Thursday, September 7, 2017

Wrapping Up: ...and this one's for you.

And here we are!  No bells, no whistles, just one last post.

Two posts ago, I focused on this blog.  My last post focused on me.  And this one, dear reader, is about audience, the taiko community, taiko fans, the whole lot of you!  I had too much I wanted to say and it didn't flow together well, so I decided to make a list of different things:

1.) The taiko community is a microcosm of the world around us.  There are people you like, there are people you disagree with, there are people who sacrifice a lot to make things happen, there are jerks, there are movers and shakers, there are those who just want to go with the flow, there are people who are here for the social aspects, there are people who are just here for the art.  We like to think taiko as this special, unique experience that brings everyone together and magically makes things better...but we're just another art form, among too many other forms to count.  The struggles outside of taiko don't go necessarily away within taiko, and I think that realization (or the refusal to accept that realization) causes a lot of frustration for many people.

But it's not to say that taiko isn't transformative for many of us, for both the players and the audience.  It's also not to say that it can't bring about change, empowerment, growth, and a whole host of good things with it.  What's more, by making positive change within our taiko community, we can make positive change in many communities - local, global, musical, artistic, political, what-have-you.  Being realistic about are art form might seem like a bummer at first, but better to see what a thing really is so you know what it can really do!

2.) There are celebrities in the taiko world, but celebrities - in any realm - are still people, with good traits and bad, strengths and flaws.  I've nothing against those who wear this title, but it's really really good to realize that there are people who don't put themselves out there that sometimes do (or have done) more than any of us might realize.  The people who have the loudest "voice", or are the most prominent, or the most featured may very well be great resources, but you owe it to yourself to look in other directions, look around the corners, and try to see what others are doing that you might not have noticed at first.

Having said that, learn from as many people as you can!  We have so many resources in the way of teachers right now, founders and "classics" and people that are more than willing to provide knowledge.  We're still at a point where we can actually meet these people in the flesh, so take advantage of this as much as possible!

3.) No style is better than any other style.  No one way is the "right" way of playing.  No ethnicity/gender/race/creed/orientation/religion/age/cheese preference/height/weight makes a person inherently better than any other player.  What's good for one group may not be at all what works for another.  It's really important to acknowledge your biases (we all have them), then understand why you like one group more than another, rather than state your opinion as a fact.

4.) The question of "what is taiko?" is only as important as you want it to be, but it's a question that will never be definitively answered.  What is taiko to you may very well not be taiko to the person next to you, and you're both right...and wrong.  It's a fun question to pose at times, to make you think and even re-consider your definitions, but it won't make someone enjoy a performance more or less, it won't determine whether or not a player is skilled or not, and it certainly won't make you a better player or not.

5.) Gratitude first and foremost.  Those without it tend to always be searching for something to make them happy, but those with it can easily find happiness even in the little things.  Sometimes the amount of gratitude I see in this community can be overwhelming, and I hope it continues even longer than I do.  Appreciation is sometimes harder to come by, as people and groups may do things that you don't quite agree with, don't quite understand, but you don't have to like something to appreciate that it was done - or for why it was done.  Many of us have privilege in our groups that we take for granted, that other groups only wish they could have.  The sooner you realize what those things are, the sooner you'll appreciate them.

6.) Authenticity is something the community doesn't address often, but it can be a huge issue on a personal level.  I hear and see both people and groups worrying about being "authentic" in playing taiko.  To me, if you are genuine about getting better, about learning, about sharing, about approaching the drum with nothing to prove, then you are being authentic to yourself.  If you're trying to practice what you've been taught to the best of your abilities, then you are being authentic to yourself.  If you are exploring in different ways than what's "normal" because it truly speaks to you and your artistic vision, then you are being authentic to yourself.  Mind you, you can be authentic and alienate people around you!  It's not always easy to be authentic when there's baggage or group dynamics or life getting in the way, but just because something doesn't come easy doesn't mean it's not worth working for.

7.) Regardless of whether or not you teach taiko, you are a taiko teacher.  People learn taiko from you even if you've never led a class or a workshop.  They're watching you on stage, they're listening to you after a show, they're learning about taiko from you at work, etc.  You represent all of us, every group out there.  No pressure.

But seriously, the things you say may very well have an impact on another player.  On the flip side, sometimes it's what you DON'T say that has the most impact.  We can all agree that the sound, the feel of taiko makes people feel something, but don't forget that we are just as much a part of what makes that sound as the drum is, and that we have the power to make an impact with our words and actions our actions off-stage just as much as striking the drum on it.


And my final piece of advice?  Question everything.  If you don't know what questions to ask, look up that tag on my blog; I asked a lot of 'em.  If this blog is remembered for one thing, I hope it's for the idea that nothing should go un-examined, even when it's uncomfortable.  Ask yourself questions - ask your compatriots, students, teachers, founders - but don't always expect straight-forward or easy answers!  A good answer, in my humble opinion, often leads to more questions.  Always search for your own truth.


Well, here we are, at the end of a pretty decent run.  I know that this blog wasn't a major force or a huge resource in the taiko world, but I didn't intend for it to be.  It was enough work as it was!  But I really enjoyed maintaining it and I really enjoyed that it helped people out as well.  If you go through my posts and see something you want to ask me about, I'm easily found; please do!

Now go out there and inspire someone.

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Monday, September 4, 2017

Wrapping Up: This one's for me...

The penultimate post!  Such pressure.

Anyways, one of the reasons I started this blog so many years ago was for it to be an outlet for my thoughts and rants as well as a place to chronicle some of my adventures, performances, and tours.  So this post is going to be about me and how things have changed over the history of this blog.

I know some of my posts riled people up, and while I do enjoy fostering debate, this was really a bad forum for any sort of discussion.  Still, it gave me a chance to say things, propose ideas, challenge people - and I still plan to do that, even if in a limited capacity on things like the Taiko Community on Facebook.

I found that I wound up with new insights and perspectives in writing a lot of my posts.  The whole Question Everything series made me less judgemental in my opinions as I tried to just pose questions and come down on one side or the other.

The biggest benefit from my blog, personally, was in practicing what I preached.  I felt obligated to walk the walk I was laying down.  Trying harder, pushing myself, expecting more from myself, being a better student, being a better teacher, all of it.  Not saying I ascended to a higher plane or anything - I'm only human!  But I found that I would take the more rewarding option, even when it was harder in the short run.

A good example of this was last week we were about to do a round of Roy Drills, 30-40 minutes of one ji on naname going from slow to fast to slow to fast and then switching to the next ji.  I contemplated grabbing the bachi I have that are about an inch shorter, to make it easier on me, but then I considered all the stuff I've said in the past about challenging oneself, to not go the easy route.  I wound up using the longer pair and dealing with the difficulty.

I always loved hearing from people that enjoyed the blog, from those who found a drill really helpful to those who never considered a different perspective, from those who just liked having something to read about taiko to those who supported me composing or practicing the asalato.

The end of this blog does not mean the end of my passion, the end of my playing, the end of pursuit of excellence.  I know I'm not a pioneer like those who started groups long ago, I don't have a unique style that people flock to me to learn, I'm not a prodigy, I don't have all the answers.  But I do have questions!

At the end of the day, I'm just a taiko player.  I play because it feels good to play.  I play because I learn more about myself every time I approach the drums.  I play because it's in my blood.  I play through the blisters, the sore feet, the broken bachi, because it's in my blood.

Stay tuned for the final post!

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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Wrapping Up: The Blog

Going to talk about the blog a little bit, with two final posts to follow.

I started this blog on February 26th, 2009.  That's 8 years and 7 months ago.  The idea at the time was just to be a brain dump for me, but also to hopefully be entertaining and at times provide advice and/or drills.  I had minimal experience with blogging, never really took the time to make this blog more attractive to get more traffic (sorry!), and most posts were written in less than a week's advance time.

Many times I would stare at the screen hoping for something to inspire a topic, sometimes for longer periods of time than others.  When inspiration hit at random times, I wrote notes down to go to for when those creative droughts hit.  Sometimes I felt I had some really interesting things to talk about, other times I would finish a  "post" and feel very unsatisfied with it.  It was almost like being a writer, because I was, well...writing.

I never wanted fame from this, but I did like hearing when people found my posts useful, and I even liked the few times people would argue with me, because it made me think and led to further discussion.  Unfortunately, a blog isn't a good place to have conversations, so comments were few and far between.

I know I started repeating myself, intentionally when I came up with a new angle or deeper understanding, but as I reviewed my posts, unintentionally many times as well.  After posting twice a week for many years, I'm not surprised that happened, and it's another good reason to come to an end.  I'm sure I'll have more to say, more questions to ask, but it won't be through here.

A few random statistics for you to munch on:

- There were 875 published posts at the time of this post, plus 30 drafts that were either not fully-fleshed out or just didn't sound right.

- In the last year, the U.S. gave me 59% of my viewership, followed by 10% from the U.K., 5% from Russia, and 4% each from Canada and Germany.

- Last month I had 1,126 page views.

- My most popular post of all time was "The Tall Whisper" back in Dec. 2010, but I think some of this was due to people searching for pictures like the one I posted.  The two most popular posts in the last 12 months were my Question Everything posts on kiai and bachi.  (Links on the previous post.)

- 467 people viewed my Glossary, which was "in progress" pretty much always, ha.

- Most people found the blog from Google or directly, but very few from Facebook, which is surprising.  But I didn't link many of my posts on Facebook, certainly nowhere near 875 of them.

- The average time spent on my blog was 1m24s.  About enough time to read a single post, I would guess.  Like this one.  Which you are doing now.  :)

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Monday, August 28, 2017

Wrapping up: My favorite posts

I've written 902 entries as of this one.  903!  That's a lot of stuff to wade through, much of which is just me saying I played here, did this thing there, and lots of rambling...

But sometimes a post of mine really expresses what I'm thinking, and/or causes me to think more.  Sometimes a post still has impact to people years after I've written it.  Sometimes a post reflects an ideal or philosophy I continue to try and meet.  So here's what I was able to pull, that speak to what this blog was all about.  I truly hope that within the links below, there's something that resonates, that inspires, that helps someone reading it.

What the @%#&! is taiko?
Identity, self, me, art!
Taiko don't care
Extracting meaning
Who plays better taiko?
Too late.
The art of the struggle
Cultural Appropriation
Excuses, revisited
Video: Madonna and taiko
Is this taiko? Vol. 01
Taiko in an age of instant gratification

Hand independence
Drill: 23468 
Drill: My Favorite Drill
Video: Konnakol (just a little bit)

Question Everything/Questions
Question Everything: Bachi
Question Everything: Ego
Question Everything: Kuchishoga
Question Everything: Ki
Question Everything: Training in Japan
Question Everything: Shatter the illusions
Question Everything: Are you any good?
Who sculpts you?

Failure *is* an option
Do simple things well
Ack! (stage fright)
Limitations aren't fixed
Soloing, part 3: Musicality
Soloing, part 5-2: Rhythms on multiple drums
Soloing, part 9-2: Endings
The Tall Whisperer
Loop of progression
Mouthful of sprinkles
Standards and comments
Perception of Quality
Being creative
On testing (and failing)
Suck or fail?
Out of the box
Taiko Elevator
Working on Rhythm
Soloing for the song (feat. Ringo Starr...kind of) part 1

Pulling back the curtain: What's touring like?
12 weeks, 12 songs: Epilogue
Competitions - The findings

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Big post in progress, come back on Monday!

The post I'm working on is actually taking a while.  So yeah, come back Monday.  It's not the last post, but it's taking a lot more work than most!

Monday, August 21, 2017

NATC 2017, ruminations

Okay, I promise this is the last post about NATC.  But now that I've dissected what I enjoyed and why, I wanted to put some thoughts and questions out there...

1.) All those taiko groups that aren't on social media.

We heard that about 50% of the groups in North America aren't on social media.  So that means they're not seeing the threads on Facebook, seeing what's out there, sharing what they're doing.  I wonder why not?  And then I wonder if it matters?  Would it be more trouble than it's worth?  Would it really enhance their experience?  Food for thought.

2.) What/who is the "future of taiko"?

At Taiko Jam, On Ensemble was referred to as "the future of taiko".  But are they?  Nothing bad to say about OE, but when I see what the "taiko landscape" looks like since they started, I see a lot of the same stuff out there.  And that's not a critique either!  Just an observation.

I definitely see their influence out there, as people and groups both try to emulate what they see in OE as well as being more open to different approaches and musical sensibilities.  But there's still an overwhelmingly large number of community groups and those numbers seem to be growing just as much as ever.  Maybe the actual numbers would tell a different story, but I don't see the future of taiko being much different for quite a while.  That's not a good nor bad thing, just...a thing.  Am I wrong?  Tell me otherwise!

3.) Where can NATC go from here?

I heard there were about 700 people at NATC 2017.  That included workshop leaders, performers, participants, volunteers, people at the marketplace, observers, etc.  That's a lot of people.  But it's really not been able to get bigger than that (Stanford was the largest so far but I forget the number).

It's hard to find facilities that can provide all the things we need for all the workshops and performances, while also provide housing and food and still be affordable.  And it's hard to find volunteers since there are a LOT needed already, and a larger conference would just add to that number.  Anything outside of the major "taiko hubs" means finding people to help is really hard!

I know some people wish NATC was longer, but then it makes it harder on some people taking even more time off work - people including workshop leaders, facilitators, etc.  Possible, just difficult.

Half the attendees are new to NATC (first-timers), so that means the half left over (~250 this time?) are people who have come before.  If we're only seeing about ~250 people that have been before, after 10 conferences, does that mean people stop wanting to come/can't come, or do people stop playing taiko?  Or are we just not able to let those people sign up because we have to limit our size?

Granted, maybe we don't need a larger conference!  Maybe this is the ideal size and even with resources to make it possible, a larger one would just be too cumbersome.  I know TCA probably talks about this sort of thing, but I think it's a good topic to think and talk about as part of the community.

Anyways, that's it for NATC-related posts, I promise!  Not sure how many posts I've got left to go, but it's almost coming to an end!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

(post-post) NATC 2017!

Ok, I'm mostly recovered, so I can talk about my experiences at NATC 2017.

First off, it was a great conference.  There will always be hiccups and behind-the-scenes chaos of some sort no matter what, but things ran pretty well!  It was my 9th NATC out of the 10 that have been held, and I really regret missing that first one...  I'm still processing a lot of what went on last weekend but I wanted to get things written down, for my own sake as well as for the blog's.  So here goes, in no particular order:

1.) The "Women in Taiko" STI was awesome.

I didn't go to the 3-day event before NATC, but I definitely felt the impact.  I've heard from some of the attendees and felt the residual energy throughout the Conference.  For a community with so many female players (about 66%) , there's an inverse number of male workshop leaders.  Why is that?  The idea of a woman on stage as kazari-mono (decoration) is very common, why is that?  How many women weren't able to become as famous as their male counterparts because they spent their time raising the kids?  How many women players that are good aren't taken as seriously because they're considered "cute"?  Lots of issues, lots of questions.

I'm hoping this topic can be expanded on and addressed within our community!  Really glad it happened.

2.) Going as a participant was invigorating.

I've been a Workshop Leader for several NATC, and went as an observer/assistant for the last two.  Being an Observer means I have freedom to go to different workshops, but it's not quite the same experience, I've come to realize.  Taking workshops and going through the motions of the lesson, trying new techniques or new approaches to technique, those had an impact on me.

I find myself inspired from the simple act of moving differently from how I've been moving for years now.  It opens doors and hints at new possibilities.  I don't want to leave my style behind, but instead see how much of my own style I can cultivate within the boundaries of the group's style.

3.) Longer conversations had impact.

There are a LOT of conversations to be had at NATC.  Most of the time they're about catching up with old friends, getting to meet new people, or quick chats about how a workshop went.

I got to talk for a long time with 4 different people in particular, people I've known for a while but have never really been able to get to know.  People who play, people who used to play, people who lead, people who teach, people who made things possible, people who still make things possible.

These conversations ranged from asking meta-questions to talking about the nuances of technique.  And these conversations, more than anything - more than participating, more than watching performances - have my head buzzing, gears turning.

4.) I don't get to "geek out" over taiko often enough.

I spent 20 minutes alone in the marketplace talking with a couple of well-known taiko players about sub-division drills and practice tips.  Before that, I spent time talking about different ways to clap and with which hand.  During walks across campus I had discussions about pedagogy and practice.  During meals I talked with friends about naname stands and relative heights.  I live for those kind of exchanges, even after 24 years of the art.

5.) No post-NATC blues.

I've seen/heard people get the "blues" after leaving NATC, because they're leaving this environment of so much learning, cooperation, support and connection.  For me, I pretty much use all my 'extrovert juice" for the year in those 4 days, and by the time I leave, I'm feeling a really good balance.

6.) I really hope to teach workshops again.

In one of my workshops, people were talking about a technique being really difficult that I've spent decades working on.  It made me want to teach workshops again (not that I haven't wanted to, but this stoked the flames again).

It's funny, after saying I loved being a participant, I also really miss teaching, too.  I'm thinking of offering things that haven't been addressed much in the past, things I spend a lot of time thinking about and working on.  With all the time I've spent analyzing workshop feedback, I like to think I could craft some really good workshops!  Time will tell.


I needed NATC for it's ability to collectively kick-start my creative and inspirational juices.  A lack of sleep and sore calves from all the walking around campus is a small price to pay.  And even though I said this on Facebook, a big thank you to everyone who made NATC happen this year, as well as to everyone who's made it happen from years past.  It was great to talk to people who've read my blog and hear how it's been helpful, and so I hope I can continue providing that even if on a smaller scale through teaching and sharing my thoughts on the Facebook Taiko Community as topics come up.

Looking forward to NATC 2019!  Yikes!  :D