We always feel quite honoured when we are invited to play at Japanese cultural events. Japanese people who live in the UK and hear us play will sometimes come up to us to tell us how much they miss the sound of the drums.
The National Botanical Gardens of Wales and the Japanese Garden Society teamed up and with help from a professional gardener from Kyoto brought new life to the slightly neglected garden. It looked fantastic at the launch. We were invited to play at the opening of the ceremony and then gave a longer performance in the big glass house. We topped it off with pop up workshops for some of the school children that came to take part in the ceremony.
One of the nice things we learnt on our taiko journey is that reaching out to other taiko players will most probably lead to wonderful things happening. And so when we heard that Kenny Endo and Chizuko Endo are coming to Europe for a couple of months we immediately sent an email asking them to come over to Swansea and teach us.
Kenny Endo spent about 10 years in Tokyo playing with Oedo Sukeruko Taiko and studying classical music of the Edo period (Edo bayashi, Kabuki). So we asked him to teach us Naname and Shime basics.
We spent all day learning from the vast knowledge and experience of Kenny Endo and Chizuko. They were both so generous with their knowledge. We played drills and learnt a practice piece called ‘Oi Uchi’ on Naname. And on the shime we learnt a few Edo bayashi rhythms and could enjoy several demonstrations from Kenny and Chizuko.
The evening before – we had a demonstration and talk by Kenny and Chizuko. They played pieces written by Kenny Endo, and some from his time in Tokyo, written by Oedo Sukeruko. Kenny told us about Noh theatre and Kabuki theatre and demonstrated the use of the Kotsuzumi and voice. From his time in the Kabuki theatre in Tokyo he also demonstrated the quiet sounds that an odaiko can make that are used in Kabuki to bring to life the different natural phenomena – and unnatural phenomena too – Ghosts and spirits. It was a very inspiring evening for all of us.
Every year on the 27th June taiko groups and artists around the world celebrate the life of Daihachi Oguchi, the Japanese jazz player who recreated taiko as a modern performance art form in the 1950s.
This celebration takes the form of a public performance or a practice of the song ‘Hiryu San Dan Gaeshi‘ (‘The dragon god descends 3 times’) written by grand master Daihachi Oguchi.
By a stroke of luck this same day coincided with a massive street party celebrating another event – 50 years since Swansea became a city.
St Helen’s road was closed to traffic and taken over by various artists including children from the local primary school, dancers, bands, singers, Tai-chi practitioners and also Taiko drummers!
We were so pleased to be part of the celebrations: we have been playing together in Swansea for the last 5 years or so. We played in the city centre, on the beach and even in Taliesin! we run courses and in general we are quite ingrained in this city’s life and it was only natural for us to share our love of taiko with everyone by playing this song.
The version we played was arranged by grand master Seichii Tanaka of the San Francisco Taiko Dojo and was taught to us by his student Ting-Chi Li. It includes ‘Isami Goma’ (‘prancing horses’). We took a video of the performance and sent it to the hiryu project website, where it is now presented alongside many other versions played in by different groups at different years.
A lot of Taiko has happened in the last few months. We have continued to practice every week as we do, with more emphasis on drills and learning new repertoire with our new members. Yes, we have grown! and the different levels in the group mean we need to take it slower and differently.
But hey, going back to basics is good for everyone – and practice is the place to do so. Reflect on our form, movements, efficiency, power and musicality.
Miyake and Odaiko practice are also going on separately once a month.
And a new style has been added to our journey – Yatai Bayashi. We enjoyed a whole day of teaching from Tsuchigumo‘s Martin and Shonagh.
With Shonagh and Martin we also had a session on small percussion: the chappa (small cymbals) and chanchiki (handheld metal plate), on shime, movement, and interlocking rhythms. The Tsuchis, as we like to call them fondly, are great taiko players and excellent teachers. They gave us lots of input and so generously.
And a special mention goes to Miyuki Williams, co-founder of Mugenkyo who generously spared almost 2 hours prior to their Swansea gig to teach us some of her philosophy on playing and some Fukui rhythms which we love. She is the source and inspiration to much of the UK taiko scene.
And if we are on the subject of Fukui, we are continuing to learn from Alison Roe, which we all really cherish.
The more we play, the more we have to learn! And we are grateful to each and every one of our teachers who are so generous with their knowledge and time and energy.
We were also quite busy in the gig front – a repeat invitation from the Ospreys got us into the Liberty stadium again. We played for the Swansea Chinese new year’s celebration in the waterfront museum – and gave workshops to the public – and to the mayor himself! and a special gig for us was at Sam’s 7th thank you gig where we helped raise funds for Morrison Hospital’s cancer ward.
It has been a long time in the making – but we have now arrived at the point of being mature enough to start learning to play the drums in the Naname style.
Sam made us 4 stands for our Nagados. But of course, the Okedos can also be slanted on the various other stands we have: an x-Miyake stand would do, and the classical okedo stand can also work. And for Hiras there is always a chair that can be tied up.
We asked Ting-Chi Li to teach us. She has been playing with San Francisco Taiko Dojo for many years and has much experience playing Naname. And she has been teaching us before and performed with us in our concert at the Taliesin.
We practiced the basic stance and grip, worked on various drills and finally played the matsuri rhythm together. It was a holistic mind and body day of exercising and learning.