Marugame group preserves historic link between German POWs, classic concert

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Choir members take part in their first rehearsal in Marugame, Kagawa Prefecture, on Oct. 2.

TAKAMATSU — The performing of the chorus of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 has become a year-end ritual throughout the country. But few would suspect that the seeds of this tradition were sown in a German prisoner-of-war camp during World War I.

The camp was located in Marugame, Kagawa Prefecture, where a civic group now works to preserve the history of the German POWs who were interned there. Its activities include putting on a Symphony No. 9 concert, which it has done annually since 2008.

According to the group, 324 captured German soldiers were brought in November 1914 to Marugame, where a temple in the city was converted into an internment camp. The prisoners were allowed to play music as well as exercise, and formed two choirs.

The POWs were subsequently transferred to another camp in Naruto, Tokushima Prefecture, where it is believed that the Symphony No. 9 was performed for the first time in Japan. It is said that the two choirs from the Marugame camp both took the stage, and there were solo performances as well.

While in Marugame, the Germans were allowed to mingle with the locals, using public bathhouses, staying overnight in their houses and performing music.

To make this episode of local history more widely known, the civic group began the year-end concert of the Symphony No. 9 in 2008.

This year, the concert is slated to be held Dec. 11 at a municipal auditorium. The group is looking to fill 60 spots in the choir, and so far, about 40 people ranging in age from teens to the 90s have joined the assembly. It had its first rehearsal on Oct. 2.

“We want people to know about the history of the German POWs interaction with our residents through music and have that reflected in our performance,” said Tetsuya Yamada, the leader of the group.