Kaga Recital Videos

If you prefer to watch taiko videos, rather than read my taiko journals, then this entry is for you. I think I have about 10 new videos to introduce to you today. They are all from the Kaga Taiko recital a few weeks ago (December 9). You may want to read that entry first, before watching the videos. Also, if any of our personal friends have been waiting to actually see Mayumi and I play taiko, instead of watching other groups, here is your chance. Of course, as I mentioned in most of my posts about Kaga taiko, it is not an easy style to learn, and it is largely improvisation, which is something kind of new for me.

Anyhow, I will start with videos of our performances, please do not view them too critically. We only started learning this about 7 months ago. Without further ado, here is my Kaga Taiko recital performance, December 9, 2007:

And next, Mayumi's. Personally, I think she did a better performance than I did, of course, she says the opposite.

As I mentioned, after the recital portion, there were many other much more advanced Kaga Taiko/Mitsu uchi drummers there, so they took turns performing. Here are some of them. The first one is a lady who is a student at the Ichikawa Juku Kaga Taiko school:

This next man was the most impressive, in my opinion, and I don't just say that because of his tight pants. My daughter, however, seemed to notice them. When she watched the video, she kept saying, "look at his bottom". Anyway, don't let his toit rump distract from his drumming:

The next performer was also pretty enjoyable to watch. She is actually doing a different style than Kaga Style, but closely related and based on the same base, mitsu uchi rhythm. She was from Fukui, the prefecture next to Ishikawa. From what I understand, this is Fukui style mitsu uchi drumming:

Now we have a sort of cross over performer. He was from Fukui, but performs Kaga style instead of Fukui style. Enjoy:

Here is another pair from Fukui. This time, it is a grandfather, performing with his grandson:

This boy is pretty young. I think they said he was in 2nd grade. He looks just terrified to be on the stage. In the end, though, his nerves do not get the better of him and he delivers quite an impressive performance:

This next performer was special because he had recently received a designation as a meijin. I am not completely sure of the meaning of this term, but he had received a special plaque and certificate from the government recognizing his talent/ability as a performer of Kaga Style drumming. From what I can understand, I think it means that he is probably one of the top players:

And finally, our instructor, Matsuya sensei. He was not the last performer, but soon after this, our camera battery ran out, so we could not record any more anyhow. I really enjoy his style of playing, it seems to be very powerful:

I hope you enjoyed the recital.


A Cool Song

If you have been following my journal, you may remember a month back or so I mentioned that I had started working on writing a song. About two weeks ago, I finished writing it. I mean, I finished it in the sense that it had a beginning, a middle and an end, but by no means is it any where near "final copy" quality. It is a first draft. Besides, I wrote it all from my head, or by beating out the rhythms on a table. I haven't actually tried to play it on drums yet. That always brings up new issues, and produces changes in the music. Anyhow, with my limited experience writing taiko music, and limited access to drums to actually try out the song, I decided to ask for some outside opinions. I first thought of Yamada san, of Hono Taiko, who leads the two groups I am a member of, but I thought, instead of going straight for a professional's opinion, maybe I should show it to someone else first. If they had some suggestions for improvements, I could fix it up a little bit before asking Yamada san for help. I was thrilled to learn recently that one of my students is actually a member of Koshu Taiko, the group the played at our school festival. (I also posted videos of their performance.)
So I decided I would ask this girl to take a quick look at the song. I told her, "Teacher needs to see her after school", so she stopped by and I showed her the song. She looked through it and said that she thought it was great. She even said we should play it for a senior graduation assembly coming up in February (Japanese graduate in March). Unfortunately we don't have a place to practice, nor the right drums to practice on at the moment.

My song passed the first test, so I thought I would make a copy of it and give it to Yamada san at the next opportunity, asking her to just look it over when she had time and to give me her overall opinion, maybe tell me some good parts and bad parts. Since giving her a copy, I actually haven't had a chance to go to taiko practice. This week was cancelled, last week I was throwing up and in bed. With the holidays, there wasn't going to be a practice again until January 14! Ahhh! Luckily, Yume-mitai added a practice on the morning of Dec. 24, and the hozonkai added a practice last night. I wasn't able to go last night, but my wife could go. We actually wrote the song together, so when she met Yamada san at last night's practice, she spoke with her about the song. Yamada san didn't say a whole lot about the song, but what she said was a big encouragement to me. Apparently, she thinks it's a really cool song, and she said she will help me make it even cooler! What a boost for my confidence. Well, I mean, "I'll help you make it even cooler" could translate to "I'll help you fix the bad parts", but even if that is the case, if it wasn't any good at all, I doubt she would have offered the assistance. So, I will probably see her at Monday's Yume-mitai practice and perhaps I will be able to set up a meeting time with her to work on it a little bit. I am very excited!


Taiko Jazz - Kaga Taiko Recital

For my birthday this year, my brother, Andrew, took me to the Green Mill Jazz club in Chicago for a jam session. As I am used a father's and a high school teacher's schedule (waking up around 5 AM) the 1 AM start time was a bit rough, but I managed to make it there, and once the music started, I got a second wind and was able to stay awake through the whole session. It was an enjoyable, relaxed evening (morning). After a few songs, the regulars called several musicians up from the audience (including my brother) to sit in for a few tunes. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. The audience was enjoying their drinks, or talking with friends, or listening to the music. I think I would describe the feeling at our Kaga Taiko recital in exactly the same way. Not only because it was held at a restaurant, but the way the music was peformed also reminded me of a jazz club atmosphere.

As our teacher reminded the audience before we began, mitsu uchi style drumming (on which Kaga taiko is based) is several hundred years old and many of the traditional drumming in the Hokkuriku area (Fukui, Ishikawa, Toyama) has developed out of this style. Having been around for so long, many different styles have emerged and each person even seems to have their own signature style when they play. This actually adds a certain degree of difficulty to learning the style. We talked to one of our class members who has been studying for three years, and attends the Kaga taiko school in Komatsu. He said sometimes you are instructed in a certain way by one of the senior members, and then later, a more senior member comes along and gives you instruction that contradicts what you were just told, and later, yet again, another, even more senior member will come along and give you more instruction that contradicts both. So it is very difficult to know what is "correct". But my guess is that none of the instruction he received is wrong, but more because of the individual drummers different personal styles. Eventually, after enough contradictory instruction, you can develop your own personal style.

More recently, perhaps in the last 50 years or so, the mitsu uchi style became popular and was performed not only at festivals and community events, but in restaurants also. In fact, I heard that there was a player who even opened a taiko restaurant. Sort of like a dinner theater, but dinner taiko. As I mentioned, yesterday's recital was at a small cafe style restaurant. The setting was even dramatic. It was right on the Sea of Japan, on a day when the weather was changing every 15 minutes or so. It was quite windy, so the waves were crashing into the rocks, throwing spray up into the air. The clouds were moving quickly across the sky, sometimes letting rays of sun through, and other times blocking it out completely. At times there was rain, and other times hail, and at one point, to my daughters delight, there was a bright and clear rainbow out over the ocean.

The atmosphere was very relaxed. I think most of the people in attendance were also drummers of the mitsu uchi style. There was friendly banter between the MCs and the audience, and unexpected "challenges", like dropping a stick in the middle of a performance, or a performer being in the bathroom or something at the time he was supposed to perform, were easily laughed off and remedied.

Our recital was the first part of the afternoon. Our instructor, Matsuya sensei, began by giving a little background about the class. (He actually seemed to be a little more nervous than some of us) This is the third year the Ishikawa Taiko Association has offered this course. They hold it each year from August to December. There were nine of us in the class. Two had take the class all three years, four were in their second time, and for three of us, it was the first time. He shared that several years ago, at an event featuring Kaga Taiko, he noticed the average age of the performers was rather old. Worried that this style of drumming in danger of slowly dying out, they started the class, in hopes of sparking some new interest. It's certainly worth saving, and we hope to be able to study it enough to bring it back with us and incorporate it into our own program.

We each received a short intro from Matsuya sensei, and then performed our own Kaga taiko improvisations one at a time. It is actually two people, but the other person is really only an accompanist. So it is like you are playing a solo. I suppose it could have been quite intimidating (which maybe it was for some) to play an improvised solo, in difficult style of drumming, in front of a lot of people who are all fairly advanced players, after only studying for about 4 months. For me, though, it wasn't so bad. I had just that slight bit of nervousness that actually makes you play better, but not so much that you cannot concentrate. I think the relaxed atmosphere played a large role in it. You could tell that the audience was not watching with critical eyes, even though there were many very high level players there. They all seemed to be happy to see new people with a growing interest in Kaga taiko, and they wanted us to do well. Besides that, my daughter sat right down in front and smiled at us the whole time we played.

We all made it through our "solos" without any major mistakes, and then we could sit down and enjoy the rest of the afternoon, featuring players from Kaga and Fukui (the next prefecture just south west of Ishikawa. As I said, it was a fun and relaxed program. It didn't seem to have a set order. Most of the performers did not have any type of costume. There was an MC and he would announce, or ask someone to play next. Sometimes they came right up, other times they resisted at first, but were eventually persuaded to play, and other times they were in the bathroom. We really got a good feel for some of the different styles of drumming within Kaga taiko, and between Fukui and Ishikawa.

We did take video of our own performances, as well as about 5 or 6 of the other, more professional players before our battery ran out. I wanted to post them along with this entry, but my fear is that it will take me some time to do the editing and get them uploaded, so before I forget the details of the recital, I wanted to get them written down. As soon as I have a chance, I will put them up, with short explanations when I can. In the meantime, here is a picture of me, our instructor, Matsuya sensei, and another class member, Jingu san. If you're wondering what is sticking out of the back of his neck, well, he nearly died in a bizarre gardening accident last year... just kidding. It is his flute. You'll notice when the videos are posted, that nearly all the performances are accompanied by flute. I guess that's just where he wanted to carry it.


The Asano Taiko Family and enjoy

Now that my schedule has settled down a little bit, I will try to make more frequent entries. In the last two weeks, or so, I've actually had quite a bit to say, but haven't had the time to write it down.

About two weeks ago, we attended Hono Taiko's concert in Kanazawa. I don't think that I have ever seen them "in concert". I've seen them many times at various events, but they were always there as part of some bigger event. So this was the first time that I saw just them. It quite enjoyable and made me think about many things. One aspect of the concert in particular which I paid close attention to was how they constructed their pieces. They are only three people, so it limits them somewhat as to how many parts their songs can have. At this point, my wife and I are only two people, so we also, are limited in what we can do, when we try to create songs. One thing I noticed was that most songs involved a kumi-taiko set up. This means that one person is surrounded by maybe three to five drums. It is basically a taiko drum set, I guess. This allows the song to have a little more variety in the parts.

My wife was commenting on how Hono Taiko is rather like Kanazawa's "Home Team" taiko group. Everyone in this area knows them, and likes them. It provides them a nice atmosphere to "work" in, and they have a lot of support and help. In fact, I am guessing that most of the people who attended the concert actually were acquainted with at least one of the three members. The interactions with the audience were very friendly and even included some personal greetings from the members. It was a very relaxed atmosphere. It seems Asano Taiko (which sponsors Hono Taiko, and the other two groups in which I am playing) is rather like a big family. At the concert, I saw almost every member of the two groups I am in either working at the concert, or attending the concert.

Sorry if this is a bit rambling. I had a lot to say right after seeing the concert, but it seems that I have forgotten what it was.

There are a couple other news items to add, but I'll save them for another time. For now, I'll just mention that our recital for the Kaga Taiko class is on Sunday and we had our final practice last night. There are nine students and at last night's practice we got to each perform our own improvisations twice. The first time was sort of practice, and Matsuya sensei (our instructor) gave advice and suggestions. The second time was rather like a dress rehearsal, and we ran through everything without stopping in program order. One of the comments that almost everyone had during our first run through, was to smile more. If you have been reading along with me, you may remember that I said Kaga style taiko is supposed to be relaxed and fun. Most of the nine of us don't have much experience with this style, so we probably all look like we're concentrating very hard on remember the correct rhythms and not making mistakes. Matsuya sensei said that many of us even looked scary. So for my second run through, I decided to not worry about anything and enjoy myself, have a good time. (This is what I have been telling my students at every speech and drama contest we have had, and so far the results have been good.) I think it worked for me. I smiled, and enjoyed playing the taiko. I am certain I made more mistakes than usual, but when I finished, I noticed the applause of my classmates was noticeably louder than it had been previously. I was even praised by the teacher. Perhaps I did make more mistakes than usual, but I think I played better than usual. Of course, playing well and accurately is important, and if you play too poorly, your audience will probably not enjoy themselves, but also, if you are too serious, your audience will also probably not enjoy themselves. If the performer is obviously worried about making mistakes, the audience will not be able to relax either. They will be on the edge of their seats wondering if the performer will make it through without screwing up. Even if he makes it through without mistakes, the audience is probably relieved when he finishes, instead of wishing they could hear more. Anyhow, lets enjoy playing taiko together! (heh heh heh).

As I said, the recital is on Sunday. Hopefully I'll have video to post of my performance, and Mayumi's (who is better than me, in my opinion).


Performance Art?

I'd like to dedicate this entry to my good friend HallaMeat. I know he would have thoroughly enjoyed the experiences I am describing today. That being said, let me apologize as well because today's entry is not necessarily directly taiko related. It is, however, Japanese culture related, so perhaps I can get away with it.

First a bit of background information. Two weeks ago I returned from a work related trip to Tokyo. I had hoped to fit in some taiko related visits, like visiting the factory from whom we have bought all of our taiko so far, but the schedule was too full, so I wasn't able to. I went to Tokyo with two of my junior high school students for the semi-finals and finals of a national speech/oratorical contest, which is sponsored by a member of the Japanese Imperial family, Princess Takamado (whose English, by the way, is so good, that a British acquaintance I made at the reception said she sounded like Princess Diana). The contest is quite a big deal, of course because it is sponsored by the Imperial family, but also because the top three contestants all get a paid trip to England and scholarships, the largest being about $10,000. Hmmm, I guess you could buy a nice taiko with that money, or maybe a couple credits at an American university with that much. The Princess was in and out of the contest over the four days, listened to a few speeches, then left, came back for the decisions of the judges, and so on. Of course, whenever she entered or left, everyone in the room had to stand (usually, there were actually a couple times when they told us to remain seated). The closest I got to the Princess was at the reception following the final contest, which was held at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. (A pretty swanky place). She passed my table about 5 feet away from me. I could really "feel" the royalty.

Here is where things started to get a bit weird. I had an opportunity in high school to see former president Bush, Sr. on a campaign stop. The high school band played for him, and protocol dictates, that when it was time for the president's speech, we played "Hail to the Chief". I imagine that when the Queen of England enters an event, "God Save the Queen" or some other song is played. But from my experiences at the reception, I don't think there is any protocol dictating what music is to be played for the Imperial Family. I rather expected the Japanese national anthem (Kimigayo) to be played, but it's a slightly controversial song because of its association with WWII imperialism (but it is a beautiful song).

Before she entered the reception hall, there was a drum roll, followed by the trumpet voluntary. I can't remember who wrote it, but we had it played as our wedding processional, so I guess it's a song I associate with weddings more than royalty. This was followed by a quartet playing Bach's Theme from Judas Maccabeus. (Which I played on the violin when I was about 8 or 9, as Andrew will remember) Isn't this also a song often used as a wedding processional? Whatever the case, I felt more like I was at a wedding than in the presence of royalty. The strangest music choice (in my opinion), however, was when the Princess left the reception. After another drum roll, the quartet played "Auld Lang Syne". I know at least every American probably associates this song with New Year's Eve. I wondered, is it a song we sing as a farewell to the old year, or as a welcome to the new year? Or perhaps both? I guess in Japan, it is often associated with endings. For example, it is often played in stores just before closing time to let people know they should make their ways to the exit. Once again, whatever people associate it with, royalty was not the first thing that came to mind.

In any case, I got to see an Imperial Princess, and that's something in and of itself, isn't it. The strangest part of the night, though, happened after the reception. This is when I really wished that HallaMeat could have been there. We truly would have enjoyed these events together.

As I left the Imperial Hotel, I crossed I noticed a large group of people lined up on the other side. My curiosity got the better of me, so I went over to have a closer look. What I saw was maybe 100 people or more, lined up orderly, in rows, facing the street. They were not talking with one another, but simply silently looking straight ahead to the other side of the street. Also, every person (all women, by the way) in the group, had the same light blue scarf on, with someone's name printed on it, and they were all fashioned around their necks in exactly the same way. Here is a poor image of what I saw:

On the other side of the street, there was a somewhat less orderly crowd also of perhaps around 100 people, not lined up, and talking with each other, pointing at the others across the street, saying "What are they doing?" I belonged to this crowd. I noticed an acquaintance I had made earlier in the day and went over to him and asked him if he new what this was all about. He replied that he didn't know. One of his colleagues had even ventured across the street to ask some of them what they were doing, but he was answered with stone cold silence. I suggested that perhaps it was some sort of performance art, or maybe a psychological experiment, and we were all being observed for our reactions. Whether it was meant to be or not, in my opinion, it was performance art.

After several minutes, something happened. Suddenly, the front two or three rows, kneeled down. Immediately following this, a tall, slender, short-haired woman walked past them on the sidewalk. Once she had passed, they all stood up again. This happened about three or four times over the next several minutes. Finally, there was a slight change in the routine. As the front rows kneeled down maybe the fifth time, there were slight murmurs. In the very front row, several gold colored bags were taken out by about 4 or 5 people in front. Then another tall, slender, short-haired woman appeared, this time accompanied by a shorter woman. Several cameras flashed, and as she walked along the sidewalk, she stopped at the people holding the golden bags, and they were given to her. At the end of the line, there was a car waiting for her, which she got into and was driven away. This seemed to be the climax of the event, so it was after this that I went on my way, still having very little idea of what was actually going on.

BUT, I did have a slight idea. I noticed that this group of people were lined up right in front of the Tokyo Takarazuka theater. Most probably wonder what Takarazuka is. I first heard of it from a Japanese woman in my German class in Freiburg, back in 1996. She was a very devoted fan and insisted, that any Japanese woman would be thrilled to be taken to a show. It is a musical theater, where all parts are played by women. They all seem to be tall and slender women, and seem almost as if they are straight out the pages of a Japanese comic book. I find them a little bit creepy. Here is a link to some of their pictures. Feel free to form your own opinions, and if you can read Japanese, look around a little more. So based on what I know about Takarazuka, I could deduce that the tall, slender women were Takarazuka actress and the women lining the sidewalk were their fans, very devoted fans, I would guess. Perhaps they were even rabid fans. They seemed to have a pretty serious dedication to line up like that in silence and wait for the actresses to leave the venue, one by one, kneeling down as they passed. In a way, it almost seemed as if they got more reverence and protocol than the princess had just 30 minutes earlier. There self control was also rather impressive. There were no fences, or ropes, or security personnel for crowd control. As the actresses walked by, no one attempted to grab them, talk to them, or even try to get their attention.

When I made the Takarazuka connection I was slightly disappointed, because I was seriously hoping it was some sort of performance art. In my mind, I think it still was. I wish you could've been there, HM.