Richmond Youth Honour Choir members reminisce experiences in Japan

The Richmond Youth Honour Choir.

The Richmond Youth Honour Choir.

Gabriella Epp did not feel homesick even once during the Richmond Youth Honour Choir‘s recent 10-day trip to Wakayama, Japan.

“It was a really different experience because of the environment,” said the 13-year-old. “So it was cool to experience a different atmosphere and a different culture.”

Several choir members said their favourite part of the trip was eating ice cream, seeing the castles and singing with the Wakayama Children’s Choir.

One member, in particular, had an unforgettable day during the trip: Mykela Ylaya celebrated her seventh birthday in Japan, eating cake at a welcome party for the choir. The mayor of Wakayama had hosted the dinner and added the surprise for her.

“The first birthday present came from the Wakayama choir,” said Ylala. “I didn’t open it yet.”

The youngest of the 20 kids that went on the trip, Ylaya was the only one from the prelude choir, which consists of members aged five to seven. Her sister Rebekah, 12, also went along. James Gill, 16, was the oldest of the group.

Besides the homestay in Wakayama with members of the Wakayama Children’s Choir, the children also visited Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, and Matsumoto.

“We didn’t get to go to Hiroshima, which is unfortunate,” said Heidi Epp, artistic director and Gabriella’s mother. “That was a part of the original plan, which was why we were singing ‘Lullaby for Hiroshima,’ which is also by a Vancouver composer, but it had to do with logistics and economics, so we couldn’t get to Hiroshima.”

The song itself is in Japanese and English, and was commissioned for the opening of the Hiroshima exhibit at the University of BC’s Museum of Anthropology a few years ago.

Heidi had the children write down their experiences and is in the process of creating a group journal. One common entry was about the castle stairs.

“They were 62 degrees angled up, 42 inches apart,” said Gabriella Epp. “It was literally a ladder. Samurais in battle would jog up them like they were nothing, but you could go literally on your hands and climb up them like a ladder.”

Jimmy Fan, 9, said while at the castle where they had to wear slippers, he had to take his off because they kept falling off.

“At all the schools, you had to change into slippers, but what was kind of funny was that our high school-aged guys have much bigger feet than the Japanese kids” said Heidi, chuckling. “And so they had their heels hanging way off the slippers because they were way too small for them.”

“When we were singing at Matsumoto Castle,” said Ylala. “There were people in the back dancing and trying to copy all the moves we did.”

Heidi Epp said after the concert, people from Wakayama were trying to sing all their songs and choreography.

“The kids in the choir that had been here two years before, they broke into a song that we had taught them when they visited us two years ago and they remembered it. They just spontaneously broke into that song,” said Heidi.

When they returned to Richmond, upon their arrival at YVR, the children started singing “Lullaby for Hiroshima” a cappella.

Ylala said while in Japan, everybody loved “Stand by Me” when they sang it, causing some of the kids to start humming it.

Gabriella said her biggest highlight of the trip was going to the castles. “I like seeing history stuff and museums, so probably the castles. Especially to the castle where we saw a really big Buddha statue. It was huge. That was really cool.”

The idea for the trip came when the Wakayama Children’s Choir visited Richmond in 2013 and performed with the Richmond Youth Honour Choir. They also homestayed with members of the choir.

The purpose of that trip was to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the sister city relationship between Richmond and Wakayama.

The Richmond Youth Honour Choir will be having its season end concert on Saturday, May 9 at 7 p.m. at the Peace Mennonite Church, 11571 Daniels Rd. Tickets (adults, $15, students and seniors $10), will be available at the door.

The finale concert, titled “Notes Between Friends,” will feature songs the choir brought to Wakayama, Japan to share with Richmond’s sister city.

The May 9 concert begins at 7 p.m. at Peace Mennonite Church, 11571 Daniels Rd. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for students and seniors and free for children five and under. Tickets are available by calling 604-723-4040, or at

There will also be auditions for all three levels of the choir for the 2015/16 season on May 13 and 16. More information can be found at

Story can also be viewed here:


About eboe00

Erin Boe is a journalism student at Langara College in Vancouver, B.C.
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