Japanese choir members Harumi and Margaret

A love of music and Japanese culture bring women together

A love of Japanese culture brought Harumi Cannon and Margaret Newman together. The pair met at Nishi Yukari, a Japanese choir in the western suburbs that Harumi founded. The choir practises regularly and performs at nursing homes and at special events. Margaret has now become firm friends with Harumi’s family, including Harumi’s 97-year-old mother.

Harumi:

I married an Australian, Ray, in Japan and came to Australia 48 years ago. My father died 10 years ago and I brought my mother, Sadako, over from Japan to live with us.

I always liked music but started much older. I did piano teacher training from age 30 to 40, then learned the flute from 40 to 50, and trumpet from 50 to 60. But then I realised that trumpet and flute do not go well so I stopped trumpet playing.

My Japanese friends and I started the choir for Japanese women on western side of Melbourne six years ago. We practice twice a month and enjoy visiting the nursing homes to sing. Sometimes they have Japanese residents but it does not matter if they don't because music touches everyone.

The choir is more than just singing, it is friendship also. We always end the meetings with light lunch and chatting.

Margaret thinks of my family especially my elderly mother and brings flowers and cakes for my mum. I very much appreciate her kind thoughts, not just for me but for every member of the choir.

Margaret:

One of my brothers was a very experienced business man who had spent quite a lot of time in Japan. He says, ‘You're not happy secondary teaching. You are good at learning languages. Do Japanese. You can’t lose’.

So I landed in Japan on the fifteenth of March, 1990, and got a job within three days. I often had three part-time jobs and I was there nine years. I loved it!

When I came back, I tried to make contact with the Japanese community here, but I couldn't. I went to a few Japanese festivals, but I couldn't make any more than trade contact with anyone so I gave my scholarly Japanese books to Melbourne University and thought, ‘Well that's it’.

And then I met a Japanese woman, and she said, ‘Come, and listen to the choir.’ Then she said, ‘Would you like to join?’

So I said, ‘You know, I’d love to! I adore music!’ I used to play the mandolin. So, I became the first non-Japanese citizen to come into the choir.

Our concerts in the nursing homes are fun. People love them actually, and they message back to me saying, ‘It was good!’ And you know they really mean good, like it was heartfelt and strong, and that encourages you to go back.

Harumi is so kind and welcoming. She has a beautiful, large home with a grand piano where you can have long tables and large parties of people, so we have New Year’s together, Christmas, birthdays and she invites us over to watch Japanese TV. Her mother is amazing, she’s 97 years old and I get on really well with her – we share a secret language. She’s like a cross-cultural grandmother.

And it's fabulous. You know, I adore the Japanese culture and country, I was very sad to have had to leave and come back to Australia. So, I'm really happy to have met Harumi, and I love singing with the Japanese women. There are at least three here today who sing magnificently and that really lifts you. It’s quite a joy in my life.