Thursday, November 3, 2011


This past weekend we had our annual Open Auditions, where we invite those who are interested in joining the company to go through a comprehensive set of exercises. We look for a lot of things, but also we realize that people generally don't come with a lot of prior experience.

For years, I've given some thought about backgrounds and previous experience that people bring into taiko. I've seen dancers, percussionists, martial artists, actors, singers...

- Dancers seem to have an easier time initially, especially in groups that use any sort of body movement or choreography. Knowing how their body moves gives them a big advantage early on, if they're able to understand what's different and what to change. It also seems to me that dancers are already used to expressing themselves through movement, since that's part of most dancing arts. "Dance" is a big category and encompasses everything from ballet to modern to hip-hop, but I can easily tell when people in a group have a dance background within a few movements. In a good way!

- Percussionists often have a harder start in some taiko groups, which sounds weird at first. I mean, taiko is percussion in large part, right? What's hard is making a percussionist move their hands away from the drum, not lean over, etc. But once the initial learning curve is passed, I see some great things that percussionists bring to the table - stick control, speed, rhythms, etc. Those tend to be the harder things to teach to others, because unlike larger movements, what the hands do is harder to see, breakdown, and copy at times. A percussionist might even be able to pull off staying still at a drum and just pulling out some great stuff without needing a lot of movement, if they have that presence and ki instilled in them.

- Martial artists don't seem to be very common in the taiko world, which I think is interesting. On paper, the skills required to be a good martial artist seem to match that of being a good taiko player. Most martial arts have a strong foundation in a grounded stance of some sort and learning how to move from that stance translates easily into movement in taiko. Whether the art is something fluid or more direct, there's also an awareness of the body gained in most martial arts. And finally, projection of ki/qi is a major component of most arts, perfect for use in taiko depending on the mood of a piece.

- Singers may not get to utilize their skills that much, much like actors/actresses. There may be times when your group has a song or acting component, but there's still something to be said for stage presence and being comfortable being in front of an audience. Presence can be a huge element on stage, turning a simple part into something that draws people's eyes to you and in an enjoyable way.

Mind you, all of these things are generally positives but some habits are hard to break. When you have someone with things in their background that they've been doing for a while, it can hard for them to fight muscle memory!

I hear people say they don't have the skills that people who are just starting in taiko have. Sure, there are people who have a higher skill set when they start taiko than others but it's what they do with it that counts. When I started, I was stiff, I overhit, my hands weren't all that fast, and the only advantage I really had was that I could reach drums that were far apart, ha.

Look at the background you brought into your art. If you're not reaping the rewards from it now, why not? What do you think will do it? And if you feel you don't have anything that you brought with you, what are you learning NOW that you will be able to utilize later on?

1 comment:

  1. My background includes a smidge of aikido and some hand drumming, but my real background is in electronic music composition, classical violin and jazz piano. I think that's given me a boost to soloing, rhythm and general musicality -- and I itch to write some taiko songs, which is where I think my real strength might be.

    I have a weakness with learning choreography though; I suspect it's a mild sort of learning disability. It takes me a lot of repetition and breaking down movements before I can understand what each limb is doing and which direction things are moving. I had the same problem with aikido and every attempt to dance or do exercise videos or similar activities. I do eventually get it, but learning something like "Omiyage" is seriously frustrating until it clicks.