Friday, April 24, 2009

Sick on tour but in a haunted posh hotel and it's over!

Well, that's it for Winter Tour 2009! We fly back into San Jose tomorrow, via 3 flights. Long day but at least not too-early of a first flight.

We ended the tour tonight with a fun performance at the new D. Douglas Barnard Jr. amphitheater in Augusta, GA. 900 seats and half were pre-sold before we got there! We had some heat issues to deal with, plus the fact that half our group is sick, but we've played in hotter places and the venue was nice enough to get some big fans upstage for us during the show. Good crowd as well - we could see them since it was outdoors and they were appreciative!

This tour was heavy on meat dishes; we ate very well - even though one venue was a vegetarian campus, they had good food (ok, yes, I smuggled in ribs). I think if we weren't all fighting or avoiding illness, it would have been a great tour, but cest la vie.

There's a small-to-moderate hubbub about a supposed ghost here at the hotel; it's freaking out a couple of members. I'm not going to go into a diatribe about my take on all that stuff, but I will say "pfffffffbbbptttffttt". :P

I'll be updating my blog again soon, no worries. I want to talk about pre-show rituals, what I do and asking readers what they do. Maybe some people will actually comment? ;)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sick on tour but in a posh hotel

No progress on the cold - throat is wonky, cough is more irritating, but no significant change. Still can't kiai...

Not a lot of taiko tales in this update, but I have to put in a PJ quote as we returned from an excellent meat-heavy dinner place:

PJ: "I'm going to stop thinking out loud."
(10 minutes later, ZZ Top plays on the radio.)
PJ: "They don't sound like they have beards."
Me: "Well, that lasted ten minutes."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sick on tour

Well, it hit me - sore throat which turned into a sore throat with a lower register. I sound like Wolfman Jack now. Yay. Feel ok but get tired easy; food and rest help. It's a day off tomorrow and I'm gonna be lazy about it.

Had a good breakfast with the family; I don't think I've seen them since I was...12? I got to know them better this time being an adult than I was as a kid. It was also really the first time aside from a couple of waitresses that I've heard a southern drawl in anyone's voice. I don't hear it hardly ever on the West Coast.

We have some sweet digs this last stop in Augusta, GA. It's where the Masters are held, and we're each getting our own posh room. Not a bad way to spend 3 days! It would be better if they were healthy, non-sick days, though...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Yay, family!

Today was a long, but good day.

We played a shorter, one-hour set on the campus of Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, TN. It was in a gymnasium with about 1000 seats and a raised stage, and we had to make a lot of adjustments with lighting and staging, but it came together pretty well. The real treat for me was that I had three family members come out to see me play! Two uncles and an aunt, all from TN - driving from 2.5 to 4 hours to see us. It was awesome to see them in the audience, front-row, talk to them afterward, and I'll get to have breakfast with them tomorrow morning before they head out.

The campus is a vegetarian one, and even the local deli in the nearby grocery store has no meat. I snuck in my leftover ribs from last night's dinner, however...I know, I'm horrible, but they were gooood.

We've still got two sick members, and I'm fighting something myself. Good thing it's mild, but we have two days before the next show and only a five-hour drive in that time, so lotsa rest coming up.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Driving day

Not too much to report on this update - a long eight-hour drive (more like nine) from NC to TN, but an easy one. I took the first half driving the Budget truck, which is daunting until you're used to it but sort of fun after that.

We found a good cafe on the way here and were introduced to downtown Chattanooga by one of the people working at the college we're at tomorrow and his wife. There's a lot to see and enjoy; too bad we're leaving Wednesday morning! We may try and linger a bit that morning, though.

We found out tonight that our normal two-hour show tomorrow night will be shortened to about an hour, because it's finals and the presenter is worried that if we do the normal show with intermission, many of the students will leave during that intermission. :( That's a yay-boo situation for me, because I have three relatives in TN driving four hours (one way) to come down and see us play. On the downside, they won't get to see our full show with all the bells and whistles. On the plus side, I may have more time to spend with them before or after the show, depending. Since they're coming such a long way, it would be nice to give them some attention as well as a great show!

Sick people are still sick - it's hard to get better during tour unless there's at least a day off, and we don't get one of those until Wednesday. Here's hoping no one else gets sick and those who are get better soon!

Sunday, April 19, 2009


I swear, our members will play unless they're delirious and/or on fire.

Two of our members have colds that caused serious coughing in one and a loss of voice in the other + coughing (and then a fever!) It made playing hard for them both, but it would have taken a viking assault to get them not to play.

The member who lost their voice realized how much they took kiai-ing for granted when they couldn't do it! And it probably makes us horrible people, but we're enjoying that their voice is all squeaky and changing octaves at's how we show we care. :)

It was a good show despite the rebelling lungs - about 600-700 in the audience and an after-show reception by members of Triangle Taiko! I didn't get as much of a chance to "pump myself up" due to a really tight schedule, but I was still able to push myself again. Didn't feel the same crash as last time, but we'll see what happens. The walls inside are covered in signatures and hand-drawn signs from previous acts, and we got a column near the Green Room all to ourselves!

Tomorrow, an 8-hour drive to Collegedale, TN. Long drives leave us a bit punchy, but with two members sick, I'm just hoping no one else picks up a bug. Normally I like bugs...

Friday, April 17, 2009

This better not be a sign of things to come...

So the day started off pretty normal - 9am call in the theater, load-in, tech on stage, meals...

The theater is right next to a buffalo wing place/bar. So for lunch I bypassed the rather nice deli spread in the green room and got 20 wings, 4 different sauces. I was stoked at some of the flavors..."spicy honey mustard garlic"? *drool*

I know, you're all looking for taiko stuff, but it all adds up, trust me.

They apparently think that *grease* is a SAUCE. All four to-go containers were sloshing with "flavor". It spilled out of the bag on the floor and made for a nasty lunch (could only eat half of it). I had to eat stuff off the veggie tray to try and absorb some of it (I know, that's not really how it works...)

Just before the show, one of our members realized they had brought two left tabi - the white shoes we wear onstage - and we had about 30 minutes to show! No problem - we're less than 10 minutes from the hotel; another member would drive them there to pick up a matching pair.

A few minutes later, the volunteer driver comes in and tells us the rental car they were going to use has a flat tire. Precious minutes lost, they grabbed the keys to the other car, but this meant having to get that tire dealt with after the show! They made it back with about 10 minutes to go, which brought everyone a little shot (or not-so-little) of adrenalin before the show!

Franco was quite the initiative-taker and fixed the flat after the show by himself; extra cheetos for him!

The show went well overall - a few hiccups here and there but really good energy on stage and no "train wrecks". Personally, I pumped myself way up before the show to see where it would take me. I had a great set overall; really felt like I could push other members as well as draw a lot more out of myself. I refused to get tired, refused to worry about messing up, refused to just coast through my solos. It's a different experience and I don't know if I can do that for every show, but it's a great experiment to try!

Some members of Nen Daiko came to see us - they didn't want to hang around and eat with us at 11:00pm, awww. Some people can be so rude! Kidding, I kid! It was great to have them come and support us.

Off to Durham, NC tomorrow - short four-hour drive, but we have to switch out the car with the spare tire first. Should be a short day of travel and then rest...and hopefully uneventful!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Winter Tour 2009, last leg

10 days to go! Granted, we just started today, but countdowns are always fun. This run is 4 cities in 10 days, no school shows, no workshops scheduled, just driving, loading in, playing, loading out.

We had a nice uneventful flight from SFO into Dulles, D.C., then a short drive to Reston, VA. Tomorrow is a 9am theater call for a 8pm concert; standard stuff. I think it's a smaller hall; around 300?

Not much to talk about on day one - although we did check into our room to was already occupied. Surprise!

Stay tuned loyal readers (all 3 of you)!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

What the @%#&!* is taiko?

What is taiko?

That's one of those questions where the reaction is more interesting than the answer. Some have a solid definition that they can recite to you. Others simply don't care to define it. Most people fall somewhere in the gray area.

(I may not make any friends with this post, but I've no reason not to be honest about my viewpoints, especially here. That's sort of the point of this blog!)

I love it when I hear people say something like, "that's not taiko." It's even better when it's "that's not taiko, they were awful!" For the former, what you don't hear is "that's not taiko to me", but the last part is silent, like the letter "e" in lime. For the latter, saying it's not taiko because it's bad is like saying I'm not really eating a pizza because there's too many anchovies on it - it's still PIZZA.

So what is taiko?

Taiko is the japanese word for drum. In Japan, the word taiko can refer to any drum, but outside of Japan it usually refers to the Japanese drums. When I say taiko, I'm referring to the Japanese drum, unless stated otherwise.

Taiko is also the art of playing taiko, much like one can cook and/or be a cook. I do taiko on taiko. That sounds really stupid, but we are getting at semantics here. I don't do taiko on a snare drum, nor do I play congas on taiko. It's a difference between technique and instrumentation.

Here's where things get interesting...let's make up a taiko player; we'll call him King. King is recognized in taiko circles as a competent taiko player of 20 years. Imagine that King is playing a song on a slant stand taiko (naname). I don't think anyone would say that example wasn't taiko, right? Ok, good.

Now take that taiko away, keep the stand, and put a drum made by Remo - and let's say it's one of Remo's first-generation taiko, not ready for production or sale. It doesn't sound pretty, it doesn't look pretty. King plays the same song on the Remo taiko. Is it still taiko?

If you said no, then taiko to you is about the instrument. For you folks, what if instead the drum is "Japanese-style" taiko, made out of a single piece of hollowed-out tree trunk vs. "North American-style taiko", made from a wine barrel or slats of wood in that same manner? Is one type of drum more "authentic" taiko than another?

If you said yes, then taiko to you is about the person playing it. But is it the years spent training or the intention of said player? If it's just years of experience, then where does improvement or talent lie - does it have a place in defining who is a "taiko player"? If it's in the intention of the player, what if you can't see them - if it's a recording or you're around the corner and you only have the audio? Can you *hear* intention? Some might argue yes...

So what is taiko?

Next quandry! Queen is a master percussionist and dancer, who bought a bootleg tape of one of King's performances. There's no context for what King is doing; it's simply music, intention, movement, and energy. Queen studies the tape obsessively and can now duplicate King's every nuance. She gets a hold of a "real" taiko (whatever you define as "real") and performs the same song King played above, without error or deviance. Is that taiko?

If you said no, why not? The only things lacking here are context and perhaps intention - but to the non-taiko audience, it's taiko! It walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, smells like a duck... So is taiko more about the *intention* of the player?

If you said yes, how come? Is taiko just the output of the performer? Is it just notes on the drum, motions in the air, facial expressions, and kiai? Does talent matter more than intention?

So what is taiko?

What if you have a trapset drummer who adds a taiko to his set? Does it matter if that drummer is also a respected taiko drummer? Does it become "less" of a taiko then? What if a drummer arranges assorted taiko into a trapset-style setup? Is she playing taiko when she plays African rhythms on Japanese drumheads?

For that matter, can a taiko player play taiko without a taiko drum? If I pat my legs and play a taiko song, is that taiko? ...does your brain hurt yet? Good!

So what is taiko?

Depends on you, reader. You determine what taiko is or isn't to you; maybe you'll be in the majority, maybe not. Odds are, it doesn't matter what you think unless you're having a philisophical discussion on the topic.

I hate when people dismiss a group for things they don't like. It's easier for some to say "that's not taiko" than it is to say, "I don't like how they play taiko." I don't like country music and I'm happy to say that, but I don't say "that's not music." And I'll admit it irks me when I hear "rap's not music." Let me give you the best example why...

About a year ago, San Jose Taiko played at an outdoor festival in the city. Afterwards, one very upset audience member accosted a member of our group, responding negatively to how we called our pieces "songs." He said things like it was just "noise" and then made a racially-loaded comment comparing our "noise" to what a certain ethnic group blasts out their cars. Let's just say he had issues...oy. But would any of you who play taiko like to be told that "you don't play music, you just make noise?" We all play music, even those of you out there who don't play an instrument. That's for a later topic, though.

We all have our preferences and maybe some people really do like all taiko - but I'm not one of them, I'll admit that. I mean, I love seafood, but I won't touch sea urchin, bleh.

Anyone can tell you what taiko is. And they're wrong. Why are they wrong? Because they can't prove they're right! Care less about what taiko is or what taiko should be, and just enjoy what you enjoy. Or don't!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

3 days in Chico

I planned to update the blog each day we were in Chico, but between the lack of internet connection and the late nights/early mornings, it just didn't happen. So this is the recap!

We had an early start Thursday morning; tech was all day from 9:00-6:00. It was pretty low-key, but teching in all day followed by a concert at night always saps one's energy. Usually after we load the drums off the truck, unpack, set up, and tie the roped drums, we'll focus the lights. We usually do this in teams of two - we're told what light will come up next, and we move drums into position so the light can be positioned.

I was on a shift with PJ this time, and the crew got a 15-minute break during our shift. It was really nice to sit and chat with PJ about issues on her mind and what she thinks about some things in the taiko world. For those who may not know, PJ Hirabayashi is one of the founders of San Jose Taiko, and a major force in North American taiko (if not taiko around the world).

As for the show, I didn't hear final numbers - 500 was the count two weeks out, and the house held around 1250. In the very first song, I was playing in the back, stage right, on shime (the high-pitched smaller drum) and I could feel a slight divot in the bachi (stick) of my right hand. Seconds earlier, I was literally thinking, "I wonder if this will break - I hope I can recover if it does...", and then *snap*, I have half a bachi in my hand and the song is about to end...good thing for spare bachi in the shime pouch!

The next morning, we did two school shows with a total of about 2500 kids. It's never easy to take on a huge pack of kids - we walk out on stage and there's a lot of chatting, noises, hushing, and giggling...but once they realize that we can be a lot louder than they can, it seems to quiet them down. Also, many of the kids actually start getting into the show - they want to see more, and when someone acts up, our new fans can shush them down in force. :)

It was a long drive back and most of us were beat. We'll be back out on the road in less than two weeks - going to VA, NC, TN, and GA! I'll be seeing some family in TN, and will try to blog every day, because I know my fans (both of you) want me to!