Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fall Tour 2009: Over!

Well, I'm home! And I have internets again! Woo!

So, let's recap since my last post - we drove about 12 hours to Austin Saturday, got in at around 11pm. Easy drive, but a long one.

Sunday was our last performance, at Dell Hall, Long Center for Performing Arts. We had about 1200 attend, and the energy was great. One of our members is from the area, and had a large family showing who were audibly happy to watch him play on stage! It was a relatively new theater, with the best green room I've ever seen (the chairs were sweeeeet)!

There was one song that gave us a bit of annoyance - one brain fart, an early light cue, and 2 roll-happy drums make for an interesting run, but we didn't let it stop us from kicking ass. :)

So that's it - 8 days and waaaay too much BBQ, but a good run nonetheless. Got a major project ahead of me for next year that I won't talk about for some time, but aside from that, I have two song ideas I'm working on which I hope to talk about as I create them. Play on!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Show #2: Jonesboro, AR

Exhibit 1: Franco Imperial, using technology before a show to rehearse his solos. Go, Franco, go!

Today was...normal! In the theater at 9:00am, unload the truck, unload all the boxes, spike the stage, focus the lights, run through the transitions and drum movements, play, pack up, go home! There's eating and some song run-throughs in there, but that's the standard run.

Tonight's show was a little more difficult because it was at ASU, in a concert hall, which is essentially a big shell with two useable doors way upstage for us to use. Without wings to store drums behind for easy access, we have to reconfigure how we move, where we move, and even the timing of it all. More work, but less lighting, so it all works out...sort of. :)

The crowd tonight was very reserved. For most of them, this was their first taiko experience, and the median age was probably somewhere in the 50s. Applause after a song, never during, no hoots or hollers. But I think they still enjoyed it nonetheless!

As for my performance, I have been semi-suffering from three insect bites on my right arm. Two mosquito, one "other". They've had their individual itchy flare-ups, but all three decided to wake up right after the first song and it was maddening. I go into the next piece completely distracted, grab a pair of shime bachi that are badly mismatched, and forget that I had to set the tempo for the song. It was a tad fast, but playable! A good reminder to always focus before each and every song, that's for sure.

Tomorrow, a 12-hour drive to Austin, up from the assumed 10-hour drive earlier. Woo!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Vegetarians, skip this entry!

We were on our own until 3:00, so we went downtown for lunch and wanderin'. There was an indoor market/food court that had Thai, Mediterranean, Japanese, Cajun, etc. Good, cheap, tasty lunches for all, plus some freshly-baked desserts for some.

After that, an easy 3-hour drive to Jonesboro, AR, where we found a BBQ place. Meat, meat, meat, meat, and...meat. Oh, and beans, and a roll. (Didn't touch the potato salad or cole slaw.) Six BBQ sauces to boot!

...you know it's an easy tour day when the highlights are lunch and dinner!

Tomorrow, back to work! All-day in the theater, from 9am to about 11pm. That's followed by a 10-hour drive Saturday and another all-day in the theater Sunday. It's gonna be a lot of work, but as always, a lot of fun!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Online at last!

Update: A concert review here!

Finally! A hotel with internet connection! Let's get summarizin'!

The flights in were uneventful, with a rather comedic flight attendant on the 2nd one. "Hello, my name is Sean Connery." "Hi, my name is Roshambo." "As always, it was a pleasure having me on board." Heh.

Monday was a pretty busy day, however. We visited three different middle schools, giving a 1.5-2 hour workshop to percussion students at each one. Only one of them was...challenging, where we had about four percussion students and about four times that in non-musicians of all ages. In that same session, we were in a very echo-y room, which is really bad for taiko and even worse for crowd-control of distracted kids. Ah well.

Tuesday was a normal all-day in the theater. We played at the Perot Theater in Texarkana, TX to a crowd of about 700-800. We had a couple of brain farts that probably only we noticed, but the energy from the crowd made the show a very strong one overall! I told myself before the show to "own the stage," - that attitude helped get me through a new choreographed solo in one song, and really nail improvizing in another powerhouse song. Woo!

And as for today, just light travel and a little Budget truck maintenance - and a pound of freaking SPICY shrimp for dinner. Oh, that red spice is cajun seasoning? Oh, the cocktail sauce is spicy? Why, let's eat a whole bunch of both before I figure that out...yeesh!

Tomorrow, more light traveling, but first several hours of downtime in downtown Little Rock. Stay tuned!

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Many artists - whether it be in music, movement, or visual arts - encounter what's known as burnout. It's the feelings of "it's just not worth it anymore", "I'd rather be doing something else", and/or "there's no fun left in this." Personally, I've known taiko players who found themselves past where it was fun to play and martial artists who felt they were just going through the motions.

I hate to blame the victim, but no one performer is likely to change a whole group nor is one practitioner going to change a whole dojo/style. It's up to the individual to recognize where the warning flags are as they happen. Maybe it's finding yourself unable to focus on a drill, maybe it's dreading an upcoming performance, maybe it's changing dynamics in the group? Ask yourself what it is that gives you strife, internally, about your art and address it!

You can't rely on your group/dojo to fix things for you. If they do, consider yourself lucky to have such a support system! But if you're responsible for your happiness, then be honest with yourself. Pretending something doesn't really bother you and letting it eat away inside over time is only going to make everyone unhappy.

Think about what *you* need. Is that selfish? No, it's not at the disregard of others, it's addressing your own needs. Too often I see those pursuing Asian arts put themselves last for "the good of the group". No, it's not only Asian arts, but I see it more there than I do in non-Asian ones. It's one thing to not be thrilled about something that comes up in practice or performance, that's life. But it's another thing entirely to constantly deny your own personal happiness or pretend that something doesn't piss you off.

Even if you're of a sort that believes, "the group comes first", you are PART of the group. If you're not happy, then a part of the group isn't happy. Again, it's not necessarily the group's responsibility to make you feel better, but denial does no one any good.

Sometimes people need to take breaks, to put things in perspective. Other times creative journeys need to be explored, such as looking into another style (even if just research) or composing a song. Just remember to do this before it's too late! Once you get bitter, the poison is in your veins and it's going to be very hard to purge it from your system!

Whether it's a cultural or communal belief that your needs come second to the group's, if you let yourself suffer without recourse, you're hurting the group. If you don't believe that, think of what happens when things get so bad that you leave the group in anger or frustration! That's like having a brick wall and ignoring the gradual chips that could have been fixed, until the bricks start crumbling and the whole wall is weakened.

It's not selfish to take care of yourself!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tour 'round the corner!

We'll be heading out on the road eaaaarrrrrly Sunday morning. Three shows this run:

  • Perot Theatre, Texarkana, TX (Tuesday 9/22, 8pm)
  • Riceland Hall, Fowler Center, Arkansas State University, Jonesboro, AR (Friday 9/25, 8pm)
  • Dell Hall, Long Center for the Performing Arts, Austin, TX (Sunday 9/27, 7pm)
As usual, I'll be trying my best to blog every day for all my readers (I think I'm up to three now, lol.)

It's interesting going from 2 months of prep for our Annual Concert to 2 nights of prep for the tour. I'm playing about 80% more, and sweating about 200% more for this show; it's nice! But I have to say, after running through the show tonight, it's good to get all the stupid out before we leave. :)

See y'alls in TX! (And AR!)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Perspectives on the eve of a concert

Been a while since my last post, I'll post more after the weekend.

Our annual concert weekend starts tonight @ 8pm, followed by two on Saturday @ 2pm and 8pm. This will be my...15th home concert weekend (I think), and one of over 100 concerts for me if I include touring. I find myself in a position where I'm a bit jaded after so many concerts, and I miss the butterflies; the nervous buzz just before I step on stage. I see it in our newer members and wish I had known to relish it myself when I was where they are now.

I find my own sources of amusements and challenges on stage; sliding across the stage on my knees with an okedo or playing as quiet as humanly possible while still maintaining presence. It's still fun or I wouldn't be doing this!

Someday I'll be sitting in the audience, my taiko career over, and wishing for just one more shot, one more solo, one more concert. Sad? Nah, just reality. Makes me realize that I need to savor the big moments as well as the small ones.

When you play taiko for an audience, a lot of those people are probably wishing they could be doing what you're doing. Share that joy with them and let them feel like they are playing with you in spirit!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Question Everything: Kiai


Sorry, had to kiai there. What's a kiai? I just did one, didn't you hear it?

The "ki" in kiai stands for spirit, or energy, and the best definition for "ai" in this case is a meeting, a bringing together. It's not a "spirit yell" as I used to hear it referred to. Nonetheless, a kiai is a sharp, loud, focused vocalization.

Regardless of what art or style one practices, the basic kiai involves tightening the diaphragm and forcing air out through the mouth, while using the throat as little as possible, unlike shouting. In karate, when teaching this to beginners, I tell them to imagine reaching up high for something, then picture someone coming by and slapping them in the stomach. The reflex is to tighten that area up; that's the basic reaction involved in generating kiai.

There are kiai in martial arts; this is where kiai are the most prevalent. In those arts, the kiai are said to:
  • make one "in the moment"
  • enable one to take a blow by tightening up the muscles
  • startle or demoralize the enemy
  • punctuating a form/indicating an important move
In taiko, I've heard the kiai used for:
  • exchanging energy with the performers and giving to the audience
  • expression
  • adding a vocal component to the music
There are other examples for both, but I feel what I've listed cover the large majority. For the most part, they don't really overlap, but there are similarities. Consider the taiko player that kiais in a song vs. the martial artist who's sparring. Sometimes they are acting by initiating a kiai/attack with kiai, because they feel it's a good point to do so. Sometimes they are reacting to a movement, such as another soloist's spin or an opponent's attack. In either case, it is a matter of intention.

This is where things get interesting. You can't kiai loudly without intention. Try it! ...wait, make sure you're not near people, or they'll think you've lost it. What I'm getting at here is no matter how relaxed or lethargic you make yourself, to kiai with any sort of technique, you have to engage your body, thereby producing a physical intention. When you tighten those muscles up, your body goes through stress. Pressures are generated and bloodflow increases. You can lie there like a rag doll, but once you kiai, you're exerting energy and for that time, you have intention - even if it's just intention to kiai!

So like in martial arts, to kiai brings the taiko player into the present - and when they are doing it in a focused direction and with all the energy of an ensemble, it becomes a dynamic, vital part of what taiko is all about.

Okay, that's a good overview of kiai, now for the juicy stuff.

Why do you say what you say when you kiai?

I'll bet, for 99% of people who kiai, it's because it's what they've heard before. Students have asked me "what do I kiai?" All I can say is "don't end with consonants."

In martial arts, the kiai tend towards things like "ei" and "oia". In (North American) taiko, they tend towards "yoh" and "sah". There's a new breed of taiko kiai emerging from the collegiate crowd, those like "su" and "say". So again, I ask, why?

I've heard stories about the "older" taiko groups from Japan, that they had to get used to what they were hearing from North American players. But where did the Japanese players get *their* kiai from? My guess is martial arts. Supporting that theory is that a lot of kiai from Japanese groups tend to sound like kiai I hear in karate.

I'm not one to judge what makes a kiai "right" or "wrong", but I can talk about what makes a kiai "good". I was going to get into the linguistics of different kiai, but it got way too long. Kiai need to be simple and the ending is what really gets projected. You can't kiai sounds like "yar" very loud, because the rrrrr is a limited-volume sound. Kiai like "yo" and "ho" have worked well because the y and h are "softer" and the o gets the bulk of projection. Kiai like "ei" and "oia" work because the mouth can be in any position at the time. The newer kiai, like "say" and "su" stike my ears as weird, though.

The "ss" sound tends to cut through when most people do that type of kiai, overshadowing the vowel sound, and I don't hear it as much of a kiai as a shout. Is that bad? No, but it's not what I would call a kiai. If we're going to define a kiai as I have several times in this post, then it's not a kiai, not really. And maybe that's why it sounds odd to me - people shouting at a taiko performance sounds weird, but people kiai-ing sounds normal.

Sometimes people are putting too much thought into what they're saying and not how they say it. A group full of screaming taiko players is powerful, to a degree, but a lone player kiai-ing with clarity and technique is even more amazing at times.

The effort one puts into a kiai is proportional to the effect. If you're focusing and using the right muscles, your body reacts and the listeners can hear your intention. If you're just shouting or holding back your energy, the difference is audible if not also visible.

There's a viewpoint that the quiet hits in taiko are just as vibrant as the loud ones; the only difference is the volume. Just like striking, kiai isn't about volume, it's about technique. If you understand what a kiai is and why you're doing it, you have options to choose what you say and when you say it. So-re!