This will be my third tour but my first to Europe. Our opening performance is in Moscow, Russia. So, for me, preparing to leave holds some familiar experiences and some fresh curiosity.
How will audiences respond to our reinterpretation of the Kodo classics in ‘Legacy’? Those signature pieces that Kodo has been performing for nearly half a century. But now, we are this troupe, here and now. What will remain the same as before and what will be different?
Intense preparation and practice is our lifestyle at Kodo Village—it becomes both our confidence and our pride. Therefore, Kodo’s legacy is instilled in our bodies and now we travel to share that gift with our audiences.
Yet, we are more than professional percussionists. We offer more than just the sound of drumming. We each offer our individual commitment and dedication to create the composite experience that is Kodo.
We do so with respect for the past and fresh ambition for the future.
My hope is that each member of each audience, at each performance, will leave with an imprint on their soul. An echo of the music that we have instilled in our bodies.
Where is Kodo performing today? (February 4, 2020)
In early 2020, Kodo will tour with “Legacy” for the first time in Europe. This work focuses on preserving Kodo’s unique “DNA” by drawing on the iconic form found within classic Kodo pieces and carefully sharing the essence of those traditions with the next generation. Expect audience favorites coupled with new compositions and arrangements, infused with creativity and boundless energy.
Honed through extensive tours in 2018–2019, under its Japanese title “Michi,” this program showcases quintessential Kodo, past and present.
Before you come to the theater, check out the fun facts below to gain some insight to this eclectic programme.
1) Legacy features music from the soundtrack of “The Hunted”
This production includes two pieces that Kodo’s Motofumi Yamaguchi composed for martial-arts action thriller “The Hunted”: the eponymous track and Kirina’s Theme. In fact, Kodo performed the entire soundtrack for this film. You might be surprised to learn that this work links Kodo to Julia Roberts and Richard Gere—the script for “Pretty Woman” was written by J.F. Lawton, the director and writer for “The Hunted.”
2) The largest drum on stage is about two-thirds as heavy as a grand piano
The mighty o-daiko weighs around 300 kilos and measures 145 cm in diameter. To imagine lifting one onto its stand, picture lifting a grand piano onto a large, high table. You’d require a big team, right? Kodo lifts the drum onto a cart first, then onto a stand for its Legacy performances. So the members need strength just to get the drum into position, and then power, technique and energy to make it resonate. The cart and stand are assembled and dismantled before and after each concert.
3) Kodo will play an alternative version of its signature piece Monochrome for the first time in Europe this year.
You may know Kodo classic Monochrome, composed by the late Maki Ishii in 1976, but did you know that Ishii’s original composition had two versions? Version A with o-daiko (large drums) part way through, and Version B without o-daiko. Kodo has mainly performed Version B on its tours to date, so that version became recognized around the world. For Legacy, director Yuichiro Funabashi wanted to introduce the other variant of Monochrome, and Kodo worked with conductor Tatsuya Shimono to render the nuances of Ishii’s complex score as intended. Kodo will perform this alternative version in Europe for the first time in 2020.
4) Legacy has a cast of 14 performers, selected from the 37-strong ensemble
Kodo currently has 10 female and 27 male performers, ranging in age from 21 to 69 years old. While Kodo is based on Sado Island, there are no Kodo members from the island. There is one member from Niigata Prefecture, where Sado is located. And there are two members who hail from the USA. Every year, Kodo welcomes people to audition for its apprentice programme from all over Japan and abroad, although advanced Japanese skills are a must to undertake the training.
5) From start to finish, you’ll hear 90 instruments during the performance
There are 39 different types of instruments used in each Legacy performance, including 11 types of taiko drum. With 90 instruments in all, including 32 taiko, Kodo has to hire a large truck to carry this precious cargo all over Europe. Kodo has three sets of drums so it can ship drums by sea to and from other continents while it tours in Japan. It takes a lot of logistics for Kodo to deliver performances around the world!
6) Uchoten uses three instruments that Kodo developed especially for the stage.
Uchoten means rapture or euphoria. It’s a brand-new piece played on a range of portable drums that Kodo designed to use in their performances with the help of renowned taiko maker Asano Taiko. There’s the high-pitched Shime-jishi Taiko, which leads the ensemble; the world’s first taiko that you can tune each head to a different pitch, Kanade; and the rich, low-toned bass drum, Hibiki. The combination is sure to get your feet stomping to the infectious beat.
7) Kodo freely incorporates instruments that it encounters on its travels into its compositions
There are several examples of this in Legacy. One is found in “Kirina’s Theme”—the beautiful melodic piece that sets the scene in “The Hunted” where melancholic Kirina makes her entrance. In this production, “Kirina’s Theme” features a harp from the Amami Islands in Southern Japan. It’s a new arrangement created especially for this programme. On Amami Oshima, this harp is played to accompany shima-uta (island folk songs). When Kodo travels, it encounters many traditional arts and instruments. Rather than imitating those arts, Kodo takes inspiration from them. Later, the members draw on their travels, using innovation and imagination to create new soundscapes.
8) Legacy blends an array of Asian instruments into a sacred dance scene
Kodo doesn’t limit itself to using Japanese instruments. In Legacy, Hitotsu creates a mysterious realm by incorporating an array of sounds from other parts of Asia. One is the Ragdung from Tibet, which looks like a Swiss horn. The piece also features shawm-like suonas, Chinese cymbals, and gongs, which meld with taiko and voices to evoke a sacred scene where Eiichi Saito depicts the “Prince of Lanling” with a dance based on a 1200-year-old court dance. His costume is a combination of clothing worn for various sacred Shinto dances.
9) Kodo originally visited Miyake Island to hear a song, not a drum piece.
Miyake is Kodo’s arrangement of a taiko piece from a festival on Miyake Island. Kodo members learned to play Miyake Taiko when they visited the island on the way back from a trip to Hachijo Island in 1982. They originally stopped there to listen to a local folk song and instead encountered an art that would go on to become one of Kodo’s most recognized pieces. Mr. Akio Tsumura taught the members to play the taiko that leads the mikoshi (portable shrine) procession in the Kamitsuki area of Miyake Island. While the rhythm and playing style of Kodo’s arrangement differs from the original art, Kodo members learn to play both styles and honor the roots of the traditional art every time they play it.
10) Legacy features a workman’s song that connects Sado Island to Hokkaido
While many workman’s songs in Japan are related to taiko by means of their references to felling and hauling trees for lumber, Okiage Ondo hails from work at sea. It’s an arrangement of a herring fisherman’s song from Hokkaido. Back in the day, herring was one of Hokkaido’s main products. The fish exports were shipped along the Sea of Japan on trade ships (kitamaesen), which linked Sado Island and Western Japan with the far north.
That’s all ten. We hope you learned something new!
We’re really looking forward to sharing this programme with audiences around Europe!
See below for the production trailer on YouTube, our tour schedule, and box office details.
We spend most of our time on tour away from Sado. Every time I come back to the island, the beautiful nature and scenery, the food and people, they always clear away any fatigue I brought back from the road. This place resets me.
The longer I live on Sado, the stronger I feel a sense of this island nurturing all of us at Kodo.
Our current touring work takes a look back at Kodo classics and gives us an opportunity to reflect on who we are right now. The cast ranges from veterans to newcomers, so it’s a chance for audiences to discover the appeal of a wide range of generations within Kodo today.
I am grateful to everyone on Sado Island who constantly supports our activities. I’ll put my appreciation into each beat at our performance here.
I hope you’ll join us there on November 20!
Throughout my travels, I have been blessed with opportunities to meet many inspiring people from around the globe.
While I keep most of these conversations close to my heart, there is one quote in particular that I was reminded of during my time in China, which I’d like to share.
“Music and performing arts have the power to make the walls between us become a little bit lower. While it may only be a really little difference, it is a very significant difference.”
China has always been a country that was close yet far for me. Growing up internationally, making friends and meeting people of Chinese descent was nothing out of the ordinary. Chinese people make up the majority of inbound tourists in Japan, and I’ve always been surrounded by things that were “Made in China.” But the country itself? It has always been a great unknown for me. So I wondered…
Will people come to our concert?
Will they like it?
Are we going to be able to do this?
As we wrapped up our first performance in Guangzhou, I remember thinking, “What was I worried about?”
The applause and cheers that we received were as big as we’ve ever received. The audience was ecstatic.
It’s those moments that I think to myself that perhaps what we do has some meaning in this world after all. Maybe just a little bit, but maybe just enough.
My sincerest gratitude to the wonderful people who made this tour happen, and to the amazing audiences in China.
Kodo members watching the instruments getting packed up for transport back to Japan.
Nice to meet you, everyone. I’m Sunao Maehama, a Kodo junior member. Kodo’s “Evolution” tour in China is my very first tour.
Passing over Sado Island and Kodo Apprentice Centre on the way from Niigata to Shanghai.
Within a week of becoming a junior member earlier this year, I heard which performances I had been cast in for the year ahead. That was when I found out that my first international tour would be in China. I also learned I would be appearing in “Ake no Myojo,” a taiko, song, and dance number.
Rehearsing “Ake no Myojo” at Shanghai MISA
Each junior member is given distinct challenges. One of the challenges listed for me was expressing my femininity. One of the senior Kodo members told me that Ake no Myojo puts the spotlight on female performers and requires femininity.
In this piece, you move while carrying and playing a taiko drum. So if you don’t create a stable axis with your body, it doesn’t look good. You have to synchronize the timing of the loud and quiet tones of the drum with the movements of your body. It requires precision. I received all kinds of advice from the senior members, such as keeping my legs close together when I pivot.
Rehearsals before opening night in Shanghai
On opening night, I was really nervous but I gave it my all. I think left everything I’ve learned to date on the stage.
“Evolution” opening night in Shanghai
As I write this, so far I’ve only performed twice on this tour. Something I have noticed and constantly feel when I perform with Kodo is what it’s like when the sound you create resonates in the bodies and hearts of others.
I am still very new to the ensemble and I’m desperately trying to keep up with everyone. I’ll do my best at our Guangzhou and Beijing performances, too!