Age discrimination, Encouragement and the best taiko group in the world

Maybe I'm just easily pleased, but yesterday I received a compliment/encouragement from Hono Taiko's Yamada-san. Asano Taiko sponsors several taiko groups, their top group, and most well-known, being Hono Taiko. At this weeks practice, we learned that one of the sponsored groups is soon going out of existence and they would like to make a new group to replace it. They are looking for people with experience between the ages of 14 to 30 to make up this amateur/semi-pro level group. Although I am extremely interested in being a part of this group, I was born nearly 3 years too early to be considered for it, so I did not bother to try out for it. Still, last night I saw Yamada san and she asked how old I was because she had thought of me for that group. I told her, and asked if they couldn't possibly extend the age limit to 35. Apparently, I'm not the only one who has asked that. Anyway, I was encouraged to be even considered. I don't mean to say that I have become a taiko virtuoso (if there's such a thing) in 6 months of practice, but I feel validated that I am doing well, showing dedication and potential.

On the other hand, I watch a performance like Yamato's last Sunday and, although it is not discouraging, it also gives me a feeling for the gap between us and becoming a truly professional level performing group. Yamato's concert was truly a moving experience. From the first note of the concert, a chill went through my body, and I was moved to the very last. I have seen Yamato perform on 5 separate occasions now: twice in the US, once in Austria, once in Germany and now in Japan. I am pretty sure that this was the best performance out of the 5 that I've seen.

Yamato now has 18 members, of which I think four are trainees, but they still perform in the shows, just in lesser roles than the full members. Also, I think their touring is more limited. When I first saw Yamato, I think they had about 10 members. 10 people is actually a nice sized taiko team, and when you see 10 people on the stage at once, beating all different sized drums with all their body, mind, heart at the same time, it is quite moving. But add eight more people, and it is even more moving. Also Yamato does not change their program all that much. I first saw them in 1999 and when I opened the program at the concert last Sunday, there was only one song that I hadn't heard. On the other hand, that doesn't mean that I've seen the same concert 5 times either. Yamato's leader, Ogawa san, is constantly making adjustments and changes to improve the songs and the presentation. One of my favorite changes was for the song, Hayate, which has always been one of my favorites. The song features 3 of the girls playing shamisen, accompanied by two other members playing kumi taiko (like a taiko drum set). Miyazaki Mika, the lead shamisen player, has always had an excellent stage presence for this piece, and is probably one of the reasons it is my favorite. Anyhow, this time, there weren't three shamisen players, but about seven. I thought it made the song even better.
Several other songs also included an increased number of performers, and others, the music itself had been changed. And some songs, I think, were just performed even better than before.

This Yamato's 15th year (I think) and at one point in the concert, Ogawa san shared a little bit about how the group was started back in 1993. He had already had experience playing taiko with another group, but was working as a glass blower. There was a festival coming up at a nearby shrine and his mother suggested/encouraged him to put together a few songs with a couple other people and perform at the festival. He, and two other friends wrote a few songs, practiced intensively for maybe two weeks and performed. Their performance was well received and after that, they had many inquiries about joining their group, or doing more performances. I guess there was enough interest, that they decided to try to create a more serious performing group.

In some ways, I thought there were some similarities to our own beginning (although there are many differences as well). We, also, kind of started out without any clear goals, or expectations and following our first we also received an unexpected amount of interest and requests for future performances, enough to encourage us to actually try to create a serious taiko group as well. Although we have no plans to become a world touring group, spending 11 out of 12 months in other countries, I hope that we can attempt to practice and perform the drums with the same passion and dedication that Yamato does.

After the concert there was a reception for Yamato and their friends, to which we were invited. There were quite a few people in a rather small space, so unfortunately, there was not a lot of time for one on one interaction and talking. We did get some pictures with some of the members, though, which I will post below. But first, there was, I guess a notable celebrity in attendance at the concert and the reception, but I did not realize it. I noticed him at the reception because he had very unique clothing. I cannot describe it very well, but he had a brimmed hat, and a sort of patchwork shirt and was also wearing a patchwork type of apron, possibly made of leather. I kept wondering what country he had come from. I thought possibly Mongolia or far eastern Russia. I realized that I was probably staring too much, and was just thinking that I should go and talk to him, instead of staring when my wife told me that he was Kansai Yamamoto, a internationally recognized fashion designer and big fan of taiko.

Anyhow, here are some pictures from the reception, but first, as the concert was held in Nara, some Nara-esque photos:
Me with one of Nara's famed, tame "sacred" deer:

And Mayumi in front of a "Sharp Pagoda":

Me and my wife with Takeru Matsushita, one of Yamato's assistant leaders.

Me with Midori Tamai. He is one of Yamato's most recognizable players because of his hair, which is unfortunately not visible in this picture.

Mayumi with current member, Mika Miyazaki (left, the lead shamisen player) and former member, Shoko Kodera (middle).

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