Yamato New Year Concert - Part 3

It has been several weeks since we traveled to Nara to see Yamato perform their New Year concert. So it is probably time to finish up writing my "review" of their performance. This will be my third and final entry recounting Yamato's 2009 New Year Concert.

I have seen them around eight times now, and in the 8 years since I first saw them, their set list has not changed all that much, two or three songs at the most. Still, it never gets boring. Part of that is because they're simply awesome, and awesomeness never gets old. Another part, however, is that they are constantly adjusting and improving their pieces. The "Hayate" (shamisen piece) I saw at the 2009 concert is much different than the "Hayate" I first saw back in Salzburg in 1999; although it is the same song. Even the "Rekka" I saw at Exstasia this past summer was different than the "Rekka" performed in Nara a few weeks ago. Yamato is constantly tweaking their performance and their songs. They are always looking for little ways to make things better, more interesting, more exciting, always challenging themselves. Of course, this is good for their own development and improvement, but for the audience, as well, it has the result of making you feel that each time you see them, you are seeing a new concert (yet it still has that familiar feel, because you know all the pieces).

There is just one final aspect of the Yamato concert which I will share. I'm not sure exactly what to call it, professionalism? preparedness? anticipation of problems? Maybe it is all those things wrapped up into one, and I cannot think of the word that would describe that. Most taiko players have probably experienced bachi (sticks) breaking or slipping out of hands during a performance (or at least during a practice), and most of us probably have our trusty Yobi Bachi (spare pair) in a bag tied to the back of the drum, or at least on the floor or somewhere easy to reach quickly. Should we lose a bachi while playing, an extra one is then easily accessible. I would say that there were about two or three broken bachi during the Yamato concert, but their efficiency at grabbing the spare and continuing playing as if nothing happened is so good that you probably wouldn't realize that anything had even happened, if it weren't for the broken bachi flying through the air across the stage. They are able to adjust to these bachi mishaps so smoothly that they, literally, do not miss a beat.

But what really impressed me was how they dealt with a problem during "Hayate", the song which features shamisen. Towards the end of the song, the lead shamisen player, Mika Miyazaki, has an exciting solo. Yes, shamisen is a traditional Japanese instrument, but she gets into the solo so much, that you can't help recalling images of head-banging rock star guitarists when she plays it. It's great. Anyhow, a few measures before the solo, I noticed her turn her head backwards for a brief moment to the shamisen player behind her to her left. At the time, I thought she was maybe just getting into the music with her fellow shamisen players. But when it came time for the solo, I noticed they were both playing it. My first reaction was, "Oh, I so they put two people on the solo this year," but then I noticed something catching the light from Mika's shamisen. One of her strings had broken. I realized, she must have turned around to the girl behind her to signal that she should back her up on the solo. All this happened so seamlessly that neither my wife, nor the other two people we had come to the concert with even noticed that anything had gone wrong.

I am sure that they had planned how to deal with such a problem, should it arise. Otherwise, I doubt that Mika could have so easily and smoothly communicated that she needed back-up for the solo. Experience may have also played a role. My wife, having accompanied Yamato to Europe as a tour assistant in 1999 has seen Yamato perform over 100 times and told me that it wasn't the first time a string had broken during a concert. Knowing Yamato, though, I am certain that the first time the string broke on stage, they already had a plan in place.

Besides being impressed with the way they handled the broken string, I also was reminded that if one wants to be considered a professional, one must constantly be thinking of what could possibly go wrong and how to deal with that, should it happen.

The past three times I have seen Yamato performances I have felt and experienced the high level of talent and professionalism they possess. I suppose that seeing a group with such advanced technical ability and artistic sense and stage presence could be discouraging for some. As I said, the more I learn about taiko, the more I understand and appreciate what they do. It's almost like the feeling: the more you learn, the more you realize you don't know. But for me, seeing Yamato's performances has never discouraged me in that way. Perhaps it is partly because I know that Yamato's beginnings have some similarities to our own, perhaps it is simply because I am being optimistic, or maybe it is just because I believe in setting one's goals high. Whatever it is, seeing Yamato's performances has always been an inspiration to me and instead of making me think about how far we have to go, it makes me think about what is possible with dedication and hard work. I don't know if we'll ever achieve the level that Yamato has (we certainly don't plan to tour the world for 10 months out of the year), but I know that we can work hard and that's what I plan to do.

After the concert, we were able to take a picture in front of the stage with the members of Yamato. In the picture are me, my wife, my daughter, and two friends, who are also members of the same Asano Taiko groups we play with.

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