By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
TORRANCE — A talk by a space shuttle astronaut and a piece inspired by the Endeavour’s trip to its new home in Los Angeles were highlights of a concert presented by the Asia America Youth Orchestra on May 12 at the James Armstrong Theatre in Torrance.
The conductor was David Benoit, AAYO’s founder and musical director for 12 seasons. With “Space and the Great Outdoors” as the theme, the first half of the program consisted of Aaron Copeland’s “Outdoor Overture,” the theme from “Star Trek” (arranged by Paul Jennings), Gustav Holst’s “Mars” (from “The Planets”), and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 “Pastoral” in F major.
The AAYO performed a new piece by one of its own, trombonist Wataru Sugahara, who won the 2013 AASA (Asia America Symphony Association) International Composition for Orchestra Competition. Benoit explained that the entries were “either about the great outdoors or about space, or it could be about both. The winner was also the winner last year. He’s such a good composer that he has now won two years in a row.” The piece was titled “An Afternoon Escapade.”
Benoit introduced Dr. Garrett Reisman, who flew on two space shuttles, Endeavour and Atlantis, lived on the International Space Station, and drove the Toyota Tundra that pulled the Endeavour over the 405 Freeway during its trek through Los Angeles. He was invited to speak by AASA President Randy Tamura.
Reisman, a South Bay resident, noted that he spent more than 100 days in space during his two missions, but did not receive NASA’s 100-day patch because the days were not consecutive. “I’m not bitter about it. I’ll get over it,” he joked.
He described the sensation of liftoff: “You get pushed back in your seat by the force of the engines, and in the shuttle it can get up to 3 G’s. You ramp up slowly to that, but you feel like you weigh three times as much as you do … That force you’re feeling is the acceleration, so you know now you’re going really, really fast … In just 8½ minutes you go from 0 miles an hour to 17,500 miles an hour …
“In an instant you go from 3 G’s to zero when the engines shut off. It feels like you’re being shot out of your seat and you think you’re going to be like a bug on the windshield … In fact, you’re not being shot forward, you’re just no longer being held back. Everything is just floating and you’re still in your seat and all the veteran astronauts are pointing at you and laughing.”
Being in space “is pretty magical. It’s really a fantastic place,” Reisman said. “There are many different highlights. Doing spacewalks is certainly one of them, but on a day-to-day basis, what was the most fun was floating in weightlessness … As soon as you push away from a wall … and you go across the space station, it’s like you’re Superman. If you’ve ever had a dream where you can just put out your arms and start flying, it’s like that every day.”
At the same time, he continued, “It’s a great feeling to be back on Earth because it does help you appreciate just how special this planet is.”
Now that the shuttles have been retired, Reisman is working with NASA to prepare SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft to carry astronauts.
The astronaut told the young musicians, “When I was in high school, I played in our concert band. I played clarinet … As I listened to the first half of today’s event, I realized that we were awful. You guys are really, really good. I’d like to say I’m enjoying this very much.”
Appearing on stage in a flight suit, Benoit said that when he saw Endeavour at the California Science Center, “I felt this surge of patriotism, Wow, this is what this country can do. You hear so much bad news … but this is the good stuff.” He added that he is investigating “the possibility of next year actually having the orchestra play underneath the Endeavour.”
Benoit, a five-time Grammy nominee, was inspired to write music about the space shuttle, and the result was “Journey of the Endeavour.” The AAYO played the piece as a video showed the huge spacecraft making the 12-mile trip through city streets from LAX to Exposition Park.
The orchestra played another composition by Benoit, “Houston,” which he said “has some relevance today because Houston is the command center for the space shuttle.” The performance featured Benoit on piano and Co-concertmaster Jackson Snead on violin, with Assistant Conductor Joe Marino conducting.
An awards presentation followed. In addition to Sughara, who received $1,000 for “An Afternoon Escapade,” the winners of the 11th International Composition for Orchestra Competition were Molly Srour (clarinet, principal), who received $750 for “Summer Stars Over Yosemite,” and Andrew Goo (viola, principal), who received $500 for “Waltz for the Stars and Comets.” In keeping with the day’s theme, Goo showed up in a Starfleet uniform.
The Kay Sakaguchi Youth Scholarship winners were named. Established in 2005 by Dr. Sanbo Sakaguchi in memory of his wife, the scholarship fund is administered by the Asia American Symphony Guild. The $500 scholarships go to outstanding musicians that have shown discipline, responsibility, dedication and leadership. Each orchestra member can only receive the award once.
“Basically it’s the kid who shows up on time, takes care of business, maybe helps out another child or plays one of our other events, just an all-around cool guy or girl,” Benoit explained. “We never have a problem finding three winners, and this year is no exception.”
Benoit and Lily Miyata — the guild’s charter president, who has supported the youth program for over 40 years — congratulated the winners: Kaelan Decman (bass, principal), Noah Pacifici (guitar, principal), and Rebekah Lieu (piccolo). Decman continued the space theme by dressing as Han Solo from “Star Wars.”
Lastly, Benoit recognized the seniors who are headed for “bigger and better things … I’m very proud we have a lot of kids that have graduated and gone on to very prestigious music schools and are working musicians. They learned in this orchestra how to sight-read, how to work with other kids, how to play every possible style imaginable.”
In addition to Sugahara, Goo, Decman, Pacifici and Lieu, the departing seniors are Keshav Lalchandani (horn, principal), Rosie LaPuma (viola), Tomohiro Ohkubo (violin), Michael Park (cello), Lauren Shirley (clarinet), Sara Sithi-Amnuai (trumpet, principal), Sayaka Ueda (viola), and Conner Zamora (trumpet).
The seniors thanked Benoit, Marino and AASA Executive Director Daryl Tanikawa for their mentorship and presented them with gifts.
The concert closed with a jazz standard, Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man.” Benoit, who again played piano, said, “What’s fun about this piece is that … anybody who wants to solo on this song can solo … You never know who’s going to get up there. We get a few classical players who just jump up and want to play. They want to play jazz.”
The event was co-sponsored by the Asia America Symphony Guild and Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. As part of a Mother’s Day package, many concertgoers also enjoyed brunch at The Depot in Torrance.
On the Web: www.asiaamericasymphony.org/youth/
Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo