Kara Kondo was one of 14,000 Japanese-Americans confined to the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Northern Wyoming from 1942 to 1945. Through her time at the camp, Kondo kept a detailed journal in which she documented her experiences. These writings will be brought to life through a music performance put on by Whatcom Chorale set for March 17 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Bellingham.
“Heart Mountain Suite” is a composition created by Edmonds-based composer, Sarah Mattox, and is the primary performance of Whatcom Chorale’s “Lest We Forget” concert. The chorale has been planning the concert since December 2017.
The suite, a condensed, 35-minute version of Mattox’s original “Heart Mountain” opera, pulls content directly from Kondo’s journals, weaving an intimate glimpse at life in an internment camp.
Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, hundreds of thousands of Japanese-Americans were forced from their homes and businesses and relocated to camps around the U.S. Kondo addresses the tragedy of the situation in a way that is compelling and absorbing, but not overwhelming, Mattox says.
“It’s horrifying, and you’re dealing with epic emotions, but she manages to keep it intimate. It’s like she’s holding your hand there, through the journey,” Mattox says.
Kimberly Sogioka, the featured mezzo-soprano soloist for the piece, had grandparents who were interned at Heart Mountain. It’s been an emotional project to take part in, Sogioka says. She has few memories of her own grandparents speaking of their time at the internment camp.
“Japanese tend to not talk a lot about things like this. They came out saying basically, ‘You move on, you don’t dwell in the past,’” Sogioka says.
Sogioka met Mattox in New York when Mattox, an award-winning composer, was in the early stages of writing “Heart Mountain,” and she performed in an early run-through of the performance. The process of taking part in the opera and suite has brought her grandparents’ experience closer to home, Sogioka says, especially because they passed away not long before the first performance.
Bellingham native and Julliard graduate Lindsey Nakatani will be Sogioka’s understudy. Nakatani’s grandmother was also held in an internment camp, which Lindsey researched when attending Squalicum High School. She discovered, among other things, her grandmother’s identification number. She’s proud to use her passion for music to keep her family’s history within the public eye.
“It’s bittersweet realizing you have history like that and to be a part of the legacy that [stops] it from becoming just another mark in history,” Nakatani says.
Her grandmother passed away in 2015, and she hopes to invite many family members to the performance in her memory.
Now in its 46th season, Whatcom Chorale has a goal of pursuing local composers, says Sherrie Kahn, chorale board director. They’re excited to feature Mattox and Nakatani, who both have Pacific Northwest roots.
Along with “Heart Mountain Suite,” Kahn is working to arrange an exhibit at the church that can be viewed following performances. The exhibit will include Kondo’s physical writings, voice recordings, educational films, and photos and artifacts from the Heart Mountain Relocation Center.
360.747.7852 | whatcomchorale.org
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