Our “Evolution” North America Tour is gradually nearing its end. We are all doing well.
This time, I have the added challenges of playing chappa (cymbals) and bamboo flutes on stage, as well as taiko.
Considering baseball player Shohei Otani is called a two-way player for pitching and fielding, perhaps I’m a three-way player?
It sounds presumptuous for me to say that, but I am grateful for this rare opportunity.
I have a lot to work on for each different instrument, and I need to work on my mindset and how I use my body, too. I don’t want to tackle any of these challenges half-heartedly. As I focus on each challenge, I am acutely aware that becoming a good all-rounder is not an easy goal.
However, I do have feelings of fulfillment. No matter what instrument I play, I will keep doing my best each day and hope I can connect with our audiences.
We’re into the second half of our tour now. Along with my energetic, smiling colleagues, I’ll continue to give it my all as we share Kodo’s sound with the people of North America.
I met three sixteen-year-old taiko players who were born and raised in the USA.
They first encountered taiko through a community group when they were in elementary school.
They love taiko and all still play.
These young US taiko players were so interested to meet taiko players from Japan.
They asked us questions like:
“When and how did you get into playing taiko?”
“What kind of practice do you do?”
“Do you compose songs?”
“The way you use your body to play frisbee is similar to how you use it to play taiko, don’t you think? (This one was from a frisbee player)
At our exchange event
Most of our one and a half hour chat was a barrage of questions from them.
When I had the chance, I asked them, “What is it about taiko that you like?”
One of them answered, “The sound of our taiko makes the audience smile and feel happy. How cool is that? That makes me really happy. Also, I like the vibrations you feel in your body when you play.”
Then the three of them said, “Most of all, playing taiko is fun!”
Seeing them talking happily about taiko with a sparkle in their eyes reminded me that all taiko players have something important in common: that feeling of enjoyment when we play.
Taiko is fun!
Workshop in Boulder, Colorado
The appeal of taiko has reached places far away from Japan.
In completely different environments, taiko players around the world are hooked on the same instruments as us.
We’re all crazy about taiko.
At an exchange event
The taiko community is expanding around the world.
Let’s connect more and more, and make the good vibrations of taiko reach further and further.
We’ve been enjoying ourselves here, eating our first Japanese food in a while in Little Tokyo, going shopping, and so on.
Free time for practice and warm ups at Walt Disney Concert Hall
In L.A., we performed at Walt Disney Concert Hall on the birthday of our indispensable technical director Martin. His birthday has become a regular pre-Valentine’s Day event on our foreign tours!
Martin has been touring outside Japan with Kodo since 2007. As our technical director, Martin gives directions to the staff at each theater and operates our lightning. He is an essential member of our team.
This year, my fellow cast member Issei was in charge of organizing Martin’s birthday surprise. He started planning the surprise from about a week before and liaised with our tour managers in preparation for the big day.
Issei, the surprise organizer, studying hard to memorize his lines in English.
At the end of the rehearsal at Walt Disney Concert Hall, he arranged for there to be a request to rehearse one piece, Yuyami, again. Backstage, there would be a cake covered with strawberries, Martin’s favorite, and the staff would light all the candles quickly when they heard the cue. (We got special permission from the venue to use candles inside the venue.)
When the rehearsal ended, Martin looked like he was heading backstage so one of the managers frantically stopped him, saying they needed to run through a certain piece one more time. The performers quickly did the necessary set change on stage. Martin changed the lighting to the setting for Yuyami, and it was time for the surprise to begin!
▼ If you’d like to listen to Yuyami, click play below.
Usually performers with flutes would enter for stage left and right, but this time the flutes came in from stage left and a cake with flickering candles appeared from stage right. Issei recited a birthday message for Martin to the music of Yuyami. At the end of his speech, he gave a cue and all the cast members sang “Happy Birthday” together.
We gave Martin a card signed by all of us. The surprise was a big success! I could tell by the lovely smile on Martin’s face.
Happy Birthday, Martin! Thank you for everything.
We look forward to the rest of the tour with you!
After our opening night in Las Vegas, we had back-to-back performances for three days in Berkeley, California.
On the first two days, we performed “Evolution.” Then on Day 3, we changed into our indigo-blue Kodo costumes and gave a completely different performance at the same theater: a program especially for school children.
The audience was made up of almost 2000 students from local schools, elementary through high school. Eight cast members from “Evolution” delivered this school performance: Kengo Watanabe, Ryoma Tsurumi, Tomoe Miura, Issei Kohira, Yuta Kimura, Chihiro Watanabe, Taiyo Onoda, and I.
It was a really exciting experience for only eight of us to give a performance in such a massive hall!
During our school performances, we take turns speaking to the audience during the program. Because we’re in the USA, that meant whenever we were the MC, we had to speak in English. We all had the extra challenge of giving our self introductions in English, too.
It’s my first time giving School Performances overseas. My goal is to communicate with our audiences through taiko, fostering meaningful exchange beyond language and culture.
We also have School Performances in Hanover, Amherst, Burlington during this tour. We’ll give our all to this challenge alongside our theater performances.
Our 2019 North American tour’s second and third shows were held at Berkeley, a city close to my heart.
Many, many friends and family came to support me, since it’s close to my hometown San Francisco and my alma mater. Both shows, I got caught off guard by the amount of cheers I got during the curtain call, and I got a bit teary, too.
Like the performance I appeared in last November, it is the most nerve-wracking experience to perform in front of a home crowd. The more I think about the people that know me, the more I pressure myself to show how I’ve grown. However, this time I was able to let go of that thought and be as natural as possible. I aimed to be myself, believing that I’ve grown.
The tour has just begun. Many challenges will surely arise, but I’ll take them all on and move forward, step by step. I’ve received the energy to do so from the voices of my friends and family.
Taiyo Onoda surrounded by members of San Francisco Taiko Dojo, San Jose Taiko, and his family.