Academy Band, Japanese composer open 'New Doors'

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Don Branum
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
Author Helen Keller once wrote, "When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us."

Chie Imaizumi cites Ms. Keller's quote as inspiration for "Opening New Doors," a piece she began composing in October 2010 and rehearsed with the Air Force Academy Band here Jan. 21. Her own life's journey, however, may also have served to inspire the piece, which reflects her personal journey.

Ms. Imaizumi, a native of Saitama, Japan, began her music career at age 4, playing electric organ. After high school, she attended Senzoku Gakuen Junior College in Takatsu, studying to become a jazz pianist. She worked for a year after finishing school, then moved to Boston to attend the Berklee College of Music.

Shortly thereafter, tendonitis struck her forearms and hands. The door to her music career had slammed shut.

"It was really hard," the petite young woman recalled. "I still wanted to graduate."

Ms. Imaizumi didn't know any English at the time, but she knew the language of music. She used that to open another door. She started writing music so she could graduate as a jazz composition major ... and she came to enjoy composing so much that she no longer misses the piano.

"Well, I do," she clarified a beat later, smiling, "but I love what I'm doing so much, I'm glad I got tendonitis. Kind of."

The composer stayed in Boston for about two years after graduating, moved to New York for a year, then lived in Denver for three. She lives in the Los Angeles area now.

Her first encounter with the Air Force Academy Band took place in the summer of 2008, when she met a member of the Falconaires ensemble.

"I had my own jazz big band, and I was looking for a trombone player, and someone introduced me to (Master Sgt.) Scott Crump," Ms. Imaizumi explained. After Sergeant Crump got a feel for her music, he introduced her to the rest of the Falconaires ensemble, who commissioned her to write "Sharing the Freedom."

"They suggested to Lt. Col. Larry Lang that I write a piece for the concert band," she said. "I had never written a piece for a larger ensemble than jazz big band, but something told me I should do it."

Shortly before she began working on the piece, she drove from Los Angeles to Arizona to meet the concert band on tour.

"I wanted to hear what kind of sound they had," she said. "Every musician is different, and I usually write for a specific person, so that helped a lot."

Once she had mostly finished the piece, she came to Peterson Air Force Base to rehearse with the band in their studio. The cacophony of sound from the bandsmen warming up on their instruments faded into silence as Colonel Lang walked to the podium. He brought the band in sync by leading them through Bach's Symphony No. 16, then brought Ms. Imaizumi to the conductor's podium.

"It's been great having Chie here," he said. "She's a lot of fun. The music itself is extraordinary, and we're all pleased to be part of this creative process."

Ms. Imaizumi led the band through each of the piece's three movements. The first represented happy memories; the second, a struggle as one door closes; the third, exultation as a new door opens. The band rehearsed each movement individually, with Ms. Imaizumi making minor corrections to her composition as they played.

At the session's end, the band played "Opening New Doors" in its entirety. Ms. Imaizumi became one part conductor and one part dancer, her face beaming as the band hit its crescendo. Injury had closed one door in her life, but through perseverance, she found and opened a new door.