Varsity Ensemble

Photo by Syounam Thai

Article by Meongse Chang

The St. Mary’s Varsity Ensemble, now in its fourteenth year, consists of students grades ten to twelve from St. Mary’s International School. This male ensemble has made numerous concert tours to the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, and Hungary; won top awards and honors at competitions and festivals in Japan, Europe, North America; has appeared on Japanese national radio and television; worked together for a concert with the internationally renowned Japanese-American opera singer John Ken Nuzzo and performed for members of the Japanese Imperial Family. The Varsity Ensemble is involved in the Tokyo community through charity work, especially Refugees International Japan, as well as Save the Children and Hands on Tokyo.

In total the ensemble this year consists twenty five students from sophomores to seniors.

Last row

Sebastian (Junior), Gregory Nagamine (Junior), Leonardo A’de Lima (Junior), Dawoon Kwon (Senior)

Sixth row

Ryusei (Sophomore), Junseok Jung (Senior), Tokio Takai (Senior), Raymond Maejima (Senior)

Fifth row

James Newton (Junior), Takayoshi Yamamoto (Junior), Wonhyun Kang (Sophomore), Edward Street (Junior)

Fourth row

Sam Wilson (Junior), Hyungchul Yoon (Junior), Shinemon Akiyama (Senior), Joonseo Bae (Senior)

Third row

Hyunjun Oh (not currently in VE, Junior), Taejun Seo (Junior), Max Chang (Sophomore), Adam Tanifuji (Junior)

Second row

Rio Lemkuil (Junior), Kenta Kinebuchi (Junior), Masatsugu Kataoka (Senior), Kaito Hoshi (Senior)

First row

Ryo Osawa (Senior)

This is a quote from Taejun Seo, one of the members of Varsity Ensemble, about the reason why he joined the ensemble:

I [was] first attracted to the Varsity Ensemble (VE) frankly because of its enormous talent and prestige. When I first joined choir in my freshman year, the VE had just gone to the ACDA Conference in the US, which is one of the biggest honors a performing group could ever receive. I wanted to be part of a group like that. (Seo)

In order to join Varsity Ensemble, one needs to be accepted by the music directors through auditions. The audition with two segments determines whether the student is vocally skilled enough to be a part of the ensemble. First, anyone can participate in the initial stage of the audition. The music directors, Mr. and Mrs. Stenson, provide a music piece which can be acapella (only voices) or a piece that is performed with piano accompaniment. Additionally, Mrs. Stenson often provides a file which contains the piano version for all four voice ranges (Bass, Baritone, Tenor 2, and Tenor 1). Students who are auditioning and are aspiring to enhance their chances of acceptance are expected through diligent, repetitive practice to learn the musical pieces to the fullest extent. Other than the students who were proven enough to receive an unconditional offer by the directors, the participants whose second stage auditions were not yet quite up to par will be provided with a second audition opportunity after the summer break. This final audition will finalize who the members of the Varsity Ensemble will be. Annually, about sixty students participate in this rigorous auditioning process, and only ten to twelve students are selected (relative to the number of seniors who are expected to graduate in the following year).

Being an active unit of the St. Mary’s Varsity Ensemble is generally regarded as a large privilege which often plays a big influence on your overall identity as a student of St. Mary’s International School. Of course to reap the full benefits of a given position, one must understand the responsibilities that it entails. In the case of the Varsity Ensemble, attendance at of designated practices is absolutely mandatory (under penalty of suspension from the VE). Each day, ensemble members practice around 25 minutes before school (Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday) and during the second nutrition break (Monday and Thursday). If one is responsible of his designated duties and improve accordingly, many opportunities and experiences will present themselves, such as having a chance to sing in front of the US ambassador and take center stage in performing at a wedding. Likewise, this summer, the Varsity Ensemble has been selected to perform at the ANCA (Australian National Choral Association) convention, which will be held in Brisbane, Australia and with the Pemulwuy National Male Voice Festival, which will be in Brisbane.

For the aspiring student who is mindful of his choices, the Varsity Ensemble can possibly cause a dilemma in the formation of the time commitment VE requires and whether or not that investment is worth it? To help students address this dilemma, the SMIS high school counselors offer this advice:

The most important factor for getting into college is your academic performance in your classes. It is a great honor to be selected to Varsity Ensemble, but that does not make up for your poor grades. However, this involvements gets helpful when ‘music’ is your thing. You are going to be able to talk about it in your college essays and different parts of the application, and the admission officers will be able to see that this is an activity that you are really committed to beyond academics. And that is, of course, going to be a positive thing. Fine arts, especially Varsity Ensemble,  is the thing that we really like to share with university admission officers. When they ask about St. Mary’s, one of the main things we highlight is our wonderful fine arts program because it’s not just a singing club. So they will know that, and that is all part of the things that they look at from a holistic point of view. (Callon and Kobayashi)

St. Mary’s Varsity Ensemble is a group that epitomizes excellence in the realm of the world’s international school choir community, and, a student can be reasonably justified in taking pride in his VE participation, especially for his part in spreading positivity and providing hope through music across various communities including refugees and underprivileged children. However, if a student wants to join the group only for gaining the privilege as a ‘Varsity Ensemble’ member, then it would be a wise decision to expend his time and talents somewhere else. But if the student truly enjoys the process, in and of itself, of singing and disseminating happiness to various people around the globe, I cannot imagine a better way to do so.

Works Cited

Seo, Taejun. “What Is Varsity Ensemble to You.” Online interview. 8 Apr. 2017.

Callon, Janel, and Marie Kobayashi. “How Does Varsity Ensemble Affect College Entrance.”

Personal interview. 9 Apr. 2017.