Taiko Lecture

This afternoon is the Ecstasia Taiko Concert in Matto. We are looking forward to attending the performances all afternoon and evening. There will be many different groups from all over Japan performing this year. As the event is sponsored by Asano Taiko, Hono Taiko will naturally be headlining the afternoon and evening concerts. I am looking forward to seeing them perform again. I have not seen their performance since 2000, I guess. Since then, I suppose I have only seen Yamato's live performances.

Yesterday we were able to attend a pre-event lecture and mini-performance. Jige-san of Hono Taiko even sat right next to us. The lecture was at least 90 minutes and all in Japanese, of course. I was rather pleased with myself that I was able to understand enough to follow the main points of the presentation. Having not lived more than a few weeks at a time in Japan for seven plus years, I honestly did not expect to be able to follow an academic lecture.

The lecture was given by Mogi Hitoshi and was titled 「伝統と創作、それが太鼓の生きる道」 Which translates to something like "Tradition and Creativity, That is the Way of Taiko". The majority of the lecture dealt with the history and traditions of taiko in Japan. The last half hour or so, he spent talking about some of the creative styles that developed out of those traditions, such as Ooedosukeroku taiko (大江戸助六太鼓) and Mitsu Uchi (三つ打ち) style. The Mitsu Uchi Style seems to have been influenced from the traditions of Gojinjodaiko (御陣乗太鼓) from the Noto peninsula. It is a very flashy style using many fast rhythms and sticks decorated in red and white, which are twirled and flipped often during the performance. Apparently, this style has died out, though, and is not really performed any longer. The Sukeroku style, however, is still often used. Many North American taiko groups have adopted this style of playing.

When looking back at the traditions, from which these styles developed, there is quite a big difference. "IN THE BEGINNING" drums in Japan were not used for entertainment. It was almost always for more pragmatic purposes. In fact, it wasn't until the latter half of the 20th century that they were even considered as a possible entertainment vessel. Long, long ago they were used for purposes such as defining village boundaries. The boundaries were as far as the sound of the drum would carry. They were also used for scaring away pests from fields, homes and villages, or for calling for rain. Mr. Mogi actually spent quite a bit of time discussing taiko being used to call for rain. As one can imagine, the taiko sound was associated with the sound of thunder. Since the sounds were similar, people believed that the taiko would call the rain. So it makes sense that the Japanese image of the god of thunder would also have drums in it. He showed several graphics of the god of thunder (you can see one of the graphics here: http://www.emuseum.jp/cgi/pkihon.cgi?SyoID=2&ID=w307&SubID=s000 ) Notice the small drums surrounding the god on the left.

Taiko were also used in festivals and other events as an offering of sorts to the gods and spirits. Sometimes this was in a festival setting. One festival, of which he showed a short video clip, I thought was particularly interesting. It was held in the middle of the night. There were probably about 20 or 30 people with staffs and bamboo poles striking the ground in a steady marching type of rhythm. Behind this group, a huge taiko drum was being pulled along on a cart, while priests (I think) on either side of the drum were striking it with a "bat bachi" (basically, a drum stick shaped like a baseball bat). It was struck probably once every few seconds or so. No complicated rhythms, but the sound must have been quite moving.

He also spent a bit of time discussing taiko in Gagaku music. This is Japanese classical music. There seem to be two taiko which are always part of this, one representing the sun, and the other the moon. The drum representing the sun is on the left (east) and the drum head is decorated with a mitsudomoe (like a yin yang design with three parts) and the drum on the right (west) is representing the moon and is decorated with a futatsudomoe (yin yang design). Gagaku music, I believe, was also a sort of offering to the gods, or perhaps the Emperor, who was/is also considered a god.

I think what struck me the most was how far the taiko that is prevalent today has come from its roots and traditional uses. I don't mean to say that it has strayed from its foundation. The traditions from which these newer styles developed are still evident. But the beginnings of taiko, or at least what I saw yesterday, are much simpler than modern taiko.

Although there is more to say, it is now time to depart for Ecstasia. With my limited understanding of yesterday's lecture, I hope that I have done justice to what Mr. Mogi wanted to say. I do not believe I have given any false information, but I may have given incomplete information. I did purchase his book yesterday, "An Introduction to Japanese Taiko". As I read through the book, I will come back to this post and edit, correct, add as needed.

Stay tuned, hopefully an entry regarding this afternoon and evening's concert will soon follow.

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