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Tao Taiko!

December 12, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

About two months ago my friend Kate sent out an e-mail to a number of us saying: “Do you want to go see a Taiko performance in Oita in December?” I naturally said yes, paid for my tickets, and then promptly forgot all about it, as you do. (Well, as I do anyway.) Last week Kate sent out a reminder e-mail about the plans, and I had a small heart attack. “Why??” I can see my dear readers from all around the world asking, their hearts filled with sudden angst. Not to worry, my faithful followers, I won’t leave you in suspense for long. Only shortly to tell this entirely unrelated story about…

All right, all right. Well, the reason for this momentary heart failure was that about a month before (and so a month after Kate asked us about the Taiko, for those of you keeping calendars at home) my favorite school asked me if I would like to attend their 忘年会 (ぼうねんかい)-bounenkai, end of the year party. (Quick side note: 忘年会 in Japanese literally means “Forget the year party.” Basically they get absolutely wasted and do their best to forget the year and prepare for the next one, regardless of whether it was the best or the worst year of your life. Sound fun, right?!) Of course I had said yes, because I immensely enjoy the company of the teachers at this particular school, and as I mentioned earlier, I had completely forgotten about my previous engagement. As some of you more astute fans have surely noted, I would not be telling this story if there were not some sort of conflict coming up within the next few lines. Indeed, the Taiko performance and my school’s 忘年会 were on December 11th, aka two days ago.

And so I found myself last week in a slight panic as to what to do. I was looking forward to both events very much, and I even tried figuring out whether I could attend both parties. Alas, it was not to be. The decision was eventually made simply due to monetary issues. I could not get my money back on the Taiko tickets, and it was still early enough to back out of the 忘年会. Ah well, there is always next year!

Let me tell you, even though I did not really want to choose, I made the correct decision. Last night a number of us met up at 4:45 and drove down to Oita for the Taiko show. By the way, it just occurs to me I have not yet explained what Taiko is. Perhaps some of you more assiduous readers have already googled it and would like to explain in my stead?


Well, I am slightly disappointed in your lack of confidence. No matter, I will simply have to do it myself. Actually, I’m not going to. I’ll let Wikipedia do the honors.

Taiko (太鼓?) means “drum” in Japanese (etymologically “great” or “wide drum”). Outside Japan, the word is often used to refer to any of the various Japanese drums (和太鼓, ‘wa-daiko’, “Japanese drum”, in Japanese) and to the relatively recent art-form of ensemble taiko drumming (sometimes called more specifically, “kumi-daiko” (組太鼓)).

So there you have it. I will take issue with one aspect of the definition, which is that they certainly do refer to it as “taiko” in Japan as well. Don’t get all snobby on yourself, Wikipedia.

But back to the story! We arrived at the theater where they were performing (the Oasis tower in Oita city, for those interested in names and places.) with about 10 minutes to spare, and made our way to our seats. We were seated on the 2nd balcony, in the front row. They were amazing seats! We had a great bird’s eye view of the entire stage, and the theater was small enough that it wasn’t as if we were watching ants beating pebbles with twigs. I did not have much of an expectation coming into the performance. I had only seen one Taiko performance so far, and it had been my friend Kate and her group performing at an old peoples’ home in Buzen. I immensely enjoyed it. How would this professional group compare to Kate’s performance? In the end, isn’t it just a bunch of people whacking their drums with their sticks and shouting in a desperate attempt to recall the olden days of hunting and gathering?

Hoooo, boy. I just spent five minutes trying my best to come up with a good way to describe the insanity that was this performance, and I could not accurately do so, which is why I will resort to plagiarism once again. OK, so I’ll give credit, but still. My friends Nathan and Meghan also went to this performance (separate from us) and wrote a blog post about it before I had a chance to. They wrote: “It is very difficult to explain what actually happened but if you’ve ever been to Cirque du Soleil you’ll have a good idea of what we mean. Imagine that but with drums minus the flying.”

I don’t think I can best that explanation, so I am not going to, and will just leave it at that. Now I am not going to give you their web address, because now that I’ve admitted that they are far more competent at explaining the performance than I am, you will all jump ship and swim on over to theirs. I am sure they would be delighted, but that would be an incredibly silly way for me to keep you my loyal audience, don’t you think? We wouldn’t want you to be splitting your time on two whole blogs about living in Japan. It’s just too much.

They group was unbelievably choreographed, all of their numbers a true piece of art. One of their pieces sticks in my mind especially not just for the skill in drumming, but by how perfectly their body movements matched up with what they were doing. There were five drummers with small lap size drums lined up in a row. They began an impressive array of beats (Kate described to me afterward that she had played the piece they were playing before, but that it was as if they were adding an extra three beats every one she played.) and followed that by creating an imaginary ball, which they were tossing around with their music. It sounds ridiculous, and it truly was. They would each get an individual drum solo, after which they would flick their sticks in a motion mimicking tossing a ball. The entire group then watched it until it dropped onto the drum of another player, who would continue the drumming. Their movements were so perfectly timed, so impeccably performed, it nearly blew my mind. Then, as if it could not get any better, they began a sort of “sound train,” beginning at one end and ending up at the last player, who would then whip it right back to the other end, and so forth. Not only was the drumming incredible, but the theatrics were outstanding as well. They began getting faster and faster until one of the drummers at the end simply could not handle the energy coming his way, and was literally vaulted by the force of the sound. He would recover, and start the train again, but faster in order to knock his opponent at the end of the line out this time. I know this doesn’t even come close to doing justice to the performance, but it will have to do. I did not bring my camera (I don’t think they were allowed anyway.) so I would urge you to not take it from me, and go see them yourselves. I can say this, because they are in fact embarking on a US/Canada tour early next year (starting in January) which will bring them to towns like Boston, San Diego, and Los Angeles. I mention these three cities because they are near people whom I know read this blog.

If anything I’ve written tonight has gotten your blood flowing even a little, you really need to go see this group. Their website is http://www.drum-tao.com/. They’ve got a number of videos on their website as well, so you can check it out for yourselves.

Ok, and now that I’ve reached the end of my blog, I can give out the website of Nathan and Meghan’s blog, which is http://www.kiwisjapan.blogspot.com/ They’ve got a video they secretly took at the performance as well, which is worth checking out.


Categories: Pre-Japan
  1. dotbearman
    December 12, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    DASHIELL…Syd and I SAW THIS DRUMMING AT a concert and recall its uniqueness….glad you got to see it too…love foufou

  2. nathan and megan
    December 13, 2009 at 6:17 am

    Yea it was truly amazing! love the blog.

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