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News & Topics
February 26, 2020

The Beyond Skin & MOMRI Music Project: Northern Ireland & Japan Friendship through Music (Supported by the Anne O’Donoghue Award through the Arts Council of Northern Ireland)

By Darren Ferguson (CEO of Beyond Skin), Olivier Urbain (Director of MOMRI) and
Mika Takahashi (Research Assistant at MOMRI)


In 2018, Darren Ferguson, founder and CEO of Beyond Skin, an NGO based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, won an Arts Council of Northern Ireland Arts Manager Development Award; it was established as a memorial to Anne O’Donoghue, Director of Play Resource Warehouse. She greatly contributed to the development of children, and of community arts practice in Northern Ireland, until she passed away in 2014. The award aims to develop a sustainable art sector by supporting artists and arts managers.


Darren Ferguson at Glengormley High School, Northern Ireland, a few days before his departure for Japan


Darren chose MOMRI as his partner organization, and the first activity of this project was a 10 day visit to Japan, to find out how Min-On and MOMRI promote peacebuilding through music, and to launch a concrete project. Beyond Skin and MOMRI are joining forces to empower and enable high school students in Northern Ireland and Japan to create a music video together, sharing their struggles, victories, and bonds of friendship with a wide audience. On the Northern Irish side, we selected the Glengormley High School, and on the Japanese side, the C&S Music School. Here are some highlights of Darren’s visit, from January 31 to February 9. 


January 31. Arrival in Japan and Min-On Concert

Soon after landing and after a brief rest at the hotel, Darren was whisked away to the concert of the Janoska Ensemble organized by Min-On in the city of Oyama. He was impressed by the hunger for culture and music that seemed to emanate from the audience and wondered how this enthusiasm was cultivated and maintained. This became one of his main questions throughout the trip.


He was also surprised by the performer’s relaxed, cheerful and engaging demeanor on stage, contrasting with their top level virtuosity that must have required decades of rigorous training. Indeed, this is exactly the type of combination Min-On actively looks for. The four musicians of the Janoska Ensemble were gracious enough to welcome us during their break, and we received one of their CDs, complete with signature!


The training begins: Darren (holding the CD) meets the musicians of the Janoska Ensemble during the break


February 3. Welcome Ceremony at Min-On


Darren attended a welcome ceremony at the Min-on Culture Center in Tokyo. He delivered a heartwarming speech for the Min-On staff confirming the shared mission of Min-On, MOMRI and Beyond Skin, which all promote creativity and musicality for the sake of peacebuilding and making the world a better place. Darren also engaged in a meaningful dialogue with Min-On President Kazuto Ito, based on his experience of the concert and also a tour of the Min-On museum the previous day. Through viewing the exhibition “A Musical Journey with Fumio Koizumi,” Darren understood how Min-On has been pioneering the practice of music in peacebuilding in Japan through cultural exchanges with more than 100 countries. A video of Darren’s speech is available here:

(Download script here)


February 5. Workshop and Presentation at Soka University

Darren’s visit at Soka University was organized by two MA students of the School of International Peace Studies (SIPS), Deepti Singh and Alesse Nunes, in collaboration with Dr. Maria Guajardo, professor at the Faculty of International Liberal Arts (FILA). Soka University was established on the basis of humanistic and value-creating education, and many students are passionate about social change and peacebuilding; the work of Darren and Beyond Skin was especially inspiring since they are making a difference in the world by putting this type of philosophy into action. More than 30 students participated in Dr. Maria Guajardo’s lunchtime workshop called “Food for Thought”; after numerous lively group discussions, the session concluded by affirming that our most authentic selves are the most powerful to make a change in society. In the afternoon, Darren gave a presentation on the work of Beyond Skin entitled “Dialogue for Social Change” followed by a meaningful Q&A session with students.


Lunchtime workshop: “Food for Thought”
Afternoon presentation: “Dialogue for Social Change

February 6. Presentation at International Christian University (ICU)


Presenting a Beyond Skin event: a strategically disruptive piece: Aria by John Cage!

This lunchtime event was organized by Syann Williams, MA student in Peace Studies and Rotary Peace Scholar, in collaboration with the Ad Pacem student organization at ICU (see also the Oct. 25, 2018 event in a previous News & Topics). Approximately 10 students attended, and became deeply engaged with the topic of Darren’s presentation, “The Art of Making Peace Infectious.” He showed how Beyond Skin has been making an impact in Northern Ireland and beyond through creativity and effective networking.


February 6. Q&A with Representatives of the Min-On Promotion Council (Suishin-iin-kai)


In the evening, we went back to the Min-On Culture Center where Darren met with three representatives of the Min-On Promotion Council (Suishin-iin-kai) which has a contingent of one million volunteers in Japan. Darren learned how they promote concert attendance throughout the country, and he was impressed by their passion and commitment. He said: “I know what I’m going to bring back to Northern Ireland this time, it is the joy.” He started to find answers to his question regarding how a hunger for culture and music could be cultivated and maintained.


February 7. Visiting the C&S Music School in Fukuoka


Based on information gathered during the Pilot Research Project that MOMRI started in 2018, the C&S Music School emerged as an excellent partner for this current project. Also based on Beyond Skin’s previous experiences with schools in Colombia and Sri Lanka, Darren and I proposed to support the creation of an original music video by students of Japan and Northern Ireland. The Glengormley High School in Newtownabbey was selected, and the first step was a visit to the C&S School. An excellent synergy emerged between Darren and Mr. Mouri, founder and principal of C&S, and after a few hours of often passionate discussions, a draft plan of the project was drawn.


The concrete goal is to have a top quality music video produced by October 1, featuring an original song created jointly by the students of both schools, supported by their teachers, staff and professional music producers. Through this process, we want to empower and enable young people to share what is most important in their lives in the here and now, what the most challenging issues are; what solutions they find; how musicking, friendship and international exchanges are helping them to enhance their self-esteem, social skills, and ability to contribute to shaping the kind of world they long for. We will encourage them to integrate many of the SDGs in the themes of the song, as they emerge naturally from workshops and discussions conducted to shape the lyrics.


February 8. Attending Mr. Mouri’s Presentation in a Community Center


In addition to running the school, Mr. Mouri also gives presentations to various groups including parents, regarding his philosophy of education. One of his most cherished themes is that what students really need to learn is how to solve concrete problems through their own strengths and abilities, and not just a set of rules and instructions. His presentations are most often accompanied by one or two students performing an original song, illustrating his theories regarding the power of musicking for a positive educational and life experience. This time the student was Natsumi Nabeta, who was interviewed by MOMRI a few months ago in the context of the Pilot Research Project and was in charge of the whole school festival in October.


Darren will visit Glen High soon after his return…

February 9. Departure.


Actually an attempt at departure! We left Fukuoka in the morning as planned, but Darren’s flight from Haneda was cancelled due to weather conditions in the UK. To make a long tale short, he finally got home in Belfast safely on February 10 in the evening, after a trip that lasted 50 hours. This visit was an excellent start to this long-term project and we all look forward to the next phase… to be continued.