My Way Your Way

Making My Dream Come True


Enjoying Music with the Whole Body

BRIGHT EYES super-duper


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©Nakasai Chiya

Bright Eyes is a band first formed in 1988. In 2011 some of the members changed and the name changed to Bright Eyes Super-Duper. Today there are four members: bandleader and guitarist Kimura Masaaki, vocalist Suzuki Shunsuke, bass guitarist Yamamoto Tomohisa, and drums Narita Yoshifusa. They got together first in the music club at their School for the Deaf and all but Narita, who was then their teacher, have hearing disabilities. How does playing in a rock band and having hearing disabilities go together? Hey, music can be enjoyed even if you can't hear! The four explain their feelings about music and the band.

We feel the reverberation of low sounds

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Q.How much sound can you hear and how do you coordinate your playing?

Suzuki: I carry a level 3* disability certificate. While we are playing, I don't hear the music with my ears but feel it with my body. I can detect the bass guitar the most clearly because the sound is low.

Narita: And you can feel the rhythm and sense the sound, right?

Suzuki: Right. I sing following the bass and I can tell when the bass is off pitch. The guitar is difficult for me to catch.

Yamamoto: I, too, am a Level 3 (disabilities certificate holder), and if there is a speaker that generates good quality low sounds, I can readily sense the sound of the bass.

Kimura: I am a Level 2 and I can get the sound of the bass.

Narita: Yeah, so everyone takes their cue from the bass. And from the drums, as the sound of the drums reverberates. Still, when we started the band, we couldn't give the kind of performances we do now. It was pretty chaotic.
In order to make music you can get people to listen to, you first have to get your act together first on the drums and bass. Yamamoto leads with the bass, Kimura follows on guitar, and finally the singing follows them. What we have to do to get things to go like that, however, is really hard. Recently we've been discussing together ideas for how to make better music. Yamamoto, in particular, has his own ideas. Some of them don't work, but some of them are really good! (laughter)
After all, we've been together for 25 years. We're gradually learning. That's all we can do.

* A person classified as Level 3 hears from 90 decibels (dB) and over in both ears, detecting a yell or loud shout. Level 2 is 100 decibels or over, that is, the roar of airplane engines. Level 2 is the most serious level of hearing disability.

The Definition of "Deaf"

Some think that "deaf" means a person who cannot hear anything at all, but there are very few who cannot hear anything at all. "Deaf" actually means not able to hear what a person without any disability can hear. The level of hearing and content of the sound differ for each person. Even if they do detect sounds, the sounds may be distorted in hearing and therefore difficult to identify, so they find it hard to make out what another person is saying. Also, while low sounds may be easy to hear, sometimes it is difficult to tell whether they are being heard or felt by vibration.

Bandleader, Kimura Masaaki (guitar)

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Yamamoto Tomohisa (bass guitar)

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Suzuki Shunsuke (vocalist)

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Narita Yoshifusa (drums)

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Q.About how long does it take to work up a new number?

Narita: At first it used to take more than a year before we could perform a new piece. Recently our original piece, "Aitai" ("I Want to See You") went fairly quickly, right? It was about three months. It really depends on the piece. We have trouble getting in synch when the beat is unfamiliar. And there are songs that are difficult to sing, aren't there?

Suzuki: Yes.

Narita: The singing is the most difficult part. Suzuki memorizes the notes, with me prompting him, one by one, to go higher or lower, as needed. So, anyway, we just keep doing, but it seems to take forever. It's different from being able to just hear a melody and sing by following what one hears with the ears.

Suzuki: When I sing high notes, I tilt my face upward. Sometimes I really pull my hair. Even if I'm told the sound is just right, I can't remember that sound, and slight raising or lowering of notes is really difficult.

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Narita: So every time, we practice all the songs in our repertoire, over and over . . . and over, countless times. That way, I think, the form of a song takes shape within us. And recently, listeners can follow Suzuki's melodies.
In fact, though, we ourselves aren't too worried about melody and such. What we're trying to do is get to the spirit that is embedded in a song. Sometimes Suzuki doesn't feel like singing. Then nobody else wants to play either. Right?!

Yamamoto, Kimura:That's right. Yeah.

Narita:But when Suzuki is really belting it out--whether he's off key or whatever--we follow his lead and we get into the groove. Times like that in a live performance are the best. We all know we've succeeded in performing a good piece.

Encounter with Music

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Q.Did you like music from the time you were young?

Yamamoto: My big sister played the piano and I used to watch her--I was interested.

Kimura: When I was in elementary school, music was the class I hated most. I couldn't tell the difference between Schubert and Bach--they all seemed the same to me. The only one I understood was Beethoven's "Destiny" symphony. The "da-da-da daa" notes reverberated really well and I could clearly feel the rhythm.

Suzuki:Yes, I didn't like music class either. I couldn't hear the piano and I couldn't sing, or appreciate music.

Narita:Yeah, classes like that would make you hate music. Fortunately, music classes at schools for the deaf have recently been changing. Now they have started using drums--Bright Eyes has had some influence--they use amps to raise the amplification, and they teach drums and guitar.

Q.What got you started with performing?

Yamamoto: When I was in elementary school I saw the CCB rock group and I thought the drums were really cool and wanted to try that. Later I liked the 1980s Boøwy band.

Suzuki: Watching my brother playing Beatles songs on his guitar, I thought that looked really cool, and I was hooked. (laughter). Thinking I wanted to do that myself, I used to borrow his guitar when he wasn't looking to practice. Then he found out what I was doing and got really mad at me. But I still kept on practicing in secret (laughter).

Kimura: When I was in high school, I saw Nagabuchi Tsuyoshi and he really blew me away, he was so cool----and that is what led to the formation of Bright Eyes.

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Q.Please tell us about the time the band was formed.

Kimura: I was so excited after seeing Nagabuchi that I wanted to start taking guitar lessons. But, probably because I wouldn't have been able to understand what the teacher was saying, I ended up not taking lessons. I tried to teach myself, but wasn't able to master it. Then I got the bright idea of creating a club at school. But at first the teachers wouldn't take me seriously, saying, "not being able to hear the music, how will you ever practice?" But those of us who wanted to start a club promoted our idea and our numbers increased, so we tried talking to the teachers again. Then they said that if we could find someone who would be our faculty advisor, we could found a club. At the time Narita-sensei had just been hired on the staff, and we heard that he had been part of a band in university. When we went to see Narita-sensei and asked him to be our advisor, he quickly said "Sure!"

Narita: At first I was a bit surprised, but I could tell how keen Kimura was on the idea when he said he wanted to learn to play music. Thinking how great it would be for the kids to learn how much fun it is to make music, I was glad to agree to be their advisor.

Kimura: Plenty of other students came forward to join our club and we started off with 20 members.

Narita: It was originally a club that was part of our curricular activities but before long it was raised in status to an extra-curricular club. A music club in a school for the deaf! I really think it was revolutionary.

Kimura: "Bright Eyes" originated in the band organized by the club members at that time.

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Q.You have performed live many times up until now. What made the kind of performances you thought were really good?

Kimura: The best performances are when the audience is enthusiastic. Then again, when I find it hard to catch the sound of the bass guitar, I will be so busy watching the drums and trying to play in time to it that I can't afford to look at the audience.

Narita: And we get flustered when we can't catch the reverberations--not because of being nervous.

Kimura: Yes. Sometimes the sound travels differently at different times, even though the place is the same. When the engineer is different, inevitably the conditions differ.

Narita: Yeah, the role of the engineer is really important. An engineer who is familiar with this kind of stage know that performers with hearing disabilities rely on the bass and drums, so they will raise the volume for those two as high as possible and then balance the whole. Some are no good at this. In such cases, we can't catch the vibrations of the bass guitar or feel the drum beat, and then the only way of coordinating is by actually watching the drummer.

Suzuki: Yeah. That's why the live we did the other day wasn't good. The volume for the bass was low and Kimura's guitar felt louder.

Narita: So you heard the sound of the guitar too clearly, so it sounded wrong?

Suzuki:Yes. So I had to fudge things and just shouted out the song.

Narita: Ah, that's why you sang like speaking the lyrics.

Suzuki: We haven't yet had a performance I thought was really good. We have a long way to go.

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Q.What are your goals from now on?

Suzuki: My feeling is that I don't want to sing like a performer without disabilities. But how I should sing isn't yet clear to me. Of course, I'll keep up the basic practice and keep on trying, but the important thing is to get to the heart and the spirit of the music. I want to get across more feeling with my eyes and expressions. I need to sing with more understanding of the lyrics.

Yamamoto: I, too, am not necessarily trying to really excel at playing bass. I just want to enjoy playing. I really enjoy playing. So I practice.

Kimura: Of course, for myself I strongly want to polish my technique. But really, heart is more important than technique.

Narita: That is my policy. Improving technique and getting to the heart of the music are both important.

Suzuki: There are a lot of people who have suffered from bullying, violence, or other painful experiences, whether they have disabilities or not. I want to send a message to them: Don't give up. Don't be defeated. I myself have experienced lots of pain, so my feeling about that message just gets stronger. It's a heavy responsibility and sometimes I want to just escape the whole thing, but we can't do that. If we put our heart and soul into the music, we can give them courage and strength.

Narita: You sure put plenty of heart and soul in right now. You have even more?!

Suzuki: There's no limit!

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Kimura: We have made CDs, given performances in different places around the country and gotten involved in all sorts of activities. We've all gotten older; how long we will be able to continue playing we don't know, but our goal is to keep going as long as we can.

Narita: Kimura especially has that commitment. After all, he's kept the band going for 25 years!

Yamamoto: When it began, Bright Eyes was Japan's only sign-language band. After seeing Bright Eyes, some people decided to learn sign language and others wanted to sing sign-language songs and formed bands. It may be exaggerating, but Bright Eyes has been the model to aspire to. If we disbanded, wouldn't it discourage the sign-language bands and singers who are finally gaining some momentum? So we want to keep going--do everything we can to enliven the world of sign-language rock bands.

Kimura: Putting "sign-language rock band" in front of our name gets across that we are different from other bands in that we use sign language, because we want the deaf to come see us. It is our appeal to the deaf.

Narita: But when the band was first formed, sign language wasn't used.

Suzuki: I use sign language so those who can't hear me sing will get the content of the lyrics. But it is really, really difficult to sing with deep feeling and do the signing at the same time.

Narita: Vocalist Suzuki plays guitar in practice sessions and maybe he wants to play it on stage, too, but if he plays guitar he won't be able to sign. In the audience in fact there are people without disabilities who come expressly to see the signing. But one of these days, he'd like to just get out there and play! We must think of a way he can play and sign at the same time.

Kimura: Some people might think music can't be much fun if you can't hear, but that's all wrong. There are ways of enjoying music even if it is difficult to hear. We want people to know that. Our aim is music that anyone can feel. We want it to be known that there are ways of enjoying music, visually, aurally, and otherwise.

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