mr. Novinger. “It’s a constant challenge with him. I enjoy his personality and enthusiasm, and it’s an exciting thing we’re doing together here,” Riley said.

In keeping with the philosophy that music is an international language capable of breaking down traditional communication barriers between cultures, Mr. Novinger is doing his best to accommodate every member of the choir during the Monday evening rehearsals. Though the main language of communication is English, he also gives musical directions in Japanese as well. The choir’s wide repertoire at present includes classical and traditional songs like “Dona Nobis Pacem” (Latin - 15th Century); “Mon Coeur” (French - 16th Century); “Alleluia Amen” (English - Handel); “Basho-fu” (Japanese - traditional Okinawan song); and much more. Some of the contemporary songs are “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Soon Ah Will Be Done” (American Negro Spiritual); “Irish Blessing” (Chilcott); “Banquet Fugue” (English - Rutter); “Jamaican Market” (Jamaican folk song); etc.

Any men interested in joining the choir should contact George or Michiko Novinger at (098) 935-2559 or (090) 8294-6636.

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