Yasuhide Ito (b. 1960) is one of Japan’s premier composers of original music for wind band. He is best known for his 1990 suite for wind band Gloriosa, which is performed frequently all over the world. He has written several dozen other pieces for band and other media, including symphonies for band and at least one full opera, going back to his first band work, On the March, of 1978, written when he was in his third year of high school. Ito is also a renowned pianist, conductor, lecturer, and translator.
Ito wrote Festal Scenes in 1986. He says he “was inspired to write Festal Scenes after receiving a letter from a wandering philosophical friend in Shanghai, who said ‘- everything seems like Paradise blooming all together. Life is a festival, indeed.'” The piece uses four Japanese folk songs from Aomori Prefecture, home of the famous Nebuta Festival, as its source material. It also calls for 2 Japanese percussion instruments that are used in the Nebuta Festival: the Tebiragane, a type of antique cymbal, and the Nebuta-daiko, alarge drum played with long bamboo sticks.
Here’s a nice, punchy performance of Festal Scenes by what I can only conclude is a Japanese band. I can’t read the Japanese text below the video, so I’m not sure. Don’t be put off by the fast tempos in the outer sections, but DO listen very carefully to how crisply articulated everything is in the woodwinds!
Now to the folk songs: the first, called “Jongara-jamisen” by Ito, seems to be based on the playing of the shamisen, a banjo-like instrument with three strings. Listen to this video to get an idea of the sound – this is the sound that Ito is going for in the opening bars of the piece!
The next song is “Hohai-bushi”, which you can hear in a modern version in this video. One commenter (ok, the only commenter) aptly calls it “Japanese mountain music”.
What Ito calls “Tsugaru-aiya-bushi”, and interprets as a lyrical melody, appears to come from another shamisen tune. The closest I could find to the melody as in Festal Scenes comes in this performance:
The fourth folk song is impossible to track down, given that Ito calls it “Nebuta-festival”, which also happens to be the name of the very lively and ongoing festival which inspired it. Suffice it to say, it appears alongside the long section of Nebuta-daiko drumming from 125-151, and it is very expressive and lyrical, with grace notes galore and an octave jump at the end of each phrase. In lieu of the song itself, you’ll have to settle instead for a video of some Nebuta-daiko-like drumming. Watch the moves!
And finally, more Nebuta-daiko drumming (and so much more) in a video from the 2010 Nebuta Festival: