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.

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