American poet and educator Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once proclaimed, “Music is the universal language of mankind.” Elburn’s Justin Hall, 22, has learned how true this statement is while performing as a percussionist twice in Japan and once in China during the past three years.
Hall’s journey to becoming a global musician began when he started taking drum lessons and performed as a percussionist in middle school. He also played in the concert band/orchestra throughout middle school and high school, always leaning more toward the classical realm of percussion/music. Hall’s older brother, who is also a percussionist, was his musical inspiration.
After receiving a brochure on Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis., by mail, Hall visited the campus “on a whim” to learn more about it. He was drawn to Carthage’s smaller class sizes and beautiful campus near the shores of Lake Michigan. Hall eventually participated in a scholarship audition for the music program.
Hall said Michael Kozakis, percussion studio professor at Carthage College and an accomplished percussionist who works with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Lyric Opera of Chicago, among others, is another inspiration.
Global musical odyssey
Hall’s first trip to Japan was in January 2014, while he was a sophomore at Carthage College. He performed with the Carthage Wind Orchestra and the Kurashiki Sakuyo University Wind Philharmony at that university, which is among the top music conservatories in Japan.
In June 2014, he traveled to Shanghai and Beijing in the People’s Republic of China. Hall performed as a percussionist with the Open Door Music Theater Company in its production of “Next to Normal” at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music’s International Conference of Music Theater Education.
In May 2016, Hall received a B.A. in music performance from Carthage College. In January 2017, he was invited to perform again with the Carthage Wind Orchestra at Kurashiki Sakuyo University. Professor James Ripley, conductor of the Carthage Wind Orchestra, has forged a partnership under which the Carthage Wind Orchestra performs every three years at Kurashiki Sakuyo University.
Hall didn’t understand the Japanese language during his first trip. He later studied it for one year, which was helpful but not necessary.
“In Japan, the language barrier wasn’t an issue,” he said. “[American and Japanese students] pulled out Google Translate and started communicating. And I also learned much watching Japanese musicians perform.”
Hall was surprised at how friendly and polite the Japanese people were to foreigners during both trips to Japan. While on his last concert tour there, he played one night at Kurashiki Sakuyo University, one joint concert with the Hiroshima University at a Tokyo grade school, and one performance at the Iwakuni, Japan, U.S. Marine Corps base. Free-time excursions included visiting the Tokyo Skytree, Kyoto temples and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Memorial Museum – his favorite attraction.
“When walking through the museum, some very somber messages reflect on the [Aug. 6, 1945] atomic bombing and tremendous loss of life. But the beautiful park and rebuilt city offer a larger message of hope,” Hall said.
Performances during his last trip to Japan included unique, contemporary music, such as Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog.” The rhapsody by composer Scott McAllister featured elements and musical lines from “Black Dog” and a clarinet solo instead of a guitar solo.
“It wasn’t like playing Mozart, but I think the Japanese people liked it,” Hall said.
Currently residing with his mother, Susan, who moved to Elburn a decade ago from St. Charles, Hall is busy performing, teaching private percussion lessons and working a part-time job while weighing future options.
“At some point, I hope to attend graduate school,” he said.