My Travels in the USA
Happy New Year, everyone!
Late last year I was traveling through the USA. In case you missed it, here is a link to a blog post by Kodo staff member Yui Kawamoto who accompanied me for the first leg of my trip: [Kodo Blog] “Taiko Fun in Los Angeles!” by Yui Kawamoto
Starting in Los Angeles, I traveled to San Diego, Las Vegas, Chicago, and New York, to lead workshops and take part in concerts.
Everywhere I went, I met so many different people. Taiko players and musicians, and people who are neither. Each community I encountered welcomed me and I enjoyed all kinds of exchange during my stay. Sometimes it was through sightseeing. Sometimes it was over a drink. Sometimes it was during a jam session. I was so well looked after by all the people I spent time with everywhere I went.
If I start writing about what I did in each place, well, that will turn into a very long story… (lol)
So, I would like to write about some of what I felt and the lessons I learned during my travels in the US.
I planned this trip based on my own desire to see what I could do alone, as one person. Until now, I have always relied on the support of others in various ways… musically, linguistically (lol).
So I wanted to stand on my own two feet and face all those challenges myself. As I set off on this trip, I thought of it like a journey to gain and hone skills.
Instead of creating sound with a group (in my case, Kodo), on this journey all that sound would come from me. I mean that physically speaking it would be just me playing and that I would be responsible for the sound I created when I played with others. I wanted to step up to each occasion as myself, Yuta Sumiyoshi from within the Kodo group, and not as “Kodo.” I would appear alone in jam sessions, naturally, but I would carry that intent into my ensemble performances and workshops, too.
On this trip, I had many opportunities to improvise during performances. I rediscovered the sensation you get when the sound you create ignites your fellow performer, right there and then. It reminded me that when I play with Kodo that we absolutely need to feel that sensation during our performances, the sense of creating stimulus as we perform.
That sensation of spurring each other on when you perform on stage.
Noticing how good it feels, and how intense it feels until you reach that point.
Wondering how to get there. Wondering what kind of flow you want to create.
And it’s not just me playing, so I consider what kind of sounds can I create amongst different musicians. What sound do I want to create?
It’s like having a conversation with sound instead of words. (My communication in English is also like that at times, lol)
Next… I’ll play this! And I’ll add a break… here!
This back and forth becomes music and the interaction creates one big flowing dialogue.
These new sensations were really eye-opening and taught me so, so much.
The workshops I led in each place I visited were also really invigorating experiences for me. My mindset was to convey as much as possible without relying on an interpreter! (lol)
I have written about this before (maybe not in English) but in a workshop you appear as your real self. You can’t fake anything and you can’t pretend to be something you’re not. When I stand before others in a workshop, I can convey what I am particular about when I play and what I keep in mind in general. Each workshop was full of lessons for me, in the same way I learned a lot through each performance. In workshops, questions fly about from different perspectives than I am used to with Japanese people. Some questions are sharp and to the point, others are broad. In many instances, the questions I was asked made me suddenly aware of my feelings and theories about all sorts of things!
I could keep on writing about so many things, but there is too much to say and I still haven’t figured out how to sum up what I experienced on this trip. For now, I’m going to let it sink in, bit by bit, and I am going to share more thoughts with you all once the words come to me.
I am truly grateful to everyone who I met during my travels around the USA in late 2016. I am already looking forward to seeing you all again soon!
Dec. 3, 2016
Taiko Fun in Los Angeles!
Hi, everyone! Today, I am reporting from Los Angeles, California.
I grew up in this sunny city up until I began working for Kodo, as one of the staff members who handles international projects.
I am currently back home to support the first portion of Yuta Sumiyoshi’s solo performances and workshops in the United States.
The United States have one of the largest taiko population outside of Japan, and the taiko culture that exists here is one of a kind.
Everyone who is affiliated with taiko is mostly connected through the taiko community, and we exchange new ideas and thoughts in full support of one another.
Today, I would like to talk about some of the American taiko culture that Yuta Sumiyoshi was able to experience during our time in Los Angeles.
The first thing we did after flying in was an intensive workshop at the Los Angeles Taiko Institute inside Asano Taiko USA.
Despite the fact that it was Thanksgiving weekend, we had a full house for Yuta’s 5-hour workshop!
We had a wide range of age and experience levels, and everyone had a fun, challenging time!
This was Yuta’s first time conducting a workshop in the U.S., and he was able to utilize his English skills that he’s been working on.
For this workshop, he taught on multi-drum set.
In America, shime taiko and okedo taiko are commonly used for a taiko set, but for this workshop, we used two drums with a closer tone to sing the rhythmic phrases, which may have led to some new discoveries for the participants.
And I also want to tell you all about collegiate taiko as well!
The number of collegiate taiko groups have increased throughout recent years and there are more than 15 collegiate taiko groups just in California.
The first ever collegiate group was formed in 1990 at my alma mater, UCLA, called Kyodo Taiko.
I believe that my current job at Kodo was made possible with what I gained through my collegiate taiko experience, and I was thrilled to be back to introduce one of our star performers, Yuta Sumiyoshi, for a workshop.
And of course the session was held in the parking structure of the university!
With so many active clubs on campus, it is always a challenge to find a good practice space that can accommodate the loud sound that the taiko makes.
Hearing the car alarms go off during the workshop reminded me of my college days practicing really hard all the time.
Many groups in the US plays on these taiko drums made out of wine barrels, beautifully refined for performance.
Not many collegiate taiko groups have the opportunity to learn from professionals in Japan, so I was excited to see everyone immersed in the workshop, and to hear them tell me, “That was the most fun I’ve had playing taiko in a very long time”.
Our time in Los Angeles will end with an exciting show which is already SOLD OUT!
On Ensemble is one of the most respected ensembles in the world, recognized for infusing the powerful rhythms of taiko with a wide range of musical influences from jazz and rock.
Joining On Ensemble is former Kodo performer Kaoru Watanabe from New York, to present new material from his album Néo, with Fumi Tanakadate, a multifaceted musician based in New York City, and our very own Yuta Sumiyoshi.
The complexity of the musical groove created by these musicians is like no other.
Several rehearsals have taken place so far in Los Angeles, and at last, the performance is tomorrow!
If you still want to check out what Yuta Sumiyoshi has been up to with his collaborations, he will also be in San Diego to guest appear in Kaoru Watanabe’s concert featuring his new album, Neo on December 5th!
Yuta Sumiyoshi Solo Projects in the USA (Nov.–Dec. 2016)
Taiko Workshop & Exchange with Shiki Theatre Company
On Oct. 30, we hosted an exchange event at Kodo Apprentice Centre for Kodo and Shiki Theatre Company. The Company came to Sado to give performances of “The Adventures of Ganba” for fifth & sixth grade elementary school students from all over the island. As soon as they arrived on Sado, they came straight here to see us!
The Kodo apprentices welcomed the Company with a performance.
Kodo’s Eiichi Saito led a taiko workshop for our guests. He told them, “Feel everyone’s hearts connect as you play taiko together.”
We all enjoyed dinner together. The apprentices made curry from scratch and filled the tables with vegetable dishes made with fresh produce they harvested themselves. Of course, they also served up Sado’s famous “Okesa Kaki” persimmons. We had such a fun meal together. Most of our apprentices are around 20 years old and so were many of the Shiki Theatre Company performers. They also had an apprenticeship period in their training, so everyone had a lot in common. Everyone enjoyed talking to each other and it was a very fruitful exchange for all involved.
Shiki Theatre Company will perform on Nov. 1 at Amusement Sado for the children of Sado and our apprentices will help them out with the load-in and load-out.
Thank you for visiting us, Shiki Theatre Company! We are looking forward to seeing your performance! Break a leg!
KASA MIX 2016
Rumored to be “life-changing,” this biennial program called KASA MIX is an intensive program designed for taiko players from outside of Japan.
With the current growth of the international taiko culture and community, the KASA MIX participants have gathered from countries all over the world such as United States, Canada, England, Argentina.
When they arrived on Sado, the KASA MIX participants joined our apprentices in their unique lifestyle at the Kodo Apprentice Centre.
They participated in every aspect, from the early morning workout to eating meals, cleaning, and taking baths together.
They took a variety of different workshops from our veteran Kodo performing members, and experienced the great seasonal nature of Sado.
Timing worked out perfectly to observe one of the practices of ondeko (demon drumming) in the Iwakubi community, and had the opportunity to learn an ondeko dance themselves, from the Kasuga community in the latter half of their stay.
And of course, they enjoyed everything else that this island has to offer.
Gathering from all over the world, the participants were able to share with us some taiko stories from their country or area.
The different reasons, history, spirit and culture that each person had shared with us have opened up a bigger world for our young apprentices who had no knowledge on the taiko culture outside of Japan.
As they discovered their new findings of taiko in the world, it looked to me that they found another reason to strive to become a Kodo performing member.
KASA MIX has come to an end once again with very warm and heart-filling memories through this short time we had together on Sado island.
As one of the staff members for this program, I was very moved by the unification we have created through taiko, which brought a sense of nostalgic comfort to my heart.
Thank you to everyone who participated this year! We look forward to seeing you again somewhere in this world.
Next one is coming up again in two years! To all taiko enthusiasts all over the world, we look forward to having you here on Sado for our next KASA MIX!
Last Chance to Apply for “Kodo Juku 2016”
This year we will hold Eiichi Saito’s annual live-in taiko workshop “Kodo Juku” from Oct. 7 (Fri) through 10 (Mon/Public Hol.) at the Kodo Apprentice Centre on Sado Island. Eiichi Saito took over the reigns to facilitate Kodo Juku in 1992 and back then we held Kodo Juku 4 times a year. For some time now, we have held it just once a year but one thing that has barely changed is the content. Each year the participants tell us how the simple taiko drum led them to find new connections between their own body and soul and helped them to create wonderful new bonds with people they had only just met at the workshop.
Everyone is welcome at Kodo Juku, whether you’ve played taiko before or not. First-timers will discover the special power of taiko and experienced players will discover many hints to playing taiko that truly moves people. The only condition is that you’ve never been to Eiichi Saito’s Kodo Juku before, as it is a once-in-a-lifetime workshop with no repeaters or groups of 2 or more.
The application deadline is July 30, so don’t delay! We look forward to receiving your application soon and welcoming you to Sado Island for Kodo Juku this autumn.
The second year apprentices act as staff during Kodo Juku each year, learning valuable skills as they host the participants. Eiichi and the apprentices can’t wait to welcome everyone to Kodo Juku this fall!
Kodo Juku: Eiichi Saito’s Taiko Workshop
Oct. 7 (Fri)–10 (Mon/Public Hol.), 2016 Kodo Apprentice Centre, Kakinoura, Sado Island, Niigata
Details for Kodo Juku 2016
On Tour with ‘DADAN’ in Brazil
Kodo is back in Brazil for the first time in eight years. The opening night of the “DADAN 2016” tour was held at Teatro Alfa in Sao Paulo.
Eight years ago I saw Kodo here and it was that performance that led me to join Kodo. It was at this very theater and on the same stage. When the “DADAN” performance began, I slipped back in time to eight years ago and I couldn’t take my eyes off the stage.
The reaction of the Brazilian audience was just like last time. Kodo received a full standing ovation and everyone was so excited.
Before the opening night of “DADAN,” we gave a smaller-scale performance in Rio de Janeiro with a cast of five, including myself. We presented a programme that shared Kodo with the audience in a clear way by featuring introductions about Kodo and the Kodo Apprentice Centre, as well as some information about traditional Japanese culture.
I took on the challenge of speaking Portugese as the MC! The whole cast did their best to introduce themselves in Portugese, too, which I think brought us much closer to the audience. The one hour performance flew by!
Taiko is really popular in Sao Paulo and I led a workshop there for experienced taiko players. The participants had such a pure, eager look in their eyes. I was reminded of the passion that people in Brazil have for taiko, all the way over here on the other side of the world from Japan. What I was able to share with them was the importance of the sound of every single beat and how fun it is to create a groove with others. It was a very bountiful four-hour workshop.
Surrounded by the sound of Brazilian taiko for the first time in eight years, I could feel our “common language,” beyond any language barrier, and the unique timing we share when we reunite and play taiko as a team, as one. I recalled my original intentions and felt the significance of continuing on my path with taiko.
When I was in my second year as a Kodo apprentice, Yoohey Kaito from Sao Paulo was a first year in the Apprentice Programme. Yoohey is helping Kodo as an interpreter on the 2016 tour and he is such a huge help with so many other things related to our performances in Brazil this year, too.
Now we are off to Rio de Janeiro for “DADAN” performances there. The “DADAN” team will do their best to leave the sound of Kodo resonating here in Brazil, on the other side of the world from Japan.
Kodo “DADAN 2016” Brazil Tour
Oct. 11 Kodo Workshops at Kobunren 30th Anniversary Special Event
We were invited to the Kobunren 30th Anniversary Special Event for high school taiko groups in Fukuoka Prefecture. Last time we came to this event was in December 2014. This time, we brought them a much grander workshop program… actually, we came with four different taiko courses for them! The instructors were Yosuke Oda, Masayuki Sakamoto, Yosuke Kusa, and I. There were around 80 students, so they all split into groups to take their choice of workshop.
The event started at 10:00 with an opening performance by the Kodo “Eternity” cast. Then we had a morning and afternoon session of each course. It was an action-packed day!
The high school students all really want to improve as taiko players, so we did our best to share as much as we could with them and gave them as many tips as possible. They were all so frank and earnest, and they absorbed everything we taught them with such speed. They really grew as taiko players! We received so much energy from them all!
When it was time for us to leave, all the students lined up to farewell us. They were so sweet.
Thank you very much! Do your best! We’ll do our best, too!
On the 3rd & 4th, the first weekend in October, I led a two-day live-in workshop in my hometown, Kyotanba Wachi in Kyoto Prefecture. The 24 participants who joined me there traveled from Tokyo, Kanagawa, Gunma, Gifu, Hiroshima, Okayama, Mie, Nara, Hyogo, Osaka, Fukui, Shiga, Kyoto, and as far away as Canada. We enjoyed a very intense weekend of making good vibrations and connections together in Wachi.
The venue was Wachi Taiko’s practice hall, which used to be an elementary school in Wachi. Now the former school building has a new purpose.
Thankfully, it was a sunny autumn weekend. So we got to go outside on the school field and play “air taiko” to practise the taiko rhythms as we sang them out loud. It felt so good to have the grass under our bare feet. It was the best place to hold a camp! Everyone stayed at a Japanese inn in front of JR Wachi Stn. called Kadoya Ryokan. We had a dinner party there and we all had such a great time eating, drinking, chatting and dancing together.
On the Sunday morning, Wachi Taiko was invited to perform at a sports festival on the plains where Wachi Taiko originated. So we went to Fujinomori Shrine and I played Wachi Taiko as a special offering with the members of the Wachi Taiko preservation group, Wachi Taiko Hozonkai. All the taiko camp participants came along to watch us drum.
We plan to hold this “O-daiko Camp” every year in my hometown. If the timing didn’t suit you this time, I hope you can make it next time! Please come along. I’ll be early waiting for you with the presenter, Wachi Taiko Hozonkai (Wachi Taiko Preservation Group).
Photos: Mr. Takeshi Emoto of Wachi Taiko Hozonkai
Asano Taiko’s New Product “Try Before You Buy” Event
Asano Taiko held a special event so that people could along to try out the new Asano drums that were created in collaboration with Kodo for our performances. The instruments introduced at this “Try Before You Buy” event are the taiko that people ask us about the most, mainly wondering if they are available for purchase. So on Sep. 21, during the Silver Week holiday period, we joined Asano Taiko in Yutenji, Tokyo, for this hands-on event at Taiko no Sato Kyowakan.
▶︎Watch footage from the event on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzqiFGQWnjc
During the event, Kodo members gave special workshops using each of the three collaboration-project taiko drums. Kodo’s Yuta Sumiyoshi composed a piece especially for the workshops with those taiko in mind. It incorporates some unique grooves that you can create with them, allowing all the participants to really experience the potential of these new taiko.
Introducing the Kodo x Asano Taiko Collaboration Taiko Lineup
This small taiko has a crisp, sharp sound that lets a solo part stand out amongst other taiko on the Kodo stage.
This taiko is now on sale thanks to popular demand. We usually play it with one drumstick on stage. Its low tone really complements other instruments, including chappa (cymbals) and bamboo flutes.
All eyes are on this one! This is an okedo-daiko (barrel drum) that has independent tuning for each head thanks to special metal parts on the barrel. The two drum heads differ in thickness, too. The incredibly broad range of this taiko is showcased in a solo by Masayuki Sakamoto in our production “Kodo One Earth Tour: Eternity,” directed by Tamasaburo Bando. See the performance live or on DVD/Blu-ray to see “Kanade” in action.
Kodo Cultural Foundation Project: “Kodo Juku at Fukaura Schoolhouse” Live-in Workshops
O-daiko & Ogi Matsuri Daiko with Yoshikazu Fujimoto
From Jul. 3 through 5, I led a “Kodo Juku at Fukaura Schoolhouse” live-in workshop for eleven participants. The group was made up of men and women of various ages from all over Japan, as well as four people from overseas who came along to play taiko for the first time. It was such a mixed bunch: the youngest participant was 17 and the eldest was 68 years old! We had four workshop sessions in all: Day 1 afternoon, Day 2 morning & afternoon, and Day 3 morning. I used these sessions to teach them O-daiko, where they face the drum and beat it, and Ogi Matsuri Daiko, where they drum standing side-on to the drum, plus a further two pieces. It was tough for them to learn all the different rhythms to play, but they all worked hard and managed to get through each piece. They came together as one, and I was so happy! I breathed a sigh of relief.
On the first day we had a BBQ outside, and I poured my heart and soul into making my specialty egg dish, dashi maki tamago, for them all to enjoy.