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In Harmony on the Diplomatic Circuit

By: Stephen Carr

Date Posted: 2000-05-27

It is always a pleasure to meet someone who has a passion for something he loves. In the case of George Novinger, this is choral music. George has been organizing choral groups around the world for 21 years. “I love voices singing in harmony, it’s like weaving a rug with sound” he says. “The voice appeals to me more than instruments”. He has directed school, church and community choirs in Los Angeles, Tokyo, Osaka, Hong Kong, Paraguay, Washington D.C. and Brunei.

He has directed choirs which have performed in front of Prince Charles and Lady Diana in Tokyo and for Hilary Clinton in Paraguay.

George and his wife Michiko arrived in Okinawa in August 1999. He serves as Consul and Administrative Officer at the American Consulate General, Naha. George is pursuing his calling here too, directing the Okinawa International Chorus. This choir has in it Japanese ladies, students, housewives, military dependents, civilians and apparently not enough men. George would like to have a better balance in his choir. At the moment he has four basses, four tenors, half a dozen altos and ten sopranos.

“It’s tougher on the guys, doing something like this, because they usually have more work responsibilities” he explains. “But I really would like anyone to consider trying this. You don’t have to have been a star singer at school, he maintains, to make a worthwhile contribution.

He was in a second tier choir himself before going on to study the subject at college for four or five years. He now has a Masters Degree in Choral Music Education. George comes from teaching stock himself. His parents and grandparents were all teachers and he says, “I love to impart knowledge”.

The process of polishing the abilities of a disparate group, getting cohesion out of a sum of parts which at first does not hang together too well, obviously fascinates him. “There’s a lot of potential for misunderstanding here. In an everyday situation most Japanese here don’t speak English and most Americans don’t speak Japanese. They’re not likely to meet or socialize under normal circumstances, except perhaps in a bar.’

“In a choir, when it starts to make real progress, something clicks, perhaps during a certain piece of music, eyes light up and it’s wonderful. From then on people who can’t even speak the same language start to co-operate, they open up, not only musically. I feel pleased I can help this positive interchange.”

My interview subject was talking in the unlikely setting of a bar in which an Elvis impersonator was crooning, sashaying between the tables and kissing the hands of female members of the audience. One of the songs he sang was Love Me Tender, which I learnt was originally based on Aura Lee, a 350-year-old traditional English folk tune.

On June 2 and 3 the Okinawa International Chorus is going to perform an eclectic program of music from 15th Century Latin pieces such as Dona Nobis Pacem, to negro spirituals like “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and jazz-swing numbers like “In the Mood”.

The program, in honor of the G8 Summit, will have music from all participating countries. Composers will include all time greats Bach, Handel, Mozart, Rachmaninoff , to modern classic tunesmiths, Garland and Farrow. Local music will also feature in the performance, Basho Fu, an Okinawan traditional song and one with soloist Michiko Haraka. A piano duet will feature two Japanese women doing two Debussy movements.

Tickets for this event are ¥500 advance or ¥700 at the door. The charge includes wine, cheese, soft drinks and crackers during the interval. They can be bought at the Consulate General. Alternatively call George Novinger or his wife Michiko at (098) 935 2559.

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