The making of the song cycle "Older and Bolder" is an achievement that grew out of five women's grass-roots collaboration. This collaboration transcends geographic distance and age as life experiences in England and Japan merged when these women, in their early twenties to late seventies, worked together. The original collection of poems, Older and Bolder, was written by Astra Blaug, a feminist English poet. The poem's Japanese translation was published by Hiroko Okada in 2002 after being introduced to the poetry by her former student, Tomomi Yamada, who had come across one of Blaug's poems while in London. Soprano Hiroko Hiramoto read the poems and decided to commission composer Yumiko Kato to put five of them to music. Thus, this song cycle came into being.

The premiere of the song cycle "Older and Bolder" was performed by Hiramoto in Tokyo in 2003, and her performance was well reviewed in Japan's premier classical music magazine, Ongaku-no-tomo. Since the premiere, it has been performed throughout Japan more than twenty times by five different singers. The women in the audiences, especially the middle-aged and elderly, responded to the songs as if they were written about their own personal struggles and hardships. The music and poetry in the songs energized them by encouraging them to live their lives more confidently. For the men in the audiences, the song cycle provided a cultural opportunity of being able to meet a woman's point of view about being female and ageing. As a result, the song cycle, created through the effort of a group of women, embodies women's thoughts and emotions and has a vital power.

The narrators in the poems talk mainly to women about women's issues, so in the translation, care was given to using Japanese used by women. Through the narrators, Blaug optimistically invites older women to brave a new life style, to define old age not as a degeneration into weakness, but the time when they can develop themselves more fully and liberate themselves from social restrictions due to the double bind of their gender and age. She emphasizes that women in old age should not merely stick to playing the role of wife and mother. If they do, they will never be free to enjoy the rest of their lives as individuals doing things in their own way for their own sake. Blaug knows that humans cannot avoid their mortality, and looking at the inevitable death straight on, she insists that old women should keep their independence and stay well, helping each other and sharing their lives with people who belong to younger generations. The themes in her poems cover the shock of a woman finding her first gray hair and wrinkles, to the menopause that all women ultimately experience. These topics are less represented in feminist poems by other poets.

For the song cycle, Hiramoto selected five poems from Older and Bolder which capture the essence intrinsic to the collection. She fundamentally changed the presentation order of poems, moving the last one to the top of the song cycle. This change supports Blaug's message of empowerment. Because the song cycle had been so well received, in 2004 Okada suggested adding another song, "silver threads amongst the gold". So now the song cycle consists of six songs as a whole.

The first song in the song cycle is "nothing to lose". This poem is actually the dynamic conclusion of the poem collection and includes the key line which Blaug chose to use to name the collection, 'older and bolder'. The next is "silver threads amongst the gold" representing the shocking day when a woman finds gray hair, the first sign of old age. The third song "guessing game" comments on the self-effacing mission of mothers as nurturers by the sarcastic repetition of the line 'who mothers the mothers?' The forth song "closer and closer" warns that death is soon coming to the old woman. The relatively bright feeling of the previous poems changes here. In only five short lines, her fear of death threatens and nearly overwhelms her; she must struggle against it, begging Death to make a little allowance for her forward planning. And it is "forward planning" that follows as the fifth song. Facing the ruthless reality that humans are mortal, she designs a plan in her old age in order to stand alone in spite of her age. In stark contrast with the serious fear of death, the last song, "wrestling" pays light-hearted tribute to old women's sexuality in colloquial English, using the metaphor of wrestling for love. This homage to old women's sexuality that traditional prejudice would not admit shows the recent change in paradigms for ageing women and old age in general.

It takes less than twenty minutes to perform the song cycle, yet it captivates audiences instantly and deeply, emitting a distinct life force. Although the translation was written to be read, Kato has put special emphasis on the words so that audiences can listen to and understand the poems with their ears. Another technique she has used is to leave certain lines to be said, not sung, with piano accompaniment. This produces a fresh effect that gives the song cycle a reality and sense of tangibility for the audience.

Owing to the kind help of Nadia Lasserson, my longtime pianist friend in England, the European premiere of the song cycle was held as a lecture-recital at the European Conference of EPTA (European Piano Teachers Association) in 2008 in Tallinn, Estonia. Hiramoto sang it, accompanied by Lasserson on piano and I made a presentation about it. Although the audience could not understand the Japanese lyrics, they responded naturally to the music as though they could.

In closing, I would like to thank all those involved in the making of the song cycle "Older and Bolder" and the subsequent publication of its music, especially Sugiyama Jogakuen University.

Hiroko Okada