• Diaspora Japan

Rivonne (pt. 2)


So that was 2013. You’ve continued on singing since then?

Yeah! And well actually I’ve also been teaching choir.

So Ashton, my husband, was teaching at a choir and there was a little bit of drama that ended with them asking us to start our own choir. And we definitely said “no”, because we didn’t want a gospel choir. That’s what the choir was. We’re not gospel singers. We don’t really do gospel.

But they were very persistent. So we said, “OK, if we’re going to have a choir, it’s not going to be a gospel choir. We’re going to do it our way. We’re going to have songs that we want to do. We will never sing Oh Happy Day.”

Although we did end up singing one gospel song when we toured in Detroit.

Hold on, you toured in Detroit? That’s kind of huge.

Oh, right! It was amazing.

So, to talk about the choir for a sec. It’s called the KJC, the Kanagawa Jubilee Chorale. Ashton focuses on the pop and jazz aspects, and I focus more on the classical side, negro spirituals. Because that’s what I used to do. And I said, “Of course you can do gospel, but if you don’t know the history and if you don’t know where the songs come from, what are you doing?”

The tone is going to be all wrong.


So, how long had you been working with this choir when you went to Detroit?

Four years. It was our four year anniversary tour. And they kept saying, “We want to go to Detroit!” and I sort of nodded and said “Yeah, yeah, okay.” But every year they were more into it. So I said, “OK, let’s just try.”

So, we had a friend who works a lot with the choir with translation, communication, and the business end of things. And every year he takes his students to San Francisco, so we asked him to help guide us.

And basically he said, “Come up with a number that you think will be able to cover all of the costs and once your set that price, you can’t go over it.”

So we really had think about how much it’s going to cost: the plane tickets, the administrative fees (and I didn’t even put in administrative fees I just said I would do it), vans, tickets, hotel, gas, exchange rate, and all of those things.


Yeah, it was a headache. But when I came to them with the price, and I explained to them that although this price is more than they might pay if they went to Detroit themselves, I had to explain that there are costs that we can’t predict and we need to be prepared. I had to really get the numbers right so I wasn’t asking for another 10,000 yen or 20,000 yen at the end. We had to make sure we covered our bases.

Better to overshoot and have some cushion than to be scrounging at the last minute just to get the bare minimum.

Exactly. But we ended up having a left over that I was able to funnel back to the KJC (the Kanagawa Jubilee Chorale) and I ended up getting my administrative fees for the 100 plus hours I put in!

So how was the trip?

So, the trip was amazing. Some of them, their first time out of Japan. Some first time to mainland of the US. ALL of them, first time in Detroit. That was an experience all on its own.

We took them to the Charles H Wright Museum of African American History, went to the Motown museum, got to see Motown: The Musical, we got to meet the cast, sing in front of the cast — it was amazing. Just amazing.

And we met Martha Reeves of Martha & the Vendellas! She was at the museum right before us! And so our tour was going through, our tour guide caught wind that Martha Reeves was in the tour in front of us. So she said, “I’m going to go ahead and see if she’ll come back and say ‘hi’ since you all are coming all the way from Japan.” and she came back!

She taught us a few steps and as she was going everyone said “Rivonne! Invite her to the show!” So I ran out, and I said “Mrs. Reeves! Mrs. Reeves! Would you mind coming to our show at Hartford—and if you’re from Detroit you know Hartford—it starts at 6. We would love for you to come!” And that’s when she said “Oh, you all sing?” and I said, “Yes, well, actually we’re singing one of your songs. We’re singing Dancing in the Street!”

What a moment of serendipity. I didn’t realize when you met her that you were also going to be performing her song on your tour.

Yep, so she came back, we had our pitch pipe on hand, and they started singing. And because we invited her, she came to our concert the next night, she was the honored guest, she sang The Lord’s Prayer, and after that I gave her a hug and she said, “I want to see you again,” and I said, “I want to see you again, too!”

And we did about five shows in total.

And what were the singers feeling?

Actually, I was starting to see that they were really taking home what the music is that they’ve been singing all this time. Especially at the Charles H Wright museum.

How’s that?

There’s this part, it’s the hardest part to go through, and I kind of hate going through it. It’s when they show you the slave ships. They have the mannequins lined up as the slave ships would be. I remember going there in sixth grade and we all came out crying.

The exhibit takes you through the Middle Passage, up to the slave boats, and down to the area where they kept the slaves. Many of my ladies were in tears. They were saying, “I knew this but I didn’t really know this.” African American history is a blurb in their education.

Some of the ladies were apologizing to me saying, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” and I told them, “Hey, it’s OK. You didn’t know. But now you do know. What are you going to do about it?”

And all of this came from them expressing interest in visiting Detroit. And not just talking about it, but putting those words into actions.

Mhm. So, we’re toying with the idea of going back, but I don’t know how I can top that


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