Yuko - 遊鼓

Hmm, I have only made two other entries this month. I guess I haven't felt all that inspired to write. Well, at least not inspired to write here. I was actually inspired to write music this month, and I completed a new song just this week. It's called Yuko (遊鼓)For those of you that can read Japanese, you will recognize that the two characters mean "play" and "drum", or playful drum, in more natural sounding English. Like the name, it is a fun and interactive song, which I wrote for Okedo, or Katsugi Taiko, which is a lightweight drum, that is easily carried with a shoulder strap and the heads are tightened with ropes.

I haven't had a chance to actually try it on the drum, but at this point, I am pretty pleased with it. I will ask one of our instructors to look at it and give me comments after our upcoming performance, March 16th. I am looking forward to the performance. Almost my whole family will perform at one point or another. I play in two groups, my wife plays in one, and my daughter will play in another. It's only about 3 weeks away now, which may seem like a long time, but 3 weeks means only three more practices, so we have been working extra hard lately.

And actually, there is another concert coming up, that will be sort of a big deal, but it is not a certainty until after this March 16th performance, so I will wait to give details about it.


Kaga Taiko - Ichikawa Juku School Visit

We haven't really played or practiced Kaga style taiko since our recital on December 9th. Since the course we took only ran from August to December, and won't run again until August, we don't have many opportunities to play in this style. We did always want to visit the Ichikawa Juku School, though, which I mentioned in a post last fall.

Today (10.Feb) we finally were able to observe a practice there. Our intent was to observe, but we were immediately invited to participate in the practice. After all, they knew that we were not totally inexperienced, since nearly all of them took part in the December recital as well, and Ichikawa sensei also visited our Thursday night class on several occasions. We weren't sure how well we would be able to participate because we had both of our children with us, but the practice was fairly family freindly, allowing us to participate, and watch our kids at the same time.

When I wrote about the recital, I compared the atmosphere to a jazz club. The practice also seemed to have the same, laid back type of feeling. Soon after we arrived, they began warming up, which consisted of playing the mitsu uchi base rhythm (don doko don doko ...), followed by incorporating only a few Kaga taiko patterns. This probably didn't last any longer than 30 minutes. Then everyone had a break, drank some tea, smoked a cigarette, ate snacks, talked for a bit. Our kids found some sticks and played on the drums a little bit. During the break, Ichikawa sensei talked and played with our children. He told us that he has a grandchild the same age as our daughter (4.5 years).

Following the break, students came up one at a time, played a bit, and received guidance and commentary from Ichikawa sensei. It was rather like a 15 or 20 minute private lesson for each person, except that the rest of the class is watching you receive instruction. I can see that watching others play and listening to the critiques and suggestions from the teacher is an essential part of learning this particular style of taiko.

The warm up was pretty relaxed, and as I mentioned, Ichikawa sensei took on a kind and grandfatherly tone during the break as he played with our children. I was, therefore very surprised to hear his comments for the first student who played after the break. After she finished her piece, he basically said, "Well, if I were to tell you where you made mistakes, I would say everywhere. I would give you some positive feedback, but there was absolutely nothing postive about your playing." ... I thought "Wow," as I reached down to pick up my jaw off the floor. He then proceeded to work with her on various aspects of her playing, giving her advice and demonstrating at times, but his comments for most of the lesson with her were not very forgiving. Still, I noticed a significant improvement in her playing by the time she was finished.

Imagine my surpise (and horror) when he then said, "So, who's next? How about you, Brian san?" Seeing how he tore apart the previous student, who was much better than me, I could only imagine what he might say about my playing. Somewhat reluctantly, but trusting that he would be fairly kind to me, as it was my first visit to his class, I got up and played what I had played for the December recital, as best as I could remember. Being two months from that performance, of course, I made plenty of mistakes, but luckily, he was kind as I had hoped. His comments to me were basically, "You've made a good start, and if you practice, I'm sure you will become a good player." Next was my wife, and his comments to here were pretty much the same, except that he added, "I think you're just a tiny bit better than your husband." Well, I had thought that since we started practicing, so it wasn't a total surprise to to hear that.

The strictness and directness of the lesson suprised me mainly because the beginning of the class had been so laid back. I actually understood that this was just his teaching method, and not meant to be mean, but rather to motivate. The first student had been practicing Kaga taiko for some time and was fairly advanced. I'm sure he was simply trying to get her to play at a higher level, since she was probably capable of it. Although he mentioned several times, "Maybe you aren't as good as I thought you were, maybe I'm pushing you too fast." I think that anyone who has worked at something, be it an art or a sport, probably has noticed that the better you get, the more your teacher's seem to criticize you. As you improve, their expectations rise, and a good teacher will hold you to those.

If you are over-sensitive, or need positive comments along with the negative, you probably wouldn't last long in this class, but if you understand the purpose of the comments, and are able to not take them personally, you'll probably be fine. I think we are fine with that, and hope that we will be able to visit the school on a regular basis to continue learning Kaga style taiko during the "off season".


How Would You Like to Learn Taiko With Kodo?

I felt honored recently to discover that one of my readers is an apprentice with Kodo. He sent me an email in response to my Hayashi Eitetsu concert post. It was very nice to know that someone like that is interested in what I am writing. Being an apprentice with Kodo, however, he does not have much time to read it, as during training, there is very little opportunity for internet use.

After receiving his email, it occurred to me that some other readers might be interested to know more about being an apprentice with the world famous Kodo drummers. Unfortunately, I cannot give first hand experience, but I will at least pass on the information that is available from their website.

It seems that application is very open to anyone who is interested, regardless of nationality. There are some general guidelines, however. You must be at least 18 years of age, and be in good health (I would even venture to suggest you should probably be in excellent health, and if you've ever seen one of their performances, you will understand why). They also require that applicants have an advanced knowledge of Japanese. I'm sure this is for one's own good, as well as so that one can understand instructions given in training. After all, apprentices are isolated on an island in the Sea of Japan for most of their training. If one couldn't communicate, the feelings of isolation would be even greater.

Most "graduates" of the two-year program appear to be Japanese. Kodo lists the graduates of the program on their website. They only have names for graduates from the last eight years of the program. The number of graduates ranges from five people to nine, most of them from Japan, but two are noted as being from the US, and one graduate from Canada.

The apprentice program runs for two years, beginning in April. The application period seems to be in October. In order to apply, one must submit a resume, a statement of health from a physician, and two essays entitled, "What I hope to accomplish at the Kodo Apprenticeship centre" and "What I hope to do upon completion of the apprenticeship program". Applicants who pass the initial selection process are then invited to Sado Island for personal interviews in January, after which the final decisions are made.

There is a cost involved if one is selected. Apprentices pay 50,000 yen a month (slightly less than $500) to cover room and board (quite reasonable, for the training one would be getting). Some scholarships are available, but only for the second year of the program.

The curriculum is also listed on the site. During the first year, all follow the same program. The general description says you will be learning to live communally (no easy task) learning basics of Japanese traditional culture, and how to develop your body for playing taiko and dance. This includes music lessons, lectures on the island’s traditional culture, such as singing, dancing, farming, tea ceremony, and more, as well as assisting Kodo during festivals (especially Earth Celebration) and workshops.

The second year curriculum continues to develop skills learned in the first year, but also splits into two courses of study, depending on whether one desires to be a stage performer with Kodo, or work as a staff member. Those wishing to become staff members will receive practical experience assisting the Kodo office. It seems that the curriculum for those wishing to become performers seeks to provide more practical performing experiences. Apparently, acceptance into the apprenticeship program is not an automatic guarantee that you will be able to complete the full two years. The website says that everyone is evaluated at the end of the first year and it is then decided whether or not you will be able to complete the second year.

I wish I could write about this firsthand, instead of just passing on information from the Kodo website. With a family to support, however, I must find other ways to study taiko drumming. But some of you may have a bit more "freedom" and if this sounds interesting, exciting, intriguing to you, don't forget about it. Look into it, write it down as a goal and pursue it. (Write it down!)