Winnipeg students bring the noise to Japan as band exchange program celebrates 30 years

A group of talented young musicians from Winnipeg took the stage in Japan Wednesday morning to play for a local audience that's welcomed them in for three decades.

Dakota Collegiate High School students play alongside Australian, Thai musicians at international festival

Band students from Dakota Collegiate rehearse before their big performance in Kochi, Japan. (Dakota Collegiate/Twitter)

A group of talented young musicians from Winnipeg took the stage in Japan this week to play for a local audience that's welcomed them in for three decades.

Last week, Dakota Collegiate High School sent 67 band students to its sister school Meitoku Gijuku High School in Kochi, Japan, for the 30th annual International Joint Concert.

After about a week of practising and taking in the scenery, they played alongside students from Australia, Japan, Thailand, China and Indonesia on Wednesday morning, Winnipeg-time (Wednesday night in Kochi).

"It's amazing, I am so excited to be here," Thomas Richard, a Grade 11 Dakota student who plays trombone in the band, said over the phone from Kochi Tuesday night.

Students got a chance to take in the some of the sites in Kochi. (Dakota Collegiate/Twitter)

Dakota collegiate principal Jill Mathez said ahead of the big show that she couldn't be prouder of her group.

"When you see the students preparing for the last six months for this concert and you see them now today and yesterday, especially rehearsing the final moments and fine tuning all the details, it is absolutely a thrill," she said.

The school has dispatched a group of young musical minds to the Japan festival every three years since its inception, Mathez says, making the most recent stint its 10th performance.

Though the group landed in Japan last week and has had some time to see some of the local sites, Richard said the teens had also rehearsed just about every day in preparation for the concert.

"It's a wonderful place," said Richard, who said he was impressed by how hospitable locals have been. "Just the kindness, and the people here are just amazing."

Each international school brought music to teach students from other countries. Dakota Collegiate decided on a melody from the James Bond movie series; Meitoku Gijuku students shared a traditional Japanese folk song.

Language barriers have made communicating a challenge at times, Richard says, and it wasn't exactly easy teaching the James Bond tune to some of the international students.

They're going to be friends forever and that's something you're not going to get inside your classroom.- Jill Mathez

"It's a very different style for some of the students," he said.

"We got mixed reactions. Some were quite shocked and others were annoyed at how difficult this was."

Apart from the valuable experience students have gained playing overseas over the years, Mathez says the trip also brings the international students together in ways they couldn't imagine.

"By the end of it you were hearing comments like, 'Oh gosh, I can't wait to get back to Canada and stay in touch. I'm going to email all of these people,'" she said.

"They're going to be friends forever and that's something you're not going to get inside your classroom, in the walls of a school."

Interest in the program continues to grow. Mathez says that's good because it's teaching students about more than just time signatures and how to play in harmony.

"I think anytime you can take a student, or people, out of what their normal everyday activities are and immerse them in a culture that is different, [they] recognize at times it's not all about you," she said. 

"There's so much more in this world … to learn about."

With files from Wendy Parker