Entries in yamato (9)


A Special Visit and Taiko Workshops

Last week the students of the Great Lakes Taiko Center were privileged to have a visit and workshop from Takeru Matsushita of Wadaiko Yamato The Drummers of Japan.

Our relationship with Yamato goes back to 1999, long before we ever dreamed of opening our own taiko school in Michigan. Over the years, that relationship has been a big part of the success of the Great Lakes Taiko Center and I can say without hesitation that if that connection did not exist, it is likely the Great Lakes Taiko Center would not exist either.  We owe them a debt of gratitude and are grateful for the continued relationship.

On Tuesday, November 5. Takeru-san visited our Taiko Center for two workshops. The first was a 60 minute workshop for our younger students. The average age was probably around 9 years old, but we did have a 3-year-old (!) student who participated as well.  Takeru san taught a simple song and then worked with participants on playing expressively, playing together (not just at the same time) and being able to get into kamae (a ready stance) as quickly as possible. Everyone had a great time, laughed a lot and learned a lot.

Later, Takeru-san led a two-hour workshop for our adult students. We had participants with many years of experience, as well as some that had only began learning taiko 3 weeks prior. Although it may have been a little intimidating for the newer students at first, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

In the second workshop we learned many “secret” tips about playing stance, why it is important to be able to “sing” a song, not just play it on the drum and playing together. We even tried an enlightening exercise where pairs had to hold hands and play one drum.

We are happy that we could have two great workshops. We all learned a lot and hope that we can use what we learned to become even better taiko players.  Would you like to learn the “secret” tips we got from these workshops? Then I guess you’ll have to sign up for a taiko class ... and you can do that right here: Taiko Classes.

Thank you, Takeru-san! We hope you can come to visit again soon!


Yamato Concert at University of Notre Dame

This past Friday my wife and daughter and I grabbed an overnight bag and made the three-hour road trip to South Bend, Indiana.  No, we weren't on our way to see a football game.  We had tickets to see one of our favorite taiko groups, and one of our biggest inspirations, Wadaiko Yamato. Since Mayumi worked for them as a tour assistant/translator during their 1999 European tour, we have remained in contact with them and do our best to go and see their shows whenever they are within 300 or so miles of us.  The past two years we have been able to see them twice on their "home field" of Nara for their New Year concerts, and twice at Asano Taiko, in Ishikawa.  (If look back through the blog archive, particularly in January 2008 and January 2009 you can probably find accounts of the concerts.)  But it had been several years since we had seen them in the US.  Besides that, we had not seen their new show, "Matsuri", so we were looking forward to lots of new songs.

As usual, they did not disappoint.  Although there were only 10 out of the 16 or 17 members who performed, it was just as impressive as ever. Perhaps two thirds of the songs were new and there were a few old standards that are always nice to experience.  Yet even with the old standbys, there had been changes and improvements made even since the last time we saw them, in June.  Something I've noticed about seeing Yamato five times over the past two and half years is that they are always making little changes and improvements to their pieces.  I don't think I've ever seen them perform a piece in the same way twice.  And here's the impressive thing: sometimes people make changes thinking it will improve a product, and it actually makes it worse (Windows Vista, for example), but Yamato's sense of artistry, musicallity, performance seems to be as close to perfect as you can get.  I have never seen a show and thought, "I liked it the way they did it before better."  It has always been, "Wow! They are even better than the last time!"

After seeing their performances so often over the last two and a half years, I may be going through some withdrawal since they probably won't be back in N. America until 2011.  At least that is plenty of time for us at the Great Lakes Taiko Center to make sure they bring their show back to Michigan next time around, and maybe even arrange a few workshops, if we're lucky.

I am very grateful for our friendship with Yamato. They have been incredibly kind to us, as I have mentioned in previous post, and they are excited and supportive of what we are starting here, in Michigan.  They have certainly been an inspiration to us.  I have often wished that I was a bit younger, young enough to be accepted as a Yamato apprentice (the age limit is 25) and at least have the chance to train and practice with them for a few months.  Although I haven't been taken on as a Yamato apprentice, I did have the chance to do a bit of training with them Saturday morning.  I woke up with them at 6 AM and accompanied them on their morning jog.  This is something, believe it or not, that I have been training for the past two years.  I knew that someday I would have the chance and I was determined to be ready for it.  And I was! Thanks to regular jogging on my own, I was able to easily keep pace with them and didn't even get out of breath.  It meant a lot to me to be included on their morning run and it was quite enjoyable, even if it was a bit chilly.  I'm looking forward to the next time.

Unfortunately, they had to move on to their next destination (Erie, PA) directly after breakfast so we didn't have a whole lot of time to spend with them. (My daughter did, however, have a chance to play a bit of billiards with Takeru and Midori in the hotel lobby.)  We did have time to snap a picture before they got on the bus.  Here is the normal one...

and the required "Strike a pose" one...


Asano Taiko Golden Week Day of Taiko

I didn't think yesterday was all that strenuous. We didn't have to show up at Asano until noon, we toned down our outfits to black t-shirts and pants and we only had one quick performance (about 5 min) and then we could enjoy the other events going on in the afternoon. But for some reason, I felt so tired when my alarm went off this morning. I don't know why. I'm awake now, though, and ready to go back to work (not ready, actually, but I have no choice).

Yesterday (May 6) was a half-day taiko event at Asano Taiko. They named it the G.W. (Golden Week) Day of Taiko and it was billed as a "Pre-Event" for the upcoming 400th anniversary celebration June 5, 6 and 7. The day featured two short taiko performances by different Asano groups. The first one at the start and the second one to close things up. The Asano Kids classes , Jige san's (Hono Taiko) parent-child group, Kojira, JIGEN (my wife and I are in this group) Sasuke, jr, Sasuke and Hono Taiko all played at least one song. In between the performances there was a basic taiko workshop (pictured above), a "Make Your Own Teeny Tiny Taiko Key chain" workshop, which both my kids did. Here's a picture of that:

Then there was the Odaiko Volume Contest in which about 15 children and 15 adults competed to see who could get the loudest sound out of the "Yamato" Odaiko (6 shaku? about 180 cm diameter) housed in Asano's taiko museum.

Both my son and I entered this contest (my son with "Yamato" in the picture above). Each entrant waited his or her chance for one hit to the drum with a "bat" bachi (a sort of large, heavy, bat shaped stick). No warm ups and no do-overs. The sound was measured with a decibel meter so there would be no question about who had produced the loudest sound. The contest was divided between adults and children and there were around 15 to 20 participants each. My son was part of the children's competition. He was by far the youngest (at nearly 3 years old) and fittingly produced the quietest sound in the group. It was around 83 dB, if I recall correctly. Of course, being his dad, I was proud of him for just getting up in front of so many people and giving it a try. He, on the other hand, probably had no idea what the contest was about and was probably just motivated out of getting a lollipop for trying.

Anyhow, my turn came along. I stepped up on the small platform in front of the drum, which was a little unstable and I didn't really need the extra height. It was also small and too close to the drum for me. I checked behind me to make sure that I would not hit Takebe kun, who was holding the decibel meter, extended my arm and swung it forward. "DON" The sound echoed through the museum and slowly faded away. "123.5 decibels," Takebe kun announced. Not a bad hit, but I knew I could have got in a better one, no that I had my bearings. Unfortunately, one person = one try. Here is the video of my attempt.

It is rather hard to get a feel for the loudness on a YouTube video. Besides that, the video was recorded on my digicam, which probably only has a simple recording mic. As simple as this video is, I actually was able to learn something from watching it. In the past, I have written about the benefits of video taping yourself as you play and this is why. I noticed from this video that annoying habit I have of tilting my head to one side when I play. Do you notice that as I hit the drum, my head tilts to the left? I've been "warned" about this several times from Yamada sensei, my wife and most recently by Kinoshita sensei, but apparently I haven't fixed it yet. Seeing it on video and how "silly" it looks may be just enough to remind me not to do it. At any rate, it didn't seem to effect how loud I played the drum because when all the contestants had finished, I had the top score! I was hoping that the prize for winning was the "Yamato" Odaiko, but everyone laughed when I asked if that was the prize. I got something almost as good, though. I got my very own Asano Taiko towel and a keyaki (zelkova) massage tool.


More Kaga Taiko and Asano Taiko's 400th Annivesary Concert

I don't have any connecting theme or topic to write about today. Actually, I haven't had any major topic or theme for a couple weeks now, which is why I haven't been writing as much as usual. Sorry, I'll try to fix that. For now, though, I'll just share several updates with you.

I returned to the Ichikawa Juku (Kaga Taiko) last Sunday after an absence of several weeks. Aside from all the second-hand smoke, it is an enjoyable experience. It is quite different to be instructed one-on-one from a master like Ichikawa sensei. (The difference being the one-on-one instruction, our other instructors from Hono Taiko are masters as well, of course.) Ichikawa sensei told me that next Sunday they will be going to visit a nursing home to play Kaga Taiko there and he invited me to come along. I am assuming that I will get to play a little bit as well. It should be an enjoyable experience. In college, my and a group of friends would gather every Saturday evening to play folk music together. Every once in a while, we would show up at a convalescent center and ask if we could play there. The people there really enjoyed it, and we did too. Every now and then, members of that folk circle will gather for an "Old Man Roscoe" reunion. The last time they got together was last June and I, unfortunately, could not be there, but they did post some video of it:

But I digress, I always enjoyed sharing music at the nursing home and am looking forward to it again.

Also, on a Kaga Taiko note, my daughter was with us at our lesson on Sunday and she expressed an interest in learning/playing Kaga Taiko. So, she had her first lesson on Sunday. Having learned taiko at Asano in the Kid's classes for a year and a half helped her to pick up the rhythms quickly. Ichikawa sensei taught her three simple rhythms: don don don (rest) do do-n don (rest) doko doko don (rest)
Here is about 30 seconds of her lesson (which only lasted about 3 or 4 min altogether anyhow).

I was impressed by well Ichikawa sensei teaches children, as well as adults. Perhaps it helps that his granddaughter is the same age as Karen.

The other update I have is regarding Asano's 400th Anniversary Celebration (June 5, 6, 7). On Friday evening there will be a concert featuring at least 12 different performers/groups. Apparently there were so many groups that wanted to be a part of it, they were unable to accommodate all of them. Here is a list of most of the performers who will participate:
Fujimoto Yoshikazu (Kodo)
Imafuku Yu
Miyakejima Geino Doshikai
Kaneko Ryutaro (Former Kodo member)
Hono Taiko
Wadaiko Yamato
Tokara (Art Lee)
Uruki (Machiko Asano's group, played at 2008 Exstasia)
Tsurugiji Yahata Taiko (Taiko from Noto Penninsula)
Tiffany Tamaribuchi

And there is one more name that I cannot read. I'll have to investigate further and then get back to you.

The concert is Friday night (5.June) starting at 6:30 PM at the Hakusan-shi Matto Gakushu Center and it only costs 1000 yen!

I have more updates to share, but now I must get ready to go to work. More coming soon.


Yamato New Year Concert - Part 3

It has been several weeks since we traveled to Nara to see Yamato perform their New Year concert. So it is probably time to finish up writing my "review" of their performance. This will be my third and final entry recounting Yamato's 2009 New Year Concert.

I have seen them around eight times now, and in the 8 years since I first saw them, their set list has not changed all that much, two or three songs at the most. Still, it never gets boring. Part of that is because they're simply awesome, and awesomeness never gets old. Another part, however, is that they are constantly adjusting and improving their pieces. The "Hayate" (shamisen piece) I saw at the 2009 concert is much different than the "Hayate" I first saw back in Salzburg in 1999; although it is the same song. Even the "Rekka" I saw at Exstasia this past summer was different than the "Rekka" performed in Nara a few weeks ago. Yamato is constantly tweaking their performance and their songs. They are always looking for little ways to make things better, more interesting, more exciting, always challenging themselves. Of course, this is good for their own development and improvement, but for the audience, as well, it has the result of making you feel that each time you see them, you are seeing a new concert (yet it still has that familiar feel, because you know all the pieces).

There is just one final aspect of the Yamato concert which I will share. I'm not sure exactly what to call it, professionalism? preparedness? anticipation of problems? Maybe it is all those things wrapped up into one, and I cannot think of the word that would describe that. Most taiko players have probably experienced bachi (sticks) breaking or slipping out of hands during a performance (or at least during a practice), and most of us probably have our trusty Yobi Bachi (spare pair) in a bag tied to the back of the drum, or at least on the floor or somewhere easy to reach quickly. Should we lose a bachi while playing, an extra one is then easily accessible. I would say that there were about two or three broken bachi during the Yamato concert, but their efficiency at grabbing the spare and continuing playing as if nothing happened is so good that you probably wouldn't realize that anything had even happened, if it weren't for the broken bachi flying through the air across the stage. They are able to adjust to these bachi mishaps so smoothly that they, literally, do not miss a beat.

But what really impressed me was how they dealt with a problem during "Hayate", the song which features shamisen. Towards the end of the song, the lead shamisen player, Mika Miyazaki, has an exciting solo. Yes, shamisen is a traditional Japanese instrument, but she gets into the solo so much, that you can't help recalling images of head-banging rock star guitarists when she plays it. It's great. Anyhow, a few measures before the solo, I noticed her turn her head backwards for a brief moment to the shamisen player behind her to her left. At the time, I thought she was maybe just getting into the music with her fellow shamisen players. But when it came time for the solo, I noticed they were both playing it. My first reaction was, "Oh, I so they put two people on the solo this year," but then I noticed something catching the light from Mika's shamisen. One of her strings had broken. I realized, she must have turned around to the girl behind her to signal that she should back her up on the solo. All this happened so seamlessly that neither my wife, nor the other two people we had come to the concert with even noticed that anything had gone wrong.

I am sure that they had planned how to deal with such a problem, should it arise. Otherwise, I doubt that Mika could have so easily and smoothly communicated that she needed back-up for the solo. Experience may have also played a role. My wife, having accompanied Yamato to Europe as a tour assistant in 1999 has seen Yamato perform over 100 times and told me that it wasn't the first time a string had broken during a concert. Knowing Yamato, though, I am certain that the first time the string broke on stage, they already had a plan in place.

Besides being impressed with the way they handled the broken string, I also was reminded that if one wants to be considered a professional, one must constantly be thinking of what could possibly go wrong and how to deal with that, should it happen.

The past three times I have seen Yamato performances I have felt and experienced the high level of talent and professionalism they possess. I suppose that seeing a group with such advanced technical ability and artistic sense and stage presence could be discouraging for some. As I said, the more I learn about taiko, the more I understand and appreciate what they do. It's almost like the feeling: the more you learn, the more you realize you don't know. But for me, seeing Yamato's performances has never discouraged me in that way. Perhaps it is partly because I know that Yamato's beginnings have some similarities to our own, perhaps it is simply because I am being optimistic, or maybe it is just because I believe in setting one's goals high. Whatever it is, seeing Yamato's performances has always been an inspiration to me and instead of making me think about how far we have to go, it makes me think about what is possible with dedication and hard work. I don't know if we'll ever achieve the level that Yamato has (we certainly don't plan to tour the world for 10 months out of the year), but I know that we can work hard and that's what I plan to do.

After the concert, we were able to take a picture in front of the stage with the members of Yamato. In the picture are me, my wife, my daughter, and two friends, who are also members of the same Asano Taiko groups we play with.