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!)

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