Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Music of 1,000 Paper Cranes

On a warm Thursday night at St. Paul's Episcopal, I hosted the pre-concert for the New Orleans Crescent City Choral Festival. Three children's choirs performed: Contra Costa Children's Chorus from California, Encore Youth Choir from Illinois, and the Mississippi Boychoir. They were all terrific and the main concert of the festival will be Monday, June 25th, 2012 at 7:30 at St. Louis Cathedral. Several pieces stayed in my memory, but a simple, yet beautiful one called "Song of Peace", written by Tom Vos and performed by the Encore Youth choir, had such a moving story that I thought I'd share it here.The piece is about the legend of the 1,000 cranes and the story of Sadako Sasaki (1943-1955).
The story of the 1,000 origami cranes comes from ancient Japanese tradition and is called the Senbazuru (also Zenbazuru). It is thought that origami officially began as early as the 8th century and the first book about it was published as "The Secret to Folding 1,000 Cranes". Senbazuru means 1,000 paper cranes lined together on a string. The legend is that a person who folds 1,000 paper cranes will please the gods and be granted a wish. Today, Senbazuru are sometimes assembled and given as a wish for recovery from illness or given as good luck wishes for new births, weddings, or new homes, etc.
Cranes are revered in the mythology of several cultures and thought to be holy birds. They are beautiful, noble, and protected in many places around our world. I was lucky to have the opportunity to visit Cheorwon, S. Korea in 2010 and saw tons of cranes in a protected wildlife area on the way to the DMZ. They are HUGE! Here is a picture that I took of some in the snow.
The 1,000 folded cranes have become a powerful symbol for world peace as a result of a young girl named Sadako Sasaki. Sadako was a Japanese girl who became ill with Leukemia due to radiation poisoning from the bombing of Hiroshima in WWII on August 6, 1945. Conservative estimates of those who died in Hiroshima are 150,000 and in Nagasaki 75,000. Sadako and her family had survived, but breathing the radioactive dust and ash along with living in the area, caused Sadako to develop Leukemia later in her young life. She went from being the fastest runner on her track team and highly energetic, to being extremely sick and dying at the age of twelve. Sadako was inspired by the Thousand Origami Cranes after the community of Nagoya gave her a gift and she began to fold her own in hopes of recovering. One account says that after folding 644, she died before she could finish them all. Her friends and classmates folded the rest and set them with her when she was buried. According to several links, she actually did finish the 1,000 cranes and continued making them when she did not recover. Either way, it is both heart-warming and heart-wrenching. The composer calls for the folding of the paper cranes during the piece so you hear the soft crinkling of the paper in the background of the singing. At the end of the song, the children held the birds gently in their hands and walked out into the audience to surround us with sound and then to give us the cranes. I had never heard this story before, nor the choral piece. I was very moved. As far as I can tell, there is no YouTube recording available yet, but I will post it here when I find it. I think that even though the piece is written for children's choir, it's simple beauty is effective on any level. Here's a picture of the Encore Youth Choir holding their sheets of colored paper, ready to begin the song.
If you'd like to learn how to fold a paper crane, there are LOTS of How to and YouTube links out there. Here's one for printed and video instructions:

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