Comedian Patrick “Pakkun” Harlan: What It Was Like to Sing with the Harvard Glee Club

One half of the popular comic duo Pakkun Makkun and a regular on news and social commentary shows, Patrick “Pakkun” Harlan is one of the most famous foreign celebrities in Japan. The 46-year-old, who passed the highest level of the Japanese proficiency test after just two years in the country, fell in love with the place when he toured here as part of the Harvard Glee Club back in 1993.

Twenty-four years on and the renowned choral group is set to make its long-awaited return to these shores in January with shows in Osaka and Tokyo. The two concerts are sure to bring back great memories for Pakkun, who is the official ambassador of the tour. So how does he feel about it all? Weekender recently caught up with him to find out.

Why did you decide to join the Glee Club in the first place? 

I’d been singing in my church and school chorus for as long as I could remember. Jazz choir, state choir, youth choir, musicals, madrigals… you name it, I sang it. When I got to Harvard, I was invited to attend a Glee Club rehearsal. When I went there, the power, the beauty, the musicality just all blew me away. I never turned back.

How much time did you spend practicing and what was the camaraderie like in the group? 

We rehearsed six hours or so most weeks plus weekend retreats to prepare for big concerts. This is less time than most Japanese Glee Clubs rehearse, but it was intense. The concentration and dedication needed to perfect difficult numbers brought us together. The magic of those climactic concert moments when 60 voices sing as one and every person in the hall gets goosebumps; it really cemented a bond that we had as musical comrades in arms.

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Do you have one particular memory from that time that sticks out?

I have thousands. Some of the best are actually some of the most mundane: endless hours of playing cards during drives between cities on concert tours, for example. Singing in the Lincoln Center for Beverly Sills, and doing Mozart’s “Requiem” with the Boston Symphony Orchestra were thrilling musical highlights. Having said all that, the best memories were often the silliest. I remember running through the rain in a hotel yukata looking for beer after a concert in Kyushu on our 1993 Japan Tour. It was already too late when I realized two fateful things: first, my favorite Japanese invention, beer vending machines, did not operate after 11pm. Second, hotel yukatas are see-through when wet!

Do you have any other memories from that trip?

The beer run stands out of course, but I also remember the crowds being unbelievably polite and friendly. People would ask for autographs after the show! I remember the great hospitality shown to us. We got to see taiko drummers and take part in a tea ceremony. Best of all, we did homestays with local families, getting to see life in Japan up close and personal, which was a real treat.

What was it about Japan that made you want to stay? 

The people, the food, the chance for an adventure in an exotic (but still safe and civilized) foreign land. And just the people who enjoyed laughing so much. I hadn’t realized that Japan was such a happy country!

Did you ever consider a career in music rather than comedy? 

Not really. I’m a bass. We don’t make money singing. On the other hand, I didn’t really consider my career in comedy, either. It just kind of fell into my lap. If there was a possibility to sing, perhaps as an actor in a musical, for example, I’d jump at it. I think I’d be great in Takarazuka!

Are you looking forward to seeing the Glee Club performing here again? 

I can’t wait. Men’s choral music is really special. It resonates through your whole body, and stays with you for years. The men of the Harvard Glee Club are also unique. They’re not professional musicians. They are future doctors, academics, judges, business leaders, thinkers and writers, but their love and devotion to their art stands out on the stage. It’s somehow purer, more authentic than the well-calculated product jaded professional performers like myself provide. I look forward to being inspired again.

Is there any song you are particularly excited about hearing?

Biebl’s “Ave Maria” will bring the house down. Also, “Hana wa Saku” (“Flowers Will Bloom”), the anthem of post-tsunami recovery for northern Japan, will be especially moving as the audience sings along.

Any final message you wish to share? 

See you at the concert!


WE’RE GIVING AWAY FREE TICKETS!

For the chance to win tickets to either the Osaka or Tokyo Harvard Glee Club performance, follow us on Instagram (@tokyoweekender) where we’ll be announcing details of the competition soon.

For more information about the Harvard Glee Club and the January shows, click here.
For the Osaka show details, click here.
For the Tokyo show details, click here.

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