Thursday, October 31, 2013

What I used to think...

In my first year or so of taiko, I used to think that:

- I only needed one pair of bachi.
- Japanese taiko was mostly "traditional" kumidaiko.
- Crossovers (on okedo) were the most impressive thing.
- Paradiddles were impossible!
- Getting a better sound meant hitting harder.
- Calluses meant you were skilled
- Taiko would just be a hobby
- Bachi were bachi (length and weight didn't matter much)
- There were just a few reasons why people played taiko.

This is just a partial list, and over the years assumptions came and went.  I wonder what I would think 10 years from now about what I think now?

What about you?  What do you know (or think you know) now that was different from what you thought in the beginning?

Monday, October 28, 2013


I had a post planned for today but decided to pull it because it might be taken in a negative light.  As much as I like to stir things up sometimes for the sake of dialogue, I don't want to cause ill will in the community at all.


Why don't I work on another blog post for Thursday and all of you enjoy this video?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Taiko-thon 2013

I don't normally promote events, but this one is coming up soon and is for a cause near and dear to me!

The Taiko Community Alliance is holding "Taiko-Thon 2013" next Saturday, November 2nd.  They're planning to have taiko groups playing or submitting clips all day long, starting at 9:00am PST and going until the afternoon, maybe as late as 5:00pm?  Could be earlier, I'm not sure.  All of this will be broadcast over Livestream, but you'll need to go to their site HERE to watch the fun.

San Jose Taiko will be performing a 15-minute set at the top of the program, but I'm not sure who else

The goal is to raise $50,000 in pledges by December 31st, 2013, which will help future North American Taiko Conferences and the future of the TCA.

To ensure that NATC can continue to improve and to help the TCA meet the growing needs of the Taiko Community, your support will be greatly appreciated.  Also, no one from the TCA asked me to post this, I just want them to do really well so we can all benefit!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Time for a nap...

Not much of a post today.  Had a 3-day drive to Colorado last week, 5 days of tour in the middle, and a 3-day drive back from Nebraska.  Having that right after the 40th anniversary makes for a lot of material to write about but a very tired blogger.

On the flip side, my 500th post is coming up, and that should be fun.  I have a new series of posts in mind that might be helpful to a lot of people who both read this regularly and bring new people to the blog.

Keep well and keep practicing, y'all!

Thursday, October 17, 2013


When is copying someone or something good?  When is it bad?

When you start playing taiko, it's really good to have someone to copy, in the sense that you are trying to learn how to "be" by replicating their motions and sensibilities.  But after a time, if you continue to copy someone, you're not getting better as an artist, you're only getting better at copying.

Some might say if you are copying someone truly great, then you are learning how to be truly great as well.  To me, it's good to continue to learn from someone truly great, but to copy them for too long stifles the potential someone might have.  On top of that, you can only copy someone as much as you are like them - physically, mentally, background, etc.  If you spend too much time trying to copy someone that's too dissimilar to you, you'll be spending a lot of time compensating when you could be improving.

Another type of copying is taking someone's "moves" in your solo.  If someone in your group has a signature move or moves they do during any given solo, and you do that same move during yours, this can be good...or really bad.  If your group is ok with that sort of thing, or the other player is, that's great.  Otherwise, you're asking for a lot of trouble!  It can be a way to try new moves you wouldn't normally do, but it also means you're not exercising your creative muscles!  Be careful of taking moves you see from other taiko players/groups, unless you would feel comfortable talking to them in person about what you did...

Finally (at least for this post), there's copying another group's songs, which is a really big subject to delve into and so I'll stay brief.  Copying another song that's not open source without permission is just plain wrong.  Copying with permission is fine, but like the above, each song you copy means less opportunity to flex your creative muscle.  Too many songs like that, and you stunt the growth of the group!  On the flip side, you might find that copying a song in this way gives spark to a different ideas and ways of thinking/composing within your group that you normally would not have come to.

So to copy or not to copy?  I don't have the answers, so all I can say to you is think before you copy!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Learning what's not taught

How much are you learning from your teachers?  How much are you learning aside from that?

Teachers teach us.  That's the whole idea of being a teacher, right?  But teachers, no matter how good, will have their limitations, things they can't teach.

Sometimes it's hard to figure out what you're not being taught, but even harder to be proactive and learn it on your own or with someone else.

In my opinion, a really good teacher does not want you to be a clone or a copy of them.  Those who do seem insecure or have a dangerous ego.  The good teachers want to teach you, but will want you to grow in ways they might not be able to teach.

But in order to do that, you have to look at what they're not able to help you with and then figure out where to go from there.  Honor your teachers by growing, not by copying!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

40th Anniversary: Behind the Scenes (Spoilers!)

Last Saturday was our 40th Anniversary Concert, a 2-hour production with 20 performers from SJT, 5 of our junior members, 8 dancers from Abhinaya Dance Company, 3 of their musicians, and 1 DJ from the Bangerz.  The entire second half was a 60-minute medley of 25 of our songs without pause.  It was one of the best performances I’ve ever been a part of and one I think people will remember many years from now.

For this post, I wanted to give people a look into what a day in the theater is like for such a big event, since it’s such an immense undertaking.  I’m not going to say TOO much, because I don’t want to ruin the mystique or get myself in trouble, haha.  However, I know that some people are curious about what it’s like to make this kind of a show happen.

Most of us arrive at the theater by 9am Saturday to start unloading the equipment brought in both a large Budget truck and one of our vans.  Some people have arrived earlier to prep the stage or start working with the Lighting Director.  The stage crew has already started building the riser (raised stage) in the back.

With so many of us available, it takes about 90 minutes to prep all the equipment.  The shime are tied in the lobby stairwell, the okedo tied and strapped and given wraps, the stands assembled, the tables set on both sides and covered in blankets for all of our bachi and percussion.

There’s a crew working on the lobby displays, and a crew working on the merchandise tables and T-shirt display.  Actually, I think it was the same crew doing both!  There are a couple of people setting up the green room, where food is put out.  Lighting is still going on and the projections/videos are being tested and tweaked.  Our sound technician arrives around this time.  During the whole time we’ve been there, the theater crew is lowering and raising pipes (where they hang the lights and other things from) and constantly working around (and in between) us.  They don’t get in our way and we try to stay out of theirs!

From here it’s a bit of waiting, until we can help one of the teams.  The merchandise table needs people to fold shirts, the spike team needs people to help place and mark where the drums go.  By now most of us have put our personal stuff in the dressing rooms upstairs and hung our happi on the clothes racks on both sides of the stage for the multiple quick changing required later.  There’s a lunch order made at a couple of different places nearby and then there’s a bit of a break for those who aren’t helping one of teams.

After lunch comes the sound check, where we run a couple of the songs where microphones are used.  Levels need to be balanced, especially for the non-taiko instruments (violin, hand drums, vocals).  From there we get ready to run the entire show, in costume, with all the costume changes, lighting, and sound that we can.  Some of the women from SJT need to do hair and makeup during this time.  For the run-through, some non-playing things may not be ready or set, but adjustments can be made once people see what happens.  Yes, that means we are playing the concert before we play the concert.  That’s two shows in the space of about six hours.

Dinner break in the green room is noisy and crowded as people eat what they need to before the final push.  We have performers and technicians and family and some ex-SJT members, and the mood is pretty relaxed.  The show starts at 8 and we’re ready to go at 7:45 to bring everyone together and center.

There’s a delay because of the line outside, so we wait for 10 minutes, but once we start, it’s on.  All those nights and weekends and so many hours spent outside of practice in prepping and planning come to fruition.  As we perform, we don’t know what the audience is really seeing – the effect of the lighting isn’t known to us until we watch the video on the following day.  But it doesn’t matter; we’re putting it out there with all we’ve got.

The two hours pass by so fast due to all the times we’ve rehearsed it and the joy of playing.  We’re off in the lobby after the end and see fans, family, friends, so many people happy with what they’ve seen and happy to see us.  It’s hard to talk to any one person for too long because there’s someone else always coming up, and so we don’t always get to say goodbye.  And it’s not long before we have to get backstage to start packing up, still running on adrenaline and excitement.

Personal stuff gets put away, costumes grabbed from the racks, then changing upstairs.  Equipment is broken down, drums are normally untied (but we don’t have time this time), everything is put into boxes or bags, spikes are peeled off the stage.  All the food needs to be packed, all the displays packed, all the merchandise packed plus an accounting for our totals.  It’s chaotic and if you don’t have something to do, it’ll take three seconds to find what to help with.  And everything that just got packed tightly in the truck and van is then taken back to the studio to be unloaded once more.

It’s now 1:15am on Sunday and we circle up, just the remaining SJT members and a few volunteers to close out and thank everyone for their hard work.

So does it always happen like that?  Nope.  Did it all go as planned?  Nope.  Am I going to explain?   Nope!  But for those who don’t play concerts or do larger events like that - or who are just curious - this was a glimpse into what went on in order to make a single anniversary show happen – and that’s just the day of, not the days, weeks, and months leading up to it.  Hope to see you at our 45th!  And 50th, 55th, 60th

Monday, October 7, 2013


Short post today, since we just finished our 40th Anniversary show.  *phew*!

So just a quote for today.  I really like this one.

“You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star"
- Fredrick Nietzsche

Thursday, October 3, 2013

40th Anniversary concert

This Saturday is San Jose Taiko’s 40th Anniversary concert.  It's a one-shot, two-hour show with quite a lot crammed into it!  We’ve got a first half showcasing some of the more themed pieces, from newer works to more familiar numbers.  One of the pieces guest-stars a member of the Bangerz, marking our 4th production with them to date.  We end the half with a longer collaborative section with Abhinaya Dance Company, making it the 4th year we’ve worked with them.  The second half is one single medley of 22 pieces, songs flowing from one to another.  The longer you’ve seen us play, the more songs you’ll recognize!

For this concert, the biggest challenge for me is long-past.  As one of the three members who created and taught the medley, we had to pick the songs, pick the order, figure out how to flow them, pick personnel, distribute parts and responsibilities, decide which of us would be teaching which “chunks”, and then teach it all to the rest of the group.  Because we were able to do all that earlier on, I feel like I’m able to glide on autopilot for the rest of the way.  Normally I say autopilot is a bad thing because it tends to make people lazy, but in this case, it’s a way to trust that I can do what needs to be done and let me focus my energies on making my actual performance even stronger.

I realize I sound a bit…mellow in this post, not what you’d expect with such a production only three days away.  For me it’s been 20 years of concerts, including four “anniversary” concerts.  I see people with nervous energy and I remember myself being there, but that feeling has been replaced by confidence.  I do miss those butterflies somewhat!  I know when I step foot on stage – actually for a minute before that – I’ll snap into performance mode and not only bring everything I have, but also show the audience what it means to be a member of SJT.

I wish you could all be able to see what we’ve created; it’s no small feat.  The collaborations and medley alone are impressive but the show as a whole is a very powerful experience!  Here’s to the next 40!