Thursday, September 30, 2010


Well, we did it! A two-hour concert at relatively high-altitude with no fatalities! Woo!

The school show around 1:30 wasn't too bad, but very similar in feel to the ones in Colorado. We were definitely more winded after even "easy" songs. The kids were middle schoolers and a bit rowdy before we came on stage, but we have a built-in "silencer" at the beginning of our school shows and by the end, we totally won them over. Always satisfying!

We ran some concert songs later to test both sound and endurance, and the actual concert was no picnic, but we pulled it off really well. I think we were so concerned about the effect of the altitude that we were over-prepared and able to fight through most of the fatigue. Knowing it "was going to hurt" gave most of us a "bring it on" attitude.

So we're off tomorrow, about 10 hours with a stop to drop off a member at Salt Lake City airport, and drive halfway to Crescent City, CA where we perform Sunday night. Almost done!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Oxygen tanks!

Today was an all-day tech day at the Pinedale, WY, auditorium that we'll be playing at tomorrow - one school show, one concert.

We found out that ticket sales are going very well for the 500+ seat venue, and that they don't have performers there unless there's an outreach component (school show, etc.)

We're about 1000 miles lower than we were in Colorado, but being at 6,000+ feet (not miles, heh) up is still something to consider! There are oxygen tanks available for us, but will we need to use them? Will we use them just to try them out? Stay tuned...

Monday, September 27, 2010

Swanky hotel, but sleep would be nice too...

So I didn't blog about the 2nd driving day, but's nothing to blog about!

The cold is almost gone, which is good, especially considering the higher altitude.

Yesterday we had the shortest tech-in day ever, 3 hours and out of there by noon! We only had school shows to prep for and some of the lighting was adjustable via remote control, which saved a bunch of time! Awesome.

This morning we had two school shows which ran pretty well. At the end of the second one, we came down into the seats to answer questions the kids had. I got asked how tall I was, lol.

As for where we're staying, The Charter, there's a lot of high points and one big low point. The hotel is pure swank, fancy everything without being too froo-froo. The local plaza next door has an outdoor ice-skating rink, really good restaurants, and a gorgeous view no matter where you are. The low point? A gas detector going off in our room at 3:37, ear-piercingly loud, for 27 minutes. It said there was "explosive gas" and to "call 911". It was so loud that it was physically too painful to try to figure out how to turn it off. We called the front desk twice and they told us maintenance was on its way...but never showed up. Apparently, after some web research, we found that the model goes off often with no threats about. Swell.

Anyways, we're off for about 9 hours of driving tomorrow, dropping off one performer and picking up a new one. We'll end up in Pinedale, WY and perform on Thursday! Stay tuned for more!

Friday, September 24, 2010

A thrust stage, a sold out house, a cold, and 10 hours of driving!

Going to make this a bit brief, as the cold I caught yesterday is not happy with me...

We had a great audience up in Whitefish, MT; it was about a 350-seat, sold-out crowd on a thrust stage, which means we were surrounded on three sides (and pretty darn close-up, too!) All the work we did changing up the transitions paid off, but we had a couple of song hiccups. As usual, these are the hiccups that really only we know about; the audience wouldn't know something was up unless they knew the song really well.

Left this morning at 9am, drove until 10:30pm. Looks like another 8 hours tomorrow until we get to Colorado...oy!

Might not be much to write tomorrow, but maybe something exciting will happen on the way, like the signs for the "Testique Festival" we saw today. Maybe.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The more things change, the less sleep we get!

Tech-in day, which usually goes pretty well, unless we have unexpected things to deal with. Like today, for instance!

It's not that big of a deal that we have a thrust stage, where the audience sits around the front and sides, so we're more exposed. And we prepped before we left for not having wings to hide our equipment behind during songs, so that's not a big deal. But we decided to change the program to have speeches between several of the songs, and that takes a person out of a transition, causing a whole lot of changes, more than I think I've ever seen for a gig. So...I'm not worried about the show but I'm also not not worried, if that makes any sense?

To make up for a stressful day, after we left the theater, we drove an hour away to have dinner with two long-time staunch supporters of San Jose Taiko, Norma and Ralph DeLang. They used to live in San Jose way back and know Roy and PJ from before I even knew of SJT. They took us in and fed us a great dinner, as well as kept us entertained with stories and general humor. We look forward to seeing them tomorrow night!

Tomorrow is a late school show and the concert, and I might not get to blog until Friday night when we're half-way to Colorado. I'm sure I'll have things to say then!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A mellow start...

Day one of Fall 2010 tour, and it was probably the most relaxed first days I've been on.

We had two flights to get to Whitefish, MT, with no fuss, no muss. Grabbed lunch at a local restaurant around noon and picked up the Budget truck right after. The picture above is of our colorful glove crew who all discovered they have the same brand of gloves, lol.

Back at the hotel (which is more like a ski resort), we had time to chill before heading out to the local farmer's market. The market was very nice, I scarfed down a good deal of food truck chow and would happily go back there tomorrow!

We're in the theater all day tomorrow for tech, but it's a smaller venue and won't be too lighting-intensive, so I don't foresee us needing too much time. Definitely enjoying the light schedule before the long amounts of driving coming up!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Another tour!

We're leaving for a 15-day tour starting tomorrow, Sept. the 21st!

It'll be MT, CO, WY, then back in CA, with quite a bit of driving in between, unfortunately. Between MT and CO is a 17 hour drive over 2 days! That's always grueling.

We'll have one 1-hour concert and two 2-hour concerts, plus 8 school shows. Not a lot for 15 days, but that driving will make us all a little loopy if we don't rest up as best we can. :)

As usual, daily updates as best I can, to show y'all the thrills of life on the road (or lack thereof)!

Stay tuned!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Slow down!

Over the years, I've watched people practice karate and taiko countless times. And it occurred to me that too often, I see people rushing through whatever exercises they're doing. Why the hurry?

I hear kids have a much easier time going slow when instructed, whereas the rest of us often want to go faster to get to the next thing. That can't be a good thing...

Ending solos tend to be the fast ones, and fast kata are more dazzling. Fast gets our attention, looks more fun, looks more challenging. But practicing something fast is actually pretty limiting. It's quite often harder to do something slower.

Movement-wise, it forces you to really pay attention to individual parts that make up the whole. Where you used to rely on propulsion, now you have to figure out where the power is really generated from. When it comes to extending your arms, you'll find out how much you relied on centrifugal force versus actually making the effort to maintain good form.

Rhythm-wise, speed often hides good technique. The tendency is to make sure the notes are placed right rather than struck well. When speed is the focus and technique is lacking, accents tend to blend into the other notes, and more subtly, often the feel/groove of the rhythm gets lost. It's like the master musicians who know exactly when to play notes and why it sounds so damned good when they do.

Practicing something slow is hard both mentally and physically, and yes sometimes you just have to practice something fast. Just don't get stuck there, realize that there's a lot to be gained by slowing everything down quite a bit and making sure that all the components are understood if not solid.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Rhythm Spirit 2010

Sleep and food make for a nice recovery from a concert weekend!

We just finished our annual concert series, 3 shows in 2 days. I think we had almost 500 people per show, which was a great turnout! Thank you to all who were able to attend!

There were a lot of familiar faces in the lobby after we finished the shows; the longer I play, the more people I seem to know! Funny that. :)

This year, the Concert Director took me and the other 2 senior players aside well before we began prep. He wanted us to know his direction for this year was to really push forward the newer members, which meant not as much development for us. Knowing well ahead of time that this was the plan, it was much easier to deal with and not feel "left out". Each of us was given one new part in at least one song, as well as other parts throughout the concert.

I think everyone who was pushed forward rose to meet the occasion. As for me, I didn't feel that much growth as an artist, but I made sure to take the time between shows to work out some creative stuff. I took a shimedaiko off one of the stands and did some creative work with it while seated (more about that in a later post).

I know that next year, I need to compose a piece to make sure I feel more engaged with the concert, but I don't have any hard feelings for the shift in priorities this year. I just miss the nervous butterflies and the feeling of something truly new!

Tour practice starts up this week and I leave in a week for 2 weeks of touring, to Montana, Colorado, Wyoming, and California. Who needs rest? :)

Thursday, September 9, 2010


So North American Taiko Conference 2011 is just around the corner...well sort of, if 11 months is a corner.

The deadline to submit workshop ideas is October 31st, which is really soon! I'm wondering if people who normally teach will miss the deadline...

I'm planning to do another workshop on striking, focusing on wrist snap. It'll be the 6th workshop of that type, and I keep refining and refocusing what material I cover. This time the focus will be less material, more depth. Last NATC I put in everything I wanted to, but felt like I was talking a mile a minute to get it all across!

However, I also want to teach a second workshop but am undecided on what topic to choose. I could do another rhythm-based workshop, perhaps on polyrhythms? I've thought of doing a body percussion workshop, helping people feel rhythms using their body.

Other options I've considered are:
  • Body percussion, learning how to feel rhythms by using the body.
  • A workshop for taller/larger people, focusing on flexibility and isolating weak points.
  • Exercises for creating movement- and rhythm-based solos.
  • Playing on multiple drums.
I know I don't get a lot of comments on my blog posts, but I'd like to hear from other people what they'd be interested in? Even if it's something I haven't listed above but you think I'd be good teaching, please let me know!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Talking shop

In karate, my friends and I talk about karate. We talk about concepts and techniques and fallacies and stories. When we meet up again, we talk about karate again. If we go out to dinner after a practice or a test or for a birthday, we talk about karate yet again. Granted, there are other topics that pop in, like someone's fishing weekend or rough work schedule, but it's really focused on "shop talk".

I can't even begin to account for how much I've learned by listening to and participating in these conversations. I've had my mind blown, I've had assumptions shattered, I've learned tips and tricks along the way.

As for taiko, I cannot speak for anyone else's experience but my own here, please understand that. In my group, I long for shop talk. And I can't find it. It doesn't happen before or after practice, during lunches on weekend rehearsals or workdays, nor pretty much any time a group of us gets together. Sometimes it'll happen on long car trips (tours) because you wind up talking about everything sooner or later just to not get bored.

When I overhear what people are talking about, it tends to be about sports or pets or technology instead of taiko or music or art. Don't get me wrong, it's not that people shouldn't talk about that stuff, and of course (as above) there have to be other subjects to discuss. However it's definitely the reason I feel a lot less connected to the group these days. It's also not about me being "above" such talk; I have conversations about non-taiko things here and there to be sure!

This isn't an overnight feeling, it's been growing for years now. It's why I immediately start warming up when I come to practice, and leave as soon as we bow out. On the flip side, it's why at functions like Taiko Conference, I barely get any sleep because I find people - a lot of people - to talk shop with!

Someone once described me as having two speeds: "off and high". When you see me on "high", now you know why!

Thursday, September 2, 2010


Been thinking about goals lately. Why do I still play taiko? Why do I still practice karate? What do I want out of each?

After karate the other night, a few of us were talking about testing and belt ranks. The advanced belts involved were eager to test for different levels of brown belt, while the black belts were talking about how things change once you hit black. Shodan, 1st-degree black, is considered the real "beginning" of your training. You've proven that you understand the basics of the art and are now ready to learn the art in earnest. Nidan, 2nd-degree black, is a bit fuzzy in definition, but it can be considered where you've learned how best to adapt your body to the art. Sandan, 3rd-degree, is the first "teaching" grade. Ideally, you should be able to teach the art at this point. Further grades really show how effective you are as a teacher and how influential your teaching gets.

I'll be testing for sandan later this year if the timing is right, but I don't know if I'll ever test again. There's really no opportunities to teach more than I already do at the dojo, plus there's not going to be any difference in what I can learn at 3rd- vs. 4th-degree black belt.

Looking over to taiko, where I'm approaching 18 years of playing, there's no belt system, no grade level in taiko (at least none I've ever heard of). The equivalent might be what songs you learn in your group - more parts learned over time and/or talent-based.

I'd guess we have an active repertoire of...20-25 songs at SJT, and of those I can play 95% of the parts. I'd say 3% of the remaining 5% are parts I will never learn due to circumstances like a song written for women to play, and the last 2% are positions in brand-new songs I haven't learned yet or something like a flute position (can't play flute!)

So here I am, in both respective arts, nearing the end of what either dojo can teach me. As far as material, the goals are going to be gone soon. New forms? Only in other styles. New songs? Only ones that haven't been written yet.

It's important here to say one thing - to my readers and to myself. I'm not saying that I need a break, or wonder if I'll continue on. I'm definitely not saying I can't learn any more in my arts, either. For taiko specifically, I know I'm going to keep playing, so...the question isn't "will I continue?", it's "why will I continue?"