Wadaiko Yamato - New Year Concert 2009 - Part 2

Before I get into the Yamato concert, I'd just like to announce that we have totally re-worked our website and the new Great Lakes Taiko Center Website is up and running. Don't get too excited, my web design skills are pretty limited, but it is certainly an improvement over what was up before. Please stop by and visit: http://www.michigantaiko.com

Now back to Yamato. I have now been studying taiko at Asano for 1 year and about 5 months. After nearly a year and a half of high quality instruction from Ms. Yamada, I am certain that I understand a great deal more about taiko, on a much deeper level than I did back in the summer of 2007. As they say, however, "Ignorance is Bliss" and my increased knowledge of taiko has the side effect of an awareness that some of the taiko groups I used to be impressed with are not quite as impressive as I once thought. I'm not going to put down any names here, but I will say that, after watching some old videos, I would include myself in that statement.

Anyway, Yamato is definitely not on that list. In fact, my deeper understanding of taiko has only made me more impressed with what Yamato does. For example, since October, I have been dedicating a lot of time to practicing shime taiko, since I will be playing it for two pieces in March. I have written in the past about how difficult it is to play these small, high-pitched drums, and how any little mistake you make on them is magnified. (I also posted an exercise to help improve shime taiko playing and will post another one soon.) So, shime taiko is not easy to play, but Yamato performs their highly technical shime piece, "Kizashi" flawlessly, in perfect unison. My own knowledge and experience of practicing and playing shime taiko makes me all the more impressed with the way Yamato can play this piece.

Performing in unison is another aspect of Yamato's program which impressed me on a new level this year. One of the groups I play in (Yume Mitai) has between 16 and 20 members. Last year we had the honor of playing at a fairly major concert and worked very hard to really polish up our performance. At that time, I began to realize how hard it can be to get 16 people to all play, and move in perfect unison. Again, at the Yamato concert, for two or three songs, Yamato will put 15 or 20 people on the stage and their playing, their movement, the music, everything is so precise and tight. Being able to perform in such a precise manner with that many people is very impressive.

Oops, I've run out of time for today, but I still have more to say about the Yamato concert. I'll write more soon.


Wadaiko Yamato - New Year Concert 2009

Early, January 11th, my wife and daughter and I piled into our white station wagon/mini van, along with two friends from our group, Jigen, and left Kanazawa for a four hour drive through treacherous snow-covered roads to Nara. (Actually, once we got halfway through Shiga Prefecture, the snow was pretty much gone.) We were heading out to see Wadaiko Yamato’s 2009 New Year Concert at the Nara Prefecture Cultural Hall. Last year we had gone by ourselves, but this year our daughter was old enough to sit through the concert and since Yamato had played at last summer’s Exstasia, they gained some new fans at Asano. Two of those new fans ended up joining us for the trip.

This being about my 8th time to see Yamato perform, I still classify them as one of the top groups in the world (if not the top). Although last year I made the claim that they are “the best group in the world” I am realizing that there are many different ideas about what actually makes taiko great and what some people view positively, others may not. At any rate, no one can argue that as far as skill, technique, stage presence and stamina, they are certainly at the top of their game.

The program this year was as follows:
Hayate (the piece with Shamisen)
Kizashi (just shime taiko)

Guest Performance by Kongendo (Yamato’s own Taiko Dojo)

Rakuda (Mostly katsugi-oke taiko)
Garakuta (the piece with chappa – Hand cymbals)

Founded in 1993, Yamato is now nearly 16 years old. Although many original members have moved on, there is still a handful of founding members left. These members, however, are often based in Nara for most of the year, and only join the group on tour for short stints. This is one reason I have particularly enjoyed the New Year Concerts these past two years. It is probably one of the few times that you can actually see all the members of Yamato performing together. Besides that, it is on their “home court” and who doesn’t get an extra boost from playing for the home crowd.

Well, I have a lot to say about this concert, so instead of writing one looooooong entry, I think I am going to break it up into smaller pieces. So, that’s all for now. Please check back in a day or two for the next installment.


A Small Concert

For those of you looking forward to the report on the Yamato concert we attended last weekend, I apologize for the delay. I caught the flu these past few days and have been in bed recovering. I also want to take the time to give a proper review, so please, just wait a bit longer.

Yesterday, however, Mayumi and I (in spite of a slightly lingering fever) were able to make a brief taiko performance at our church. The church decided to put on a "New Year Concert" featuring members of the congregation performing everything from ventriloquism to...well, taiko. We played a shortened, simplified version of Raijin (来人) using only shime taiko. It was well received and several people told us afterwards that it was their favorite performance of the evening.

Of course, being the people who created the piece, and having your own image of how it is supposed to sound, we know it wasn't performed perfectly and are aware of many mistakes and areas that need to be improved upon. That being said, I did notice an improvement in our playing. We seemed to be more crisp and together, which I account to all the extra shime practice we have been doing since last fall. We even received applause at two points in the middle of the piece, which caught me off guard the first time it happened. I was confused for a moment until I realized they were clapping because they were impressed. Wow. It's a nice feeling. We won't let it go to our heads, though. We are well aware that we still have a long way to go and we'll keep practicing.

Since we were performing, I don't have any pictures to post, but I am sure there are people who took some. Maybe someone even took video. If I get my hands on any of them, I promise to post them later.


Family Taiko

Greetings from cold and snowy Kanazawa. We finally got a significant snowfall here and the temperature has been dropping daily. Seeing as how one of the places where we practice is not heated, it makes practice very cold. I can never feel my toes by the end of the session. Still, I always feel better after playing taiko for 90 minutes. Work started back up again last week, and although I prefer time off, it is good to get back into a sort of routine.

Before I share with you the awesome experience of Yamato's New Year Concert, which we attended on Monday (Jan 11), I thought I would share one last little thing from the winter holidays.

Our children are now 2 1/2 and 5 1/2. Our daughter, the older one, has been in the Asano Kids Taiko class since Sept 2007, but our son is still a bit too young to concentrate through an hour class. He does love taiko, though (as you will see). Eventually, we hope that our two children will be able to stand on the stage with us and perform, but it will probably be a couple more years before they are ready for that.

During the holidays we got out our 1.8 shaku (ca. 54 cm/22 in) nagado taiko, which we use mainly for practicing Miyake Taiko. We put it up on the high stand and let the kids play to their heart's content. It's not really big enough to be called an Odaiko, Odaiko start at around 90 cm, or 3 ft diameter, but for a 2 and 5 year old, it is just the right size for an Odaiko.

I thought, if only for the sake of my family and friends, that I would post a few videos of our kids playing around on the taiko. I don't know that it will be enlightening or educational to any of my readers, but little kids playing the drums is always cute. So, please enjoy the improv concert by the children of Raion Taiko...

Hope you enjoyed the show. (Don't forget to rate and comment on the videos.) Next time I will write about our experience at the Yamato concert in Nara.


How to Practice Shime Taiko

Today I received an email from Maria of Taiko Drum, Tasmania University Union Taiko Society. She had read my previous post about playing Shime Taiko and asked me if I had any exercises that I could recommend. I thought that maybe there are other people out there who would like to know some techniques for practicing shime taiko as well. So here is the main part of my response to her. By the way, I also noticed that "Taiko Drum" has their own blog, so I will put up a link to it in the side bar. But just in case you can't find that, here is the link: Taiko Drum Blog

Anyway, here is one way of practicing shime taiko:

Shime Exercise
1. Use a metronome. Set it between 60 and 70 to beat eighth notes (slower is probably better). If the metronome does not have an eighth note setting, set it around 130 - 140 and just think of the beats as eighth notes.

2. When practicing, always lead with your non-dominant hand, or the weaker hand (left, in my case). I don't even bother using my right hand for this type of practice. I only use my right hand when practicing performance pieces.

3. play through this pattern:
2 measures each

quarter notes (don don don don)
eighth notes (do ko do ko do ko do ko)
sixteenth notes (doko doko doko doko doko doko doko doko)
1 eighth, two sixteenths (don doko don doko don doko don doko)
2 sixteenths, 1 eighth (doko don doko don doko don doko don)
sixteenth, eighth, sixteenth (do don ko do don ko do don ko do don ko)
2 sixteenths, 1 eighth (doko don doko don doko don doko don)
1 eighth, two sixteenths (don doko don doko don doko don doko)
sixteenth notes (doko doko doko doko doko doko doko doko)
eighth notes (do ko do ko do ko do ko)
quarter notes (don don don don)

repeat endlessly.
I hope that this clear to you.
I usually do the above patterns 10 times: 5 times at Mezzo Forte and 5 times at piano/pianissimo

It is important to be able to play quietly and to practice it slowly. If you practice it slowly and quietly, you'll be able to more easily hear where you are speeding up or slowing down. Be especially careful of the "do don ko" pattern. Also, try to keep all the notes at the same volume, make sure you aren't unintentionally placing accents on certain notes (like the down beats, for example).

This is a combination of practice methods I have learned at Asano Taiko, and advice I received from my brother, who is the drummer for Chicago's best band, The Detholz!


My Winter Break Project

What is this? It's my winter break taiko project. I am attempting to build a stand for our 1.8 shaku (that's about 54 cm) nagado taiko. When we first arrived in Japan, back in August 2007, the first thing we did was buy this taiko, but we bought it with a Miyake stand, which holds the drum horizontally. You must play the drum from the sides, instead of from the top. It wasn't a mistake, we wanted to practice Miyake Taiko, but there are times when we want a regular old upright stand as well. In fact, last year, I needed one for a performance, so I had to rent one. It was only 1000 yen to rent it for a day. Not much, but still, looking at the simple design and construction, I imagined that it would not cost much more than 1000 yen to make one yourself, granted, it might not be as pretty as a professionally-made stand. Most of the time, we are just using this drum for practice, though, so a functional stand is really all that it is necessary. So before I returned the stand, I made sure to take measurements and draw a little picture of it, in the hopes that I could make my own someday.

Finally, after Christmas, I went to the hardware store, picked out a few pieces of wood, borrowed a saw from my in-laws got started. I spent less than 600 yen on the wood, but had to go back the other day and spend another 390 because I cut one piece too short. In spite of that, I am still under 1000 yen in total cost of materials so far. All I have left to purchase are screws and wheels. The screws won't cost much, but the wheels will probably bring up the cost closer to 2000 yen. I haven't priced them yet. It is quite a challenge to work on it, though. I don't really have a workshop or proper tools. To cut the wood, I had to use two bricks on my balcony, no vice and a dull saw. I don't have a square, so I had to use a measuring tape to measure the cuts, and draw the lines. Just by looking, I could tell that the lines were not as straight as they should be. Now the wood is all cut to the right size, and I've notched the corners so that it all fits together surprisingly well, considering the methods I used to measure and cut.

It looks something like this:

My next step is to drill holes for screws and put it together. Then I will mark off where to chisel a little shelf on each side where the taiko will rest. After chiseling the shelves, the only thing left to do will be to attach the wheels. The problem right now is that I do not have a drill. I am actually considering nails, but first I am going to spend a little more time looking for a drill to borrow.

I'll be sure to add a picture of the finished product (when it gets finished).


Christmas Presents

It's a bit late to be talking about Christmas presents, but since I got a couple taiko related gifts, I'll do it anyhow. The first thing I got was a practice pad. I had asked for this specifically. Since we live in an apartment building, we cannot really play/practice the drums in our house. I thought that a practice pad would be a good solution. You can't necessarily practice Nagado or Odaiko techniques with it, but it works fine for Shime Taiko practicing. Right now, in two of the three Asano groups I play for, I am playing Shime Taiko anyhow, so it is good timing. Furthermore, in a previous post, I explained how having good Shime Taiko techniques can improve your overall playing techniques for all types of drums.

Upon receiving this gift, I was looking forward to getting in some daily practice. My son, also, was looking forward to it and spent a good part of Christmas day hitting it with taiko sticks. In the evening we got a call from our downstairs neighbors, though. Apparently, even though the sound is much quieter than playing a real drum, they can still hear it. So I am wondering how much I'll even be able to use it. I did get a tip from older brother, though, who has the same pad, only a slightly larger one. He says if I take it off the stand and place it on a cushion or pillow, the neighbors probably will not hear it.

My other gift was a new jogging suit and reflectors. You see, it is winter now, the darkest and coldest time of the year. When I go jogging, it is usually around 5 in the morning. It is still dark then, and although there isn't much traffic, there is some and I would rather not be injured or killed in a freak traffic accident. Up until now, my jogging clothes have been black or dark colored, and fairly light weight. Using them at this time of year makes me cold and hard for cars to see. So, I received a warmer jogging suit, in a bright color (white) and various reflectors.

As you can see from the picture, I should be pretty hard to miss in an outfit like this. So far, I have only been able to use it once, though. Now that I have all the safety gear and warm enough clothes, I just need to find the motivation to get out of bed at 5 am when it is still dark and cold.