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'Song is prayer' for popular hymn composer

Composer says musical success a 'blessing from God'

'Song is prayer' for popular hymn composer
Shoko Maita, a popular hymn writer, also does music for the hit animated series Ultraman correspondent, Tokyo

December 19, 2011

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The 1975 Japanese hymn “On the Hills of Galilee” is cherished by both Catholics and Protestants of various stripes. Its composer, Shoko Maita, is a 76-year-old Catholic who lives in Tokyo. But his creative skills have also found another outlet: the hit animated series Ultraman, for which he has written music for many years. Born in Manchuria, Maita showed a love for music from his earliest days. When the Japanese abandoned occupied territories abroad after World War II, he went to Hiroshima and was among the first students at a music college, now known as Elisabeth University of Music, which had just been founded by the Jesuits. He was baptized during his time there. He came to Tokyo at the age of 21 and got a job at a television station. A year later, he started taking classes at a college of music in the city, ushering in a period of several years where his life consisted largely of learning and working. As he started to devote himself to musical composition, he landed a job on the Ultraman team. Many Ultraman fans say they detect a Christian message in the series. Maita said, “The former president [of the production company], Mr Hajime Tsuburaya, and his family were all Catholics.” “The time Ultra Seven was crucified left a deep impression,” Maita said, referring to an episode with particularly strong Christian imagery. “At work, I don’t talk about those sorts of things [religion], but for ‘Seven’ the producer, director and scriptwriter were some of my drinking buddies.” Every two or three days, everyone would go out and discuss plans for Ultra Seven over drinks, he said. “On the Hills of Galilee” came into being when a Protestant poet, looking to create an ecumenical song of praise, asked Maita to create music for the song’s text. “That’s a poem I was really happy to be asked to work on,” he recalls. The song, which was his first project working in a church-related context, was also selected for a Catholic hymnal. Nothing makes him happier than to hear it sung by a whole congregation. “Am I being vain?” he jokes, but adds, “Really, it is a blessing from God.” While he was attending the music school in Hiroshima, Jesuit Fr Ernest Goossens, then the president of the institution, told Maita, “Song is prayer.” Those words have stuck in his heart ever since, and he is working to make them a reality in his own life. So, in addition to pursuing his many-faceted career as, among other roles, a composer and music editor, he also makes time to lead a choir.
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