Kaga Style Taiko

We live in Kanazawa. That is a city on the western coast of Japan in the prefecture of Ishikawa. Ishikawa is partially a peninsula sticking out into the Sea of Japan, and the southern half is attached to the mainland. The Peninsula is called Noto and the southern half is called Kaga.

After attending the Exstasia concerts last week, we immediately began searching out taiko learning opportunities. There were several options listed in Taikology magazine (a publication all about taiko), like beginners class, advanced class, classes teaching a specific style and classes taught by different teachers, some more well known than others. The only class which started meeting in August, however, was a class for Kaga style drumming. Since we wanted to start as soon as possible, we registered for this class.

Last night was the first meeting. The class meets at Asano Taiko, in Matto. Asano is actually divided into three or four buildings. One building is the factory, another is a taiko/percussion museum and then there is a store, with a practice facility upstairs, which can be rented out by groups wanting to rehearse. It felt good to finally be receiving some proper instruction and to be able to play nice Asano drums.

As it turns out, Kaga style drumming is the Mittsu Uchi style drumming I mentioned in the previous two posts. I also stated that this style was rare these days. Funny how in the past two weeks, I've encountered it twice. As it turns out, I may have misunderstood what was said regarding Mittsu Uchi style in last Saturday's lecture (big surprise there). After discussing this with my wife, it seems that the style Mr. Mogi spoke of as being rarely performed these days was only based on Mittsu Uchi style. The style which has died out I believe is called Hokkai-Uchi. If I have a chance, I will research this style a bit more and perhaps elaborate on it at a later time.

So what is Kaga style? I had better not attempt to give any type of comprehensive explanation of Kaga style taiko seeing as I've only had one lesson. For now I will just give a description of what we did in class. We were split into groups of three. Each group had two drums to play on. On the floor was a nagado style taiko. Nagado taiko are shaped like a fat barrel and come in various sizes, from 30 cm all the way to nearly two meters. The body is usually made from a single piece of wood and the heads are stretched and tacked on. The nagado taiko we were using were probably around 45 cm or so. The second drum was an okedo taiko. This style of drum also comes in all different sizes. It is constructed more like a barrel from slats and the heads are tightened and held in place by ropes. The okedo drums we were using were maybe about 150 cm long and perhaps 60 cm or so wide. They were placed horizontally on stands just below shoulder height. (You can find better, more detailed descriptions of different taiko drums at the Rolling Thunder Taiko Resource http://www.taiko.com/index.php?option=com_wrapper&Itemid=39)

One person in the group of three beat out the ji uchi, or base rhythm. There are three basic types of ji uchi, the one used in Kaga style is an 8th note followed by two 16th notes repeated over and over. Taiko is usually learned through vocalizations of the drum beats called kuchi sho ga. This ji uchi would be vocalized as "ten te ke ten te ke ten te ke ten te ke" etc. The ji uchi was played on the okedo. The other two members of the group practiced three rhythms. All three were based on 8th notes, with rests placed at different spots. Here are the three rhythms in kuchi sho ga

1) don don tsu don don don don
2) don don tsu don tsu don don
3) tsu don tsu don tsu don don

The "tsu" represents rests. The last don is accented and followed by another 8th rest before repeating the rhythm again. We rotated so that each person had a chance to play on both drums and both parts.

It probably doesn't sound like much when I write it here, but it was a very enjoyable 75 minutes and a good work out. My arms were a bit sore the next day and I had three blisters on one hand.

Since Thursday, we returned to Asano Taiko to buy new sticks and visit the Museum. We also went to a neighborhood festival this afternoon where we heard a small taiko group, and we are now preparing to go out this evening to the Matto Hi-matsuri, where there is almost certain to be more taiko. So I have plenty more to write about, if I have a chance. The Hi-matsuri is a fire festival. From what I've seen, it looks like they basically light huge haystacks on fire. Fire is always exciting. Hopefully I'll have some nice pictures to post.

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