“My dear brethren, with these little boys Our Lord is going to bring fire all over Japan, that it may flare up in the fire of his love.” So claimed the Portuguese missionary Luís de Almeida of the young viol players trained at the Jesuit elementary school in the city of Funai (present-day Ōita) in 1562. Situated in the ancient province of Bungo, this region is a recurrent reference in the annals of Japan’s so-called Christian Century (1549–1650). An epicenter for the Jesuit mission endorsed by its ruling daimyo, it was here that a standard was set for the “Western” music education of Japanese children, encompassing both vocal practices and instrumental tuition. In this talk, I will trace the presence of these children in Jesuit records throughout the 1560s, looking to how their training in and performance of liturgical and secular musics fulfilled key proselytic and political objectives. Indeed, there has been a tendency in scholarship to date to approach these instances of music-making as detached episodes when, in fact, there are deep connections between people and places that warrant closer inspection. This talk thus etches out a broader narrative of the developing musical practices and identities of Kirishitan (Japanese Christian) communities that began to take shape in the early decades of their formation. It also speaks to the broader need for intercultural methodologies that facilitate a more nuanced understanding of “Western” music as produced, interpreted, and reformed by entanglements of the early modern world.
Makoto Harris Takao is Assistant Professor of Musicology at UIUC. Trained as a historian of religion and emotion, his approach to music is interdisciplinary, reflected in his historical and contemporary work on Japan’s relationship with Europe, North America, and Australia. His work on emotions history and Tokugawa Confucian preaching has recently been awarded the Bruce Mansfield Prize in Religious History.