How is Classical Ballet Like Learning Taiko?

Can I write about classical ballet today? My daughter had her first ever ballet recital on Monday. The whole event was a pretty impressive production. And it should be, considering the cost. In the end, after paying our share of renting the hall, renting costumes, printing up programs, making a professionally produced DVD and so on, we probably payed between 8 and 900 dollars! *A warning to anyone who is thinking of having their children take ballet lessons in Japan: The teachers are wonderful, the lessons are reasonably priced, but the recitals, which happen anywhere from annually to every 5 years, are incredibly expensive.*

The last two or three months have been pretty busy with extra practices and rehearsals gearing up for the recital. I was able to attend some of these practices and I was impressed with one particular aspect of how my daughter's teacher, Kawamura sensei ran the rehearsals. When she first started taking ballet lessons, about 14 months ago, when the recital was still a long ways away, the one hour lessons would begin with 30 minutes of basic, fundamental stretches and exercises. Then there was a short break, one to two minutes, when the children (between 4 and 6 years old) could have a quick drink, and the remaining 30 minutes was spent working on pieces for the recital.

What impressed me was that as the recital drew closer, and the pressure to perfect and polish the performance numbers grew, Kawamura sensei never once changed the lesson format. No matter how much work needed to be done on the recital, the first 30 minutes of the lesson were strictly basic exercises and stretches. I think this type of teaching will produce some excellent ballet dancers in the future.

Such dedication to basic skills is also important for taiko playing and performing, I believe. Practicing fundamental exercises with a metronome is not necessarily the most exciting part of playing taiko. Playing the songs is much more fun. Furthermore, when there is a performance approaching, there is always the temptation and the pressure to skip over the basic warm ups and jump right into the song, to make sure that all the wrinkles are ironed out before the show. In my opinion, however, remaining dedicated to fundamental metronome practice, will likely improve your taiko playing, and perhaps, smooth out some of those rough areas all by itself. I am willing to bet that the more you practice fundamentals and basics, the less time the group will need for polishing the song.


Eitetsu Fu-un no Kai Concert - Precision Taiko!

Even though I was deathly ill last Sunday (Nov. 2), I did manage to drag myself out of bed to go and see the Hayashi Eitetsu Fu-un no Kai concert with my wife and daughter at the Ishikawa Prefectural Music Hall (a wonderful concert hall, and facility). I may have had a dangerously high fever, but, as is usually the case when I hear, or play taiko, I felt the sickness leave my body and enjoyed the performance with minimal discomfort. Of course, as soon as it finished, the fatigue and sick feelings were back. I am glad that I could go, especially because I had to miss the Fujimoto Yoshikazu (Senior Kodo member) workshop the day before.

I had seen Fu-un no Kai for the first time this past summer at the Exstasia concert in July. They performed two songs at that time. One was played on okedaiko, which they carried, but not in the usual katsugi style. In katsugi style, the drum is carried at a slight angle by your side. Both sides of the drum are played, but mainly the front of the drum. The sticks are also held in a different style. It is similar to a traditional snare grip in some ways. Fu-un no Kai's okedaikos were carried perpendicular to their bodies, with the drum heads facing sideways on the right and left. They also held their sticks in the standard taiko grip, only they were striking the drum from the sides, instead of from above.

This Okedaiko song was performed to open the concert, and their final number this time was played on five Odaiko. The Odaiko piece was also the closing number for the exstasia concert this past summer. At Exstasia, because there were four other groups performing, Fu-un no Kai was limited to only those two songs. Last Sunday's concert was only Fu-un no Kai so they were able to play two more pieces that I hadn't seen before. One featured an Odaiko player centered towards the back of the stage with the other four members playing yoko-uchi on two nagado taiko. Yoko-uchi is playing the drum from the side, instead of the top. It is similar to the way Miyake Taiko is played, but in this case, the stands were much taller, so the players were able to play standing up nearly straight, as opposed to the strenuous crouching position used for Miyake.
The other song featured four of the members all on Shime daiko. In some ways, the song was reminiscent of Monochrome, by Kodo, but only in very subtle ways.

As a general impression, Fu-un no Kai has a very conservative style of Japanese taiko playing. Many of my readers may have seen performances by Yamato. Yamato uses voice, dance and even comedy very liberally and freely in their performances (of course, they are also from Kansai/Osaka area, which is known for being more "fun" than other parts of Japan). In contrast, Fu-un no Kai's use of voice and movement are all very calculated and precise. Fu-un no Kai is a precision taiko group. All their movements seemed to be exactly in unison and it is quite impressive. While both groups (Yamato and Fu-un no Kai) are probably some of the top taiko performers in the world, their styles are completely different. There are also those in the taiko world who have fairly strong preferences to one style or the other. It was interesting, after Exstasia, the audience could see Yamato and Fu-un no Kai performing right next to each other, one after the other, so the contrast in styles was very clear. I talked to many people after the concert and there were about an even number of people who either liked Yamato and were not all that impressed with Fu-un No Kai, or else they loved the calculated precision of Fu-un no Kai and thought that Yamato was not serious enough for taiko drumming.

Personally, I find aspects of both groups that I really enjoy. But these differences in opinion are to be expected because modern taiko drumming does not necessarily have a very long history. It has only been around for 50 or 60 years, so there are many differing viewpoints as to what "proper Wadaiko drumming technique and style" actually is.

A Week of Diarrhea Will Sure "Wipe" You Out!

As it turns out, I was probably too sick to attend the Fujimoto workshop mentioned in the previous post anyhow. That afternoon, as I was at work, wishing that I could be at the workshop, I began to feel very fatigued and my muscles started to feel sore. But I attributed this to having gone running the day before for the first time in a month as well as increasing my dumbbell workout on the same day. The next day, however, I woke up feeling even worse. I took my daughter to her Sunday morning taiko class, but realized that I had something serious and after I got home, I spent the rest of the day in bed. (Oh, except I did drag myself out for the Eitetsu Fu-un no Kai concert.) When I checked my temperature, it was 39.5 (Celsius), which is pretty high, for those who don't know Celsius. Warning: those of you easily disgusted may want to skip this next section...

And then the diarrhea started, and kept going and going and going. I was on an hourly cycle of bed, toilet, bed, toilet for 3 or 4 days. I had no appetite and was eating nothing, so after a day or so, I guess I was having the equivalent of anal dry heaves. For at least a week, nothing even remotely resembling solid feces came out of my back side. Yes, I know it's disgusting, but I warned you.

Finally I went to the doctor. After describing my ordeals and symptoms to him, he said, without hesitation, "This is almost certainly a case of food poisoning. Have you eaten any kind of questionable food lately?" I thought back to the day before the full blown sickness began, and sure enough, I had bought an egg salad and chicken sandwich at a Family Mart convenience store for Saturday's lunch. That had to be it, because before that I felt fine, and that evening I ate dinner with my family and none of them became sick. Curse you, Family Mart! I'll have to get a letter from the doctor and then go and ask the shop for reimbursement for the doctor bills.


A Missed Opportunity

Yesterday was Saturday and I had to work. Usually I can leave work on Saturdays around 1:30, but today I had to stay until 4. Not only did it force me to miss JIGEN practice, but I also missed out on a (perhaps) once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. At least my wife was able to participate in it.

What was it? It was a free, private workshop by Mr. Yoshikazu Fujimoto of Kodo. When I say private, I mean that it was not open to the public, but rather only a few members of groups studying at Asano Taiko. I guess altogether there were about 20 people there. If you follow the link on Mr. Fujimoto's name, you'll know this already, but if you are too lazy, here are the main details on him:
He is one of the founding members of Kodo
He is usually the featured player for "Odaiko" and "Yatai Bayashi" at Kodo performances
He is currently the most senior member of Kodo
this year, he'll be 58 years old!

So it was pretty frustrating to me to have to stay at work while one of the taiko world's greats was giving a workshop. At least my wife was able to go and she will have to give me the details.

Today I can make up for missing the workshop a little bit because we will get to see a short concert in the afternoon. In a sort of indirect way, this concert is also related to one of Kodo's founding members, Mr. Eitetsu Hayashi. Mr. Hayashi, does not perform with Kodo anymore and mostly does solo work on the Odaiko.  He also has a group of several young men, which he has hand picked and trained from all over Japan. They are called "Fu un no kai" (風雲の会) When he has a performance where he needs more than just his solo Odaiko, he will assemble them to play with him. They also perform in concerts without him. In fact, they were a guest at this past summer's Exstasia. This afternoon, they'll be here in Kanazawa again. We will take our daughter to go and see them perform. It's kind of a short concert (only about an hour) and the tickets are quite reasonable (only 1500 yen).