Monday, November 4, 2013

Question Everything: Being good

What does it mean to be “good at taiko?”  In other words, as we practice, we’re all trying to be “good” taiko players, regardless of whether we want the spotlight, or want to enjoy some activity, or want to empower the community, etc.

I’m pretty good at twirling and spinning my bachi; does that make me good at taiko?  Ehh, probably not.  I can play don doko pretty loud and fast for a long time, does that make me good at taiko?  Maybe.  Why maybe?  Because it’s just a single skill and in itself doesn’t really say much.  If I can’t do anything else well, how would my only proficient skill define me?

Let’s take player #1.  Player #1 has excellent hands and soloing ability, but really bad form and terrible kiai?  If, hypothetically speaking, this person is 50% awesome and 50% terrible, does that make them “good at taiko”?  Or does it have to be a situation where there’s more strengths than weaknesses?

On to player #2, who enhances the ensemble with the best energy on stage.  The hitch is that they act like a jerk to other members of their group behind the scenes.   Is player #2 “good at taiko”?  Does the way a person interacts with their group affect this measure?  Or does it only matter what they bring when they’re actually playing taiko?

Finally, player #3 can’t stay on tempo, has weak striking ability, and takes a long time to learn new stuff – but damn do they *try*, and set an example to other people in how to approach hard tasks.  Is #3 “good at taiko” simply because of their tenacity?  Or does skill play a larger role?

There’s a huge missing variable in all these cases, which some of you might have noticed.  What kind of group are these players in?  Is it a group that values teamwork over chops?  Stage presence over depth of ability?  Power of striking over fluidity of movement?  What kind of group you’re in will effectively color what “good at taiko” means to you.  You might not totally agree with everyone in your group on who is “good” and who isn’t, but the group will have shaped your views somewhat.

Also, who’s judging?  Does a non-taiko player have the “right” to determine who is “good at taiko”?  Why not?   Maybe they think someone who is flailing about with terrible technique is “good” simply because it’s entertaining.  Maybe they think something simple and done well is boring, while those that play taiko know how difficult it can actually be.  But are they wrong in their judgments?  Are you “more correct” than they are?

A teacher can judge someone being ready to play a certain part, but teachers are human and sometimes ego or bias gets in the way.  I’m sure people with potential get held back because a teacher doesn’t like them for whatever reason (valid or not), so are they not “good at taiko” because the teacher thinks so?

What about you?  Do you think you’re “good at taiko”?   Why?  Why not?  Are you being biased?   Are you being harsh?  How many people would agree or disagree with you?  Again, subjectivity abounds.

So is there an answer?  Yes.  There are lots of answers!  But there is no RIGHT answer, for better or worse.  Best you can do is keep trying to improve, keep trying to learn, and keep inspiring others around you to do the same.

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