Hayashi Eitetsu

Sunday we saw a concert featuring Hayashi Eitetsu. If you are into taiko at all, you may recognize the name. If not, you probably won't. To be honest, I hadn't heard of him until a colleague, who learned of my taiko interest, introduced him to me. From that point, I heard quite a bit about him, and learned that he is one of the big names in taiko.

Here's a bit of background information, for those who do not know him. (I am taking this info from the Japanese program we received yesterday, so if there are inaccuracies, it is likely due to my translation mistakes, sorry.)

From what I can understand, he was one of the founding members of Kodo, and remained with them for 11 years. He made his solo debut at Carnegie Hall in 1984. Since then, he has become well known as an Odaiko soloist, and a pioneer with collaborations between taiko and many other musical genre, such as jazz and classical music.

The concert was put on by the Orchestra Ensemble of Kanazawa, and the whole program featured traditional Japanese music and instruments combined with a western orchestra. The flyer for the concert featured a large photo of Hayashi Eitetsu, so I was slightly disappointed when I opened the program and saw that he was only playing for one song out of the five that would be performed. As it turned out, though, his performance was still satisfying. It was clearly the climax of the program.

Before I talk more about his performance, let me briefly give an idea of what the other pieces were like. The first piece featured about 50 koto (Japanese harp) players, accompanied by orchestra. The front of the stage was so tightly packed with koto, I didn't think there would be any room for the performers to sit and play. As it turns out, very little space is required to play the koto, and everyone squeezed in without a problem.

The second piece featured a father and son shakuhachi combination, again, accompanied by the orchestra. The shakuhachi is a flute crafted from a single piece of bamboo. There are cheaper models, which can be taken apart, and are made of wood, but the best quality shakuhachi are made from a single piece of bamboo. (Just as the best taiko are made from a single tree trunk.) It is also very difficult to play this type of flute. For some, it takes 3 months of practice before they can even get a sound out of it.

The shakuhachi piece was followed by a shamisen solo with orchestra accompaniment. Up till this point, all the performers had worn traditional Japanese clothing, such as kimono or hakama. The woman who played the shamisen wore a pure white, wispy dress, which brought to mind images of Greek goddesses. My first impression of her was that she was maybe in her early 30s, but looking in the program, she is actually in her late 50s!

Hayashi Eitetsu's piece was next, followed by a finale, including the koto players, a shakuhachi player, and a women's chorus, singing a medly of Japanese folk songs, like "Sakura". Unfortunately, the arrangement of this last song reminded me of one of those hymns arranged for church orchestras, designed mainly to evoke shallow emotions, you know, lots of brass and timpani. It is more like a cheap thrill, than a meaningful experience. I know some of you know what I'm talking about.

I wasn't sure how much I would enjoy the piece with Hayashi Eitetsu. I was skeptical at first. When people think of Odaiko, most people probably think of the famous solos that can be seen at nearly every Kodo performance. A large drum, elevated above the stage on a cart, played by an extremely healthy male, wearing very little, for maybe 15 minutes straight. It's very impressive. The first half of Sunday's piece, however, only featured minimal notes, played very slowly on the odaiko. Although the piece was interesting musically, I was hoping to see a bit more "chops" from Mr. Hayashi, some sort of cadenza, or something. In the end, I was not disappointed. The piece ended with an impressive odaiko solo lasting several minutes.

The name of the piece was Fujin, Raijin. These are the names of two gods in Japan. Fujin is the god of wind and Raijin is the god of thunder and lightning. Obviously, the taiko is meant to represent Raijin. The organ was symbolic of the wind. Were I to write a song meant to symbolize wind, I guess pipe organ is not the first instrument that would jump to mind. Perhaps I associated it too much with churches and cathedrals. After hearing the piece, and why the composer chose pipe organ to represent the wind, it makes perfect sense to me. Most of you probably know that a pipe organ requires rather a large amount of wind in order to produce sounds. This was the reason the composer gave for choosing this instrument as a symbol for the wind. Also, I guess I haven't heard many non-traditional organ pieces, for I did not realize how much an organ could imitate the sounds of wind whistling and blowing around. I would say that the overall piece was quite interesting, and enjoyable to listen to. The connections with wind and thunder were easy to see, and Hayashi Eitetsu's playing was certainly impressive.

I did enjoy the concert, but on a scale of 1 to 10, I would probably give it a 5, overall. This is in no way because of a poor performance of any of the players, but rather just because of personal music tastes. In general, I'm not a fan of "fusion" or collaborations between extremely different types of music. I honestly prefer to hear these traditional Japanese instruments, as traditional Japanese instruments, rather than hearing them trying to fit in with western instruments, or hearing a western orchestra trying easternize itself to fit with the Japanese instruments. At the same time, I suppose many genres of music we have today, likely began as collaborations or fusions of two different types of music. And of course, they were probably met with strong criticism, or little popularity when they first started out. Some of them stuck around and developed into their own genere, and others faded away, never to be heard from again. I guess only time will tell if shakuhachi or shamisen solo accompanied by western orchestra is something that will catch on, or fade away.

On a closing note, I was able to locate an interesting youtube video about a project Hayashi Eitetsu participated in with an arts school in Cleveland. If you watch it, I think you can learn a little more about Mr. Hayashi, more about taiko, and get an idea of some of things we, also, would like to accomplish in Michigan.

1 comment:

captainfez said...

As far as I know, Eitetsu was also one of the founding members of (the original) Ondekoza, before splitting off to form Kodo.

I'd still love to see him; I started playing taiko after he'd toured Australia with TaikOz, damnit.