Monday, December 29, 2014

Posers

To my dismay, there's still a good amount of drama about what is "authentic" taiko.  Or who is "more" of a certain taiko attribute.  It's not unique to taiko, but I feel we - you, me, the people you know in the taiko community - can do a lot to address this.

The term "poser" has several meanings, but the one I'm going with for this post is "a person that tries hard to be something they're not."

For example, some people join taiko groups looking for a connection to Japanese culture, without any blood-ties to Japan.  To some, those people aren't authentic enough.  They're not Japanese and therefore not as good as someone who is.  But who's "Japanese enough"?  Wtf does that even mean?  I have met several Caucasians that act way more Japanese than some Japanese people I know.  Sooo...what's more "authentic", ethnicity or intention?  If it's important to someone to have that connection and you think of them as a poser, does that make their connection any less important?

Then there's looking at specific styles of taiko, like Miyake, Hachijo, etc.  Would you rather watch a performance of really skilled players who take a style and modify it to make for a dazzling show?  Or people with less skill who stay true to the style but aren't as interesting to watch?  Now when I say "dazzling", I'm being subjective.  Imagine it would be dazzling to you, however the case may be.  Some of you would pick the former, some the latter.  Who's right?  Is one side a "poser" because they don't agree with the other?

Maybe it's a skill thing, seeing someone that's not very talented with taiko and instead of just thinking "they're not very good", the reaction is to think they're trying to be something they're not.  But who are you - are we - to tell someone what they should and shouldn't try?  "Sorry grandpa, you're too old to be having fun.  Sit on the couch and watch TV instead because you're a grandpa."  Would you say that?

I know appearances contribute to the "poser" commentary a lot:  Hachimaki with the red-and-white rising sun, hair in a bun with chopsticks stuck through it, people looking/acting like they're trying to be Japanese...but maybe that's all they know?  Like you never did anything embarrassing in the past, eh?  Maybe the reason they dress or look a certain way is because they haven't been exposed to the same information you and I have.  What's that proverb about holding a candle versus cursing the darkness?  Exclusion takes a lot less effort than inclusion.

Labeling someone as a poser is easy, even if that's not the actual word used and even if it's only inner dialogue.  It's a LOT harder to try to see the value and joy of someone maybe less skilled playing taiko in a way that you're not particular fond of.  It's easier to dismiss someone out of hand than think about the positives.  It's easier to act better-than-thou than it is to let it go.  And be careful you're not into the power trip that comes from negative labeling!

A caution to being a label-er is that there are probably people labeling YOU.  If you think

I still struggle sometimes with this sort of thing, it's true.  There are some people who take things to an extreme and it's hard not to have these sort of thoughts.  Even just writing this post helps put things in perspective for me.  But there are others out there - that I've met, that I've talked to - who are worried about being labeled in a bad light, and it seriously holds them back.  They worry about being "authentic enough" so that other people don't view them poorly, and it stunts their growth - it stunts our community's growth!

Don't be the person that shoots others down because you have issues.  Don't be the reason that your fellow taiko players are held back.  We don't all have to like everyone or everything, but the more support we can give each other, the better off we'll all be!  If you can't say something nice, kiai instead!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Video: What kind of drummer are you?

So I came across this video the other day.  It still makes me laugh to watch it.

Simple post today.  If you were to look at your playing through this kind of lens, what would you be?  It doesn't have to be one of the labels in this video.  It doesn't have to be self-deprecating!  What would people label you as

For me, I'm thinking a good title would be "Wtf did you just play?" haha.

What about you?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Relaxing, revisited

So in my post here I talked about looking at how relaxed you actually are.

After my first chiropractic session (nothing major, but interesting), I started thinking about how difficult it is to truly relax, to rid tension in the body.  A couple of times I wound up tensing a split-second before an adjustment, even though I wanted to stay relaxed and nothing ever hurt.

It made me think that even if you sit down - or lie down - and feel relaxed, there's no telling how much tension your body is holding onto.  I wonder if the only way to make yourself be relaxed is to be exhausted and force the body to release that tension.

If you've ever gone through Roy Drills, you know what I mean.  Roy Drills (named after Roy Hirabayashi, one of SJT's Founding Members) are meant to tire you out.  Straight beat, doro tsuku, don tsuku, other patterns over and over and over from slow to fast to slow to faster.  The long sessions can go around 40 minutes and if you're on naname or tachi-uchi (horizontal stand), you're going to hurt.  After a while, if you're not pacing yourself (and you shouldn't be), you're going to get tense.  Tight.  Sore.  Stiff.  And the only way to survive is to relax!  You'll still hurt, but you have to find a way to relax because you simply can't stay tense.

Relaxation is a skill that most of us don't practice.  It's not easy to relax when you're trying to play, but can you really relax when you're at rest?  The body is a great compensator.  It works itself into knots and mis-alignments to deal with pain and tension that you may not even be aware of.  So when you think you're relaxed, you may simply be in a "holding pattern" where the body is adjusting so you don't feel all the things that are tense.

Even if you can get a massage or an adjustment or have yourself looked at in that way, take some time to practice relaxing.  Maybe look into something like meditation or simply take a physical inventory of your body while still and taking some quiet time.  The important thing is to take care of yourself so that you - just as much of an instrument as your bachi - can continue to perform to the best of your ability!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Question Everything: Your last performance

Here's a fun question for you.

If you knew that the next time you played taiko would be your last (moving, retiring, etc.), how would you approach it differently?  What would you do?

Would you practice harder beforehand to make sure you nailed your parts?
Would you hold nothing back on stage, putting every bit of energy out there?
Would you appreciate all those little moments that happen during a performance even more?
Would you be even more supportive during the set to make sure people remembered you favorably?

If you answered "yes" to those questions and came up with some other things I didn't list, then I have another question for you...










...what's stopping you from doing all of that the next time you play?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Talking ≠ Teaching

In many cases, either extreme of a possible scenario is equally bad.  For example, being overly cautious about failure vs. being overly fearless are both dangerous.  And you wouldn't want to hit so hard that something breaks, nor hit so lightly that no one can hear you, right?

There are, however, some exceptions to both extremes being bad.  One of them is about talking when teaching.

On one extreme, I can take someone who's never played taiko or done karate before and get them going, without having to say one word.  I know I can work on general stance, how to punch, how to strike, basic patterns, etc.  I bet you can do it with taiko too!  Granted, you won't get much in the way of details or nuances because you're pretty limited, but you can still make some good progress.

Now take the other extreme, and have me teach someone by talking a ton.  And talking and talking and talking.  Explaining this, commenting on that, sidebars here and experiences there.  Some people do learn better by listening, but there's an overload point for every listener.  Also, time listening is time spent not doing.  For taiko, doing is crucial.

I've been on the other side of this before - being a talkative teacher - where I had SO much information I wanted to get across, and the only way I knew how to do it was to talk!  And people responded by blinking at me, either trying to process or wondering how to politely ask, "what?"

It took me a while as a teacher to realize that talking does not equal communicating.  Communication is about imparting or exchanging information, while talking is simply a delivery mechanism.  If no one's there to pick up your delivery, it gets left at the door.  Or something.  Many students with an overly-talkative teacher eventually stop listening.  It's not because they want to be disrespectful, it's because they no longer know what's important information and it's too tiring to treat everything as important, so they go into "gonna wait until we start doing stuff" mode.

As I said earlier, doing is really important in taiko.  It's often far, far better to have students try doing something even if they've got issues to fix rather than to expect them to "get it" on the first try because you've explained it "well enough".  Odds are, with the latter, you're going to have to repeat yourself because people forgot some of what you said.  If different people are forgetting different things, you could very well wind up repeating most of what you said - defeating the purpose of saying so much in the first place!

Some people can say little and communicate a lot.  Those are awesome teachers.  Most of us have to talk more than that because we're not at that level yet!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Drill: Double-Triplets

video

 I've been doing this pattern for years but never realized it would be a good drill.  I really need a better name for it, though...  Inverse triplets?  Reverse-lets?  Double-lets?  Hmm.  Anyways...

Double-triplets is a drill that works your dynamics. To do this drill you'll need to be familiar with the basic triplet pattern: accenting the first note of three so it sounds like don tsu ku (loud-soft-soft), then repeating.  The key to success is in maintaining clear and consistent dynamics.

Once you're comfortable with triplets, you can try the double-triplets: accenting the first TWO notes of three so it sounds like don don tsu (loud-loud-soft), then repeating.

In the video, I start with triplets then switch to double-triplets.  I pause, then start again at a faster tempo.  However, I highly recommend that you start slow and not switch back and forth as I do in the video.  The video is short and designed to give you the concept - simply doing the pattern over and over is the drill!

Be careful when you play so that you're not playing loud-loud-kind of soft.  Playing double-triplets fast but sloppy is useless, so go slow and work on dynamics, not speed!


Monday, December 8, 2014

Your development is your responsibility

Been thinking about this one a lot...

When you're new to a group, simply going to practice is going to make you better.  New drills, new songs, new opportunities, new people to learn from, etc.  You kind of don't have to do much except absorb it all and you'll improve as a taiko player.

To a point.

Sooner or later, there's going to be a point where simply going to practice isn't making you that much better, and a point after that where it's only helping you maintain where you are, but not so much improving your skills.

Here's how I see a person's timeline:

Phase 1: New to the group, learning and improving with every practice.
Phase 2: Been in the group for a while, not growing as fast as before.
Phase 3: Longer time in the group, growth not coming from attending practices.

When you hit that third phase, the only way you can truly continue to grow is to take your development in your own hands.  It's not that you have to look outside your group; you can probably find a lot of opportunities within your group to push yourself and continue progressing forward.

I've mentioned the concept of "Beginner's Mind" before and this might seem to go against that idea, but it doesn't.  Beginner's Mind is about staying open to improvement; wanting to learn new things.  That doesn't mean you will improve, just that you want to.

The hardest part about all of this is being aware of where you are in that timeline; we all hit phase three someday, no matter how good you are.  You won't realize you're there until after you've been there for a while, and then it's up to you to deal with that information.

To wait for the group to "make" you better means you may never get any better.  I realized one day that was exactly where I was, and had been expecting the group to "make" me better.  The group has limited resources and the priority was the newer members, not someone who'd been in the group for over a decade.  Once I realized that, I wasn't resentful, I was enlightened.  The power to improve was now in my hands and not anyone else's responsibility!

That didn't mean it would be easy, but I knew I had control over where I went - and I've been taking steps to continue to grow.  The easier path would be to just stay where I was and hope that *something* would help me improve.  I don't believe in growth fairies, so that wasn't a viable path for me...

So where are you in that timeline?  What can you do to keep improving when the group can't help you as much as it used to?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Dimmer switch


Sometimes, you'll get a critique or a comment that you can treat as a light switch: on or off.    It could be something like, "don't kiai in that spot of the song," or "strike closer to the center of the drum".  They're things you can just start/stop doing, even if they don't happen without some work.

However, most comments are much more like a dimmer switch.  You need to make incremental changes rather than just "on" or "off".  Examples might be like, "use your lower body to generate power," or "don't overhit," or even "interact more with other players."

Taking any of those critiques as a off/on idea means you'll be wiggling around ungrounded, playing too quietly, or staring at people to the point of being creepy, lol.  While it's easier - in a way - to just push toward the other extreme, but it's not always best.

If you take small or moderate steps incorporating an idea, how far do you take it?  That, I can't answer.  A lot depends on your abilities, the expectation of the person that gave you the comment, the group aesthetics, etc.  You'll have to figure it out for yourself.  And in doing that, you get stronger.  Switching from one side to another can lead to improvement if the destination is what's truly valuable.  Incremental changes are much more about the journey.

It's not always easy to know when to take incremental steps, but figuring out when to do it is a part of the learning process.  The more control you have over your body, the more things you'll be able to do!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Success vs. failure

Does it ever seem like you fail way more than you succeed?  Or that the pain of failure hits you way harder than the glory of success?

Think about the things you've achieved in taiko.  Playing that really tricky section, finally pushing it through that stamina-draining song, drilling a pattern faster than before, etc.  They took time to accomplish, right?  You had a goal and you had to work at getting there, whether it took five minutes or five years.  Success comes after a period of time, gradually.

Failure, however, tends to be much more in-the-present.  You can't play that passage, you're gassed before the song ends, your solo crashes, etc.  These things tend to be short-lived even if they keep happening as you try and try again.

You can think of success as being a long-term process while failure is a short-term setback.  Individual successes tend to have less impact unless you take the time to acknowledge what you've achieved and it's best to acknowledge it more than just once!  Otherwise you're not accounting for all the time and effort spent into making those successes and they become somewhat diluted.

With this thinking, any one success is worth way more than several failures and this can help put things in perspective when it's needed the most!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Mozart and soloing

I was watching a special on Mozart the other day and I'm kicking myself for not remembering where.  There was an expert who had studied Mozart's works and talked a lot to the idea of soloing within a composition.

I planned to write more about the special but I'm forgetting too many details to make it useful.  However, there was one part that I do remember: for soloing, or "decoration", Mozart felt that this time was to deepen the expression of the piece, not to show off your finger virtuosity.

If we apply this to taiko (which is easy enough to do), it makes you think about how much your solo should relate to the song you're playing.

I have pretty decent hands and a really good feel for syncopation.  I can play some really complex, funky stuff in a solo.  But will it do justice to the song or am I just showing off?  How will I show depth across a series of pieces if all I'm doing is letting myself go nuts?

You can think about this as restraintA good musician has chops.  A great musician knows when to show them off and when NOT to.

So how do your solos accentuate and deepen the expression of the pieces you play?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Answers

The other night at the dojo, sensei had us pair up closest in rank, do an assigned kata, give comments, then have the person doing the kata give themselves comments based on self-evaluation.

In my pair, I watched first.  I made a comment on her posture in a few moves, then about how she was making a lot of "noise" in stomping about as she moved.  That note wound up taking the rest of the class...

Essentially, I wanted to know why she was making loud stomping when she went through her kata.  There are some actual stomps in the kata, but if the intent behind the move doesn't have a stomp, why stomp when moving?

I asked her why she stomped on the non-stomps.  Her answer was "because it feels stronger."  I then asked her why did it feel stronger?  She didn't have an answer.  At our level, that's a really bad response.

Before getting to that point, though, I was asking her why she was stomping loudly in some moves but not in others.  Her reply was to say, "well tell me which moves should be loud; I don't know."  It was really missing the point and eventually sensei came over and was able to phrase the question better for her.

Granted, understanding a technique in karate means something different than understanding a technique in taiko, but it comes down to body mechanics in either.  But her comment tonight - which she repeated several times to me - made me think about the techniques we do and take for granted.

Why do you do the motions you do?  Maybe the surface level is "because that's how I was taught", but is that really enough for you?  Are you content not finding answers and being a passive learner?  When do you take your learning into your own hands and ask yourself questions about how and why you do the things you do?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Letting it go


When you play music, you're playing in the moment.  When you make a mistake in that moment, it's in the past before you know it.  The problem is when you linger on that mistake - now in the past - while you still have to play in the present!

To some degree, we all react to mistakes when we play.  The ones who are best at coping show it the least, but a facial reaction or a few extra seconds of recovery can still hit them.  What makes a person better at recovery is more than just "experience", it's being able to let things go.

In karate, I'm finding that I'm trying too hard to make things fit in a self-defense situation.  I want my opponent to react a certain way, be in a certain position.  When they don't contort in the way I expect, I try to force them into the "right" position instead of "letting it go" and reacting from what is, not what I was expecting.  I'm not truly in the moment, but unlike playing music it could put me in a dangerous place!

Back to taiko - I've seen people drop their bachi and instead of getting a spare that's closer to them, they step away from their spot and awkwardly attempt to retrieve it.  It's even worse when they miss and have to try again!  Eek.  That shows that they kept that moment for far too long instead of letting it go and moving on.  Even when there's no spare bachi to be had, it's about making the decision: will going after it will be more of a distraction than going without?  Sometimes it's a hard call, to be sure.

I've seen people mess up a solo or a passage of a song and scrunch up their face, then leave it scrunched - which forces them to remember that moment, which doesn't help anyone.  If you make a face, un-make it as soon as you can so that your body can forget it as well as your mind!

In some ways, the more of a zen-like approach you take to playing, even if you play at a very high level, the more you can react and adapt to what happens when you play.  It's like any other distraction; how much do you fixate on the person dancing badly in the front row or that you forgot to bring tabi for the show?  Does focusing on those things help the performance?  Nope.  Just as you have to let those go, so with mistakes you might make.  Sure, take steps afterwards to minimize making them again, but that happens later.

So it pretty much comes down to being flexible, and then from there sometimes you also need to be decisive.  The hardest part is to get over that desire to "fix" something that's only there because you're holding on to it.  Let it go!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Finding value

SJT was very fortunate to have Kyosuke Suzuki do some workshops with our Staff before we left on tour.  Suzuki-sensei teaches, among other things, shishimai.  Shishimai is often refered to as "Japanese Lion Dance", but that's not really the best way to describe it.  There's a taiko part, a kane part, a fue part, and of course, the dance itself.  There's a short bio on him on the North American Taiko Conference website here.

Currently we're in the middle of about 4-5 sessions now where those Staff members are teaching what they learned to the rest of the group.  We're learning the kane parts and the patterns played on a pod of two taiko.

The taiko patterns are often difficult for different reasons - syncopation, too similar to each other, etc. - but it's all made more difficult by having to sit in seiza (kneeling) for as long as possible.  Staff had to do it for hours; we're *encouraged* to do it for as long as we can, ha.

Anyways, I've been thinking a lot about the value of learning these patterns.  We're not going to be performing it, and it's not something we're going to be practicing all that much I don't think.  While there are a few challenging patterns, I'm not struggling all that much.

It would be easy for me to just go through the motions, play the patterns, and bide my time until we stop doing this stuff.  But if I'm going to be there anyways, I should be trying to find value in what I'm doing.  I usually wind up observing what helps me learn the patterns easier, and that's valuable information.

Sometimes I just need to close my eyes and let myself miss a few notes if it helps me nail that ONE note I keep messing up so in the next round, I can catch it.  Sometimes I have to watch the person teaching us like a hawk and sometimes I have to not focus on anything and just let my hands play what they want.  Another aspect to the value is that while I don't think I'm necessarily getting an immediate benefit from these patterns, who knows what's sinking into my brain or my hands!

My point here is that if I only see value in the obvious things, what am I missing out on?  Am I really that aware of my synaptic processes to where I can tell what will add to my skill set?  Is anyone that good?  What if doing some things that aren't immediately dazzling makes me a better player or artist?  If I'm going to be doing it anyways, why not use the time to find value in something even if it's not something that excites me?

One mindset leads to frustration and stagnation.  The other leads to growth and awareness.  Which one would you choose for yourself?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Grip and friction


The other day I was trying to get two pieces of paper apart.  Exciting, I know.

The papers were aligned exactly alike and I had pinched a corner between my thumb and forefinger to try and separate them.  Instinctively, I pressed hard and tried moving my fingers in opposite directions, but nothing happened.  Then I tried easing up and going as gently as I could - which worked.

Now this doesn't call for a celebration, but it made me think about how much tension people use when they grip bachi.  When I teach workshops to people who've never played taiko before, I tell them that you don't want the feeling like someone could pull on it and never get it out of your hand.  I say that ideally it feels like it could fall out pretty easily.  That's an oversimplification, but still true.

I rarely hear people talking about surface tension or friction when it comes to grip.  Some will address the micro-adjustments that are needed to maintain hold on the bachi while playing, but there's a lot in how much surface tension plays a role in that.

There was an episode of Mythbusters where they showed that when you interlace the pages of two phone books, alternating page by page, the total amount of friction acting on all of those pages makes the books nearly inseparable.  A couple of pages doesn't add up to much, but hundreds of them do!

Regardless of where you're making contact between the hand and the bachi, you should be aware how little actual strength you need to keep the bachi from sliding out.  You'll need different amounts of grip strength while raising it up, bringing it down, and making impact.  While at first you should know what you need for each, until it becomes instinctual you run the risk of gripping harder than you need to and losing both quality of sound and ease of motion.  So how do you know how much is "just right"?

There are two ways to try to get the optimal amount of surface tension with your bachi.  You can either grip too hard (normal for some) and ease up until you find it, or start with barely enough to keep it in your hand and gradually tighten your grip.  I find that if you do the former - start tight and loosen up - you're more likely to revert because it's like you're degrees away from what's familiar.  You might also start with a hand position that's not optimal.  However, if you start with the latter, you're more likely to be aware of adding more tension than you need when you started with nearly none.

While this isn't the easiest concept to get across via text, the most important idea I can instill is that you should think about where your bachi is making contact, how much friction you need, and when that should increase or decrease as you play.

Think about it this way: if you have to separate two sheets of paper with two fingers, you can use strength to do it or try to go as lightly as possible.  With two sheets to separate (one strike), it really doesn't matter which way you choose.  But if you have to separate two pages 1000 times (1000 strikes), you're going to want to conserve your strength and be efficient! 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Cobu


Here's an interesting little clip.  I'd never heard of Cobu before a few weeks ago when Uniqlo started having taiko groups play at various store openings in the U.S.

Cobu is composed of Japanese women but based out of New York.  They have some really interesting choreography and very good chops as a group.  I want to see more of their performances to decide where I stand, but so far I like what I see.

During this clip I was wondering how many people think of something like this video when they refer to "Japanese taiko"?  There are a lot of people who want to go to Japan to study taiko, but what about studying with groups that are doing much more contemporary stuff like this?  It's still Japanese taiko, but I'll bet there are many groups like Cobu doing interesting stuff like this at a quality level.

I like that people want to know where taiko came from, but I wonder what would happen to the "taiko scene" if more people wanted to study taiko from more contemporary Japanese groups that are pushing the art form rather than the more "traditional" ones?

I wonder if North American taiko will see groups more like this emerge from NA players - groups that explore a very different style and energy than what's being done now.  We definitely have groups that have a distinct style here now, but it's a comparatively small number.  Will groups like Cobu help push the next generation of taiko?  Or will people continue to prefer more festival or "traditional" styles of taiko?

I'll get back to this post in 30 years and we'll talk about what's happened.  :)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Question Everything: Definitions

I've written about this before: a post here and a post there.  But I've been thinking about it again, so I'm going to see what comes out.

How important is it to you to call things by their correct title?  Are there things that you're more lax about than others?  What about your pronunciation of the things you want to get right?

Group A might call something a "josuke" while group B calls it a "chudaiko".  How do you know which group is right?  Who's to say what's right?  Group Y might spell it "bachi" while group Z spells it "batchi".  Who's correct?

More importantly, if you're in one of those groups and see another group calling/spelling something different than what you're used to, does it bother you?  Why?

A shekere is a hollowed-out gourd with beads or seeds attached to a net that surrounds the body of the gourd.  A hyotan is also a gourd but with the beads on the inside.  I found myself getting upset when people would call a shekere a hyotan, but then I would also catch myself doing the same thing!  I'm still in the process of letting go of that concern; it's something I need to reconcile.  All I can do is to try my best to be consistent in my own terminology in the meantime.

If you're someone to whom terminology really matters, how assured are you that you're saying things correctly?  While there are people who are saying things with the right accent and inflection, there are people who aren't.  Should it be just as important to get the word right as the pronunciation?  Why or why not?  What happens if someone corrects your pronunciation?  Do you get defensive?  Why?

Do you impart the same importance to non-Japanese things, if you incorporate those other things into your art like costumes, equipment, or concepts?  If not, why not?  What do you let "slide" and why?

While a lot of this depends on the group you're in, should your opinion match the group's opinion?  If the group doesn't care, should you?  If the group does cares a lot, should you?

And what happens when someone you respect or are obligated to listen to calls a thing something different to what you're used to?  Do you continue to call it what they did?  Do you revert after because you like your way more?  Why?

Regardless of which "side" you might fall on, there are valid arguments for either:

One side can argue that if you spend so much time worrying about correct terminology and correct pronunciation, you're still not going to be able to please everyone (i.e.; people outside of your group, important guests, etc.)  It also detracts from a more casual environment if people are just there to have fun.  If people know what you're referring to, differences in terms aren't important.

The other side can argue that part of the art is learning the proper words and way of saying those words.  It might be important to recognize where things come from and to respect those things, they need to be named correctly.

10 years ago, there wasn't that much information available to the taiko community; now there's almost TOO much available.  How much of that information matters to you may not matter to the person next to you, or quite the opposite!  But as always, you should ask where you stand on things and more importantly, why?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Compare and contrast

After the workshop we had with Eitetsu Hayashi, I did a lot of thinking about his odaiko style and how different it was from what we tend to do in SJT.  It made me think about the instruction I've had in various things over the years, mostly within karate and taiko.

My training in Capoeira and Tae Kwon Do made doing Shotokan karate much easier in the long run.  I understood my body better, I was lighter on my feet, and being fluid was much easier of a concept to put into practice.  All of that helped with karate, both understanding how to make small adjustments as well as incorporating common principles into my performance.

I'm pretty damned sure that if I never practiced karate, I wouldn't have made it into SJT, which means I never would have continued playing taiko.  And so I urge you to learn things that are both similar and different from what you do now in order to become a stronger player.

For example, my taiko makes my karate stronger because I have different ways of approaching rhythm and pacing, as well as ki and intention.  I also have options in how I want to use my body and alignment for different purposes.  The arts are very similar.  Capoeira also made my karate stronger, despite the two arts being very dissimilar.  I learned how to use the same muscle groups in different ways, understand extremes in balance, and learned how to move with another person in harmony before I ever learned that skill in karate.

I'm not saying that if you only focus in one thing you'll never be as good as if you study other things, because there are artists out there that only study one thing.  But for most of us, who aren't the best of the best or able to practice just that one thing and nothing else, I highly recommend you take the opportunity to do something that's different to what you're used to.

If you're lucky enough to go to a taiko conference, are you signing up for the things you're already comfortable with or things you have some practice in but want more?  While there's nothing intrinsically wrong with that, what about the workshops that touch on things you're not familiar with?  Don't move a lot when you play?  A dance workshop will open your eyes. Uncomfortable soloing?  Take a soloing workshop.  Only know your group's style of playing?  Learn a song that another group is teaching.  Shy away from more complex rhythms?  Take one of my workshops!  Yeah I know, shameless plug.  But you see my point.

It's just as valuable to learn something that's similar to what you do as it is learning something very different.  That idea shouldn't just be limited to conferences, either.  A short session on African dance will challenge any taiko player, a session with a Korean drummer will be just as difficult (trust me on this).  Sometimes you'll be lucky to have opportunities presented to you but often you'll have to seek them out.

This idea is more than just about playing taiko in more than one group.  I see a lot of players who look the same in one group as they do in another, so while they're getting more playing time, they're not necessarily learning anything different aside from the repertoire.  This is about taking a look at what you're doing and finding things that will both accentuate and challenge your concepts and abilities in order to give you more: more breadth, more depth, and ultimately, more fun!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Five minutes with Eitetsu Hayashi

Last night we were fortunate to have a workshop with Eitetsu Hayashi and his group Fu-un no Kai.

If you don't know who Eitetsu is, please do yourself a favor and look him up.  He's credited with coming up with the style of odaiko playing most of us are familiar with: facing away from the audience while in a deep stance.

They're performing Saturday and many of us are going up to see, but it was a nice treat to have his perspective and instruction for a few hours tonight.

At the end, after giving us the fundamentals of his particular style of odaiko with some practice, he had each of us go up and do a short solo while he watched.  This was followed by critique, which was much more than just a few sentences!

I was lucky enough to go 3rd, so I got a sense of what he might comment on and had a chance to prepare myself to NOT do those things, haha.  The whole night I was dealing with having to get in a massively low stance according to his standards (being flexible was a lifesaver here), so he took the drums not being high enough for me into consideration.

Oddly enough, I didn't feel nervous playing in front of Eitetsu, I was if anything more aware that some of our auditioning class was watching!  Anyways, I played whatever came to mind while trying to remember the notes from the previous two volunteers, but afterwards he still had notes for me.  Go figure!

There were two notes, one specifically about his style of stance and one about how much I move up and down when I'm soloing.  He didn't say that motion was bad, more that I should temper it with being more solid on my front leg at times to add emphasis and highlight the motion I choose to do.  He did say that if I develop my personal style using that motion, it could be quite interesting, which was very cool to hear.

It made me realize how much I do move, because when I watch myself I'm more focused on general kata, striking technique, even projection going rearwards.  So it was nice to hear something new and valid - even though it might not be as valid outside of the style it was framed in.

Now I don't want to make this a post just about my experience tonight; I want to turn it around and make it relevant to my readers!

Many of us only play in one group, one style, one "way".  But sometimes the best way to know what you're doing is to learn fundamentals from another "way".  Doesn't matter if you use it or agree with it; it gives you perspective.  And if you're lucky, you can add what you've learned to what you're doing and come out a better player for it!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Post-show questions

After a concert, 95% of the time we'll take a procession out to the lobby and greet the audience as they leave.

Sometimes people want to take pictures, sometimes we get asked for autographs, there's a lot of thank yous, and often we get asked questions.

Some of the more common ones I get asked are:

"How heavy are those drums?" (some of us are wearing katsugi okedo of different sizes)
"How do you have so much energy?"
"What are the drums made out of?"
"How often do you practice?"
"How long have you been with the group?"

Pretty standard stuff!

But there's one question in particular that I get just about once every venue, usually by Caucasians who are over 50. It's always said in good humor. And that question is, in one form or another:

"How did a White guy get to play taiko on stage?"

Usually, I reply to that question by putting my finger to my lips and making a "shhhh" sound, then telling them that the other members don't look up high enough to realize.

Yeah, it's a cheesy response, but it's a funny one.

Have any of you gotten unusual or awkward questions after a show?


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Fall Tour 2014, Part 2

So, you may have noticed I didn't post as much this tour!  That was my fault; a busier schedule, some unsecured Wi-Fi, and a new smartphone (distracting!) took me off my game a bit.

Where'd I leave off?  Ah, heading to KY.

We did two days with a split crew, four of us going to one location, four going to another.  The first day we each visited a school.  My team went to a Catholic school that hadn't had an assembly like this for several decades (if I recall correctly).  We were the first in hopefully much more artistic programming. The second day was different.  The other team visited an assisted living facility, where they found many of the audience eagerly awaiting the show!  My team visited a NECCO facility which housed boys with behavioral issues.  The staff had everything handled and the audience really enjoyed themselves.  The volunteers that came up got an experience they'll never forget!

We performed the third day of residency at the Paramount Arts Center which boasts its own friendly ghost.  Our shows by then were getting stronger as we were hitting our stride, as it were.

Our next stop was a smaller stage at the Fine Arts Center in Institute, WV.  We did an informal workshop on stage only two hours after we got there, then continued the tech.  The next day was a concert and we had plenty of time to prepare, but three of staff had to get up early to do a TV spot so they got to get some extra sleep after the interview.  In the morning we did another informal workshop on stage before a good seven hours on the road to get to Silver Springs, MD.

First day was mostly tech with one informal lecture/demonstration for students and teachers.  The next morning a few of us (including myself) went to the Mall in D.C. and visited various memorials and monuments: The Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the WWII memorial, the Korean War Memorial, and the Martin Luther King Memorial were the ones I can think of off the top of my head.  We had lunch at a farmer's market where I chatted up a kettle corn salesman and told him to try adding garlic to his kettle corn.  I got a free bag of popcorn for that, haha.

We made sure not to get too tired before the concert that night.  The next morning we had a school show in theater and the rest of the day off.  A couple of members went to the Mall while the rest of us had an early dinner + desert with a few members of Nen Daiko, some who had come to the show the previous night.

Another seven hours on the road the next day to Elmira, NY where we had dinner with two alumni from Yamatai Taiko out of Cornell University.  The following day we loaded into our last stage at the Gibson Theatre at Elmira College, for a shorter 75-minute show with no intermission.  It was also a smaller stage than previous concerts and we had to do some mental juggling to remember the changes required for each of us.

After the show, it was a whirlwind.  The show ended around 8:45, and we had to be on the road by 4:30 AM.  So we spent some time in the lobby with the audience, changed clothes, packed up everything for return freight, and drove back to the hotel.  Some of us (me, anyways) needed to eat dinner (leftovers from the massive lunch the College provided) and shower before bed.  A whole four hours of sleep later, I was packing up and getting ready to leave.

Three flights home with short lay-overs made for a very long morning, but everything went smoothly.  Eating a lot of food helped but by around 5:00 PM, I was pretty out of it, trying to keep awake until after dinner.

I regret not posting more frequently, because there were little things here and there that stood out.  Sometimes it was the comments from the audience after songs: "get out of here" was particularly memorable after one piece, said in impression and not actually wanting us to leave!  There was a post-concert review held in a laundromat because it was convenient.  And there were many, many games of Pirate Fluxx, where my natural ability to talk like a pirate actually came in useful for once!

March 2015 is our next tour, lasting longer at around four weeks so far.  Until then, back to regular posts and we'll see what I come up with!  Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Fall Tour 2014: Part 1

It's been seven days on this tour, and things have been going rather well!

Our first stop was to Decorah, IA, where we played for a house of about 800 at Luther College.  The reception was top-notch and it's worth noting that the pre-show announcement was one of the best ever given for us.  Aside from the usual "turn stuff off", the student doing the announcement talked about the Four Principles of SJT, the places we'd done workshops, and even one of the Hawaiian desserts one of our members introduced him to.  Pretty awesome.

The next concert was in Terre Haute, IN.  We played at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology to a smaller crowd of about 300, but it was a very appreciative crowd.  The crew took care of us really well from beginning to end and that's made for two really satisfying stops on our six-city tour.  We met a baseball coach in one of our workshops that had come to the concert the night before and was absolutely stoked by what he saw, noting both our choreography and our transitions.

Aside from the concerts, we've done one school show in-theater, one at a high school, and three in-theater lecture/demonstrations.

We don't have as much long-distance driving on this tour, which really helps in the long run.  We had an eight-hour drive between the two venues, but that was the longest single-day drive we'll have to endure.  We drive four hours tomorrow to Ashland, KY, and will have several simultaneous in-school school shows before another concert on Saturday night.

In some ways, this first leg has been pretty uneventful!  In a good way, though.  Will post more down the road!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Fall Tour 2014

Tomorrow, Oct. 1st, we leave for a 3-week tour.  We leave really really early.  I think we leave so early, it will be last week.

Anyways, this tour takes us into Decorah, IA, then through Terre Haute, IN, Ashland, KY, Charleston, WV, Silver Springs MD, then we wind up in Elmira, NY.

We haven't had a tour this long in a while, and I'm looking forward to having some fun and sharing taiko with people who don't get much of a chance to see it.  I'll blog here and there, maybe more when there's something interesting or less if things are pretty normal.

Hoping the flights go well, because we've historically had bad luck flying into Iowa.  Iowa is great to us, but flying, not so much!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Physician, heal thyself


From experience and watching people teach others, one of the hardest things to accept is having someone giving comments about how to fix something that they themselves aren't good at.

The first issue with this is problem pretty obvious - it's frustrating to take a comment like that because you're thinking if they can't do it, it's not fair for them to point it out.  Listening stops.

The second issue is that the comment may be very valid, but now it's been associated with the commenter, and perhaps unfairly invalidated.  So I may suck at staying on tempo and point out that you're not staying on tempo, but just because I have my own issues with it doesn't mean my comment's wrong.

I've heard this problem approached well by people who say "I know I have problems with this myself, but..." before they state the critique.  You don't want someone to give 50 comments like that, but it does help.

Not being able to do something well doesn't mean you shouldn't give comments that are valid when appropriate, but it will serve you well to think how those comments are perceived.  Maybe you'll even wind up with better insight of your own abilities and how to address the ones *you* get critique on!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Kamae

I've seen a lot of taiko songs where the performers walk to their drums and immediately start playing.  Sometimes it's on purpose, sometimes not.  What lacks in this case - whether or not you mind it - is kamae.

Kamae is roughly translated as "posture" or "ready".  Sometimes kamaete is used to tell people to "get ready" or "get into position."

I don't mean to say that people should always get into a set position before they play.  Well, sort of.

The idea of kamae to me isn't only about the physical.  Getting your body situated at the drum is just a part of it.  It's not even about getting into a specific stance, either.  You can be standing and still be in kamae.  There's a lot about the body being in a set position that helps the mind settle/focus just enough to get into a performance mode.  It's sort of like bowing to each other when practice begins - yes it's courtesy, but it signals that practice is beginning and the mindset should change to reflect that.

As an audience member, there can be a (not-so) subtle difference, as well.  Someone walking to the drum and totally in that performing mindset without a visible kamae can still *have* kamae. But when someone walks to the drum and either never quite settles, looks uncomfortable, or goes right into playing, that can be a missed opportunity.  It's that extra bit of showmanship, of performance, of letting the audience know that ooh, NOW it's starting.

You remember that first time you saw someone playing the odaiko in a way that made your jaw drop?  I bet they paused at the drum before they played it, right?  Maybe even took their time getting into a stance and/or time to bring their arms up in no particular hurry?   Now while it's not something you want for every song, it's an example of very deliberate kamae.

Ultimately, a group's style and your personal philosophy will dictate how important kamae is to you.  Still, it's good to think about if you're doing it or not, if others are or not, and what effect it has or doesn't.  That awareness, as always, only gives you more ways to improve your art!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Those fundamentals...

It's fun to learn new things.  A new song, a new form, a new style, new instrument, you name it, it can be fun! Even things that aren't new can be a lot of fun, like playing a song, soloing to a fun ji, sparring, practicing an advanced kata, etc.

But with all of those things, don't neglect the things that make doing those possible: the fundamentals!

When I'm at the dojo and see someone trying a technique that's too difficult for them, sometimes I'm able to tell them what they're doing wrong.  Most of the time it goes back to a weak stance, bad alignment/posture, or the inability to coordinate sequential body movements.  The same issue often happens when they're working on a kata and plowing through the sequence to try and make it "strong".  Without those fundamentals, the strength will always be lacking.  Inversely, however, with better fundamentals, that form (and every other form) will be stronger.

This is very akin to playing songs in taiko without the fundamentals.  It's not as much fun to work on posture as it is to play that cool song with the bachi twirling.  It's such a chore working on getting a good wrist snap compared to being able to solo on multiple drums.  And who wants to worry about making your strike more efficient when you can work on playing more notes in a short amount of time?

I hope you saw that those were facetious statements, but let me answer them anyways:
  • Without good posture, you can twirl and spin and flip bachi but you'll never be as relaxed, which means you're already handicapped.
  • Without a good wrist snap that comes without thinking, switching from drum to drum will take more effort and cause more tension.
  • Without an efficient strike, you are essentially choking off the amount of notes you will ever be able to play.
Seeing my point?

No, it's not "sexy" to work on the fundamentals.  It can also be a real kick in the ego to re-examine things that you know you need to work on.  Still, remember that fundamentals work NEVER stops paying off.  The more you continue to reinforce the foundation, the more you can build on it!  But if you're focusing more on growth, playing new things, learning new things, then you may have a very shaky structure underneath you that just gets more wobbly as you add things on top...

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Lyrics: Lose Yourself

I came across some lyrics that made me think about confidence.

Eminem's "Lose Yourself" is from his movie "8 Mile", about an aspiring rapper overcoming setbacks to be able to succeed and make it in the spotlight.

In the hook, the lines are:

You better lose yourself in the music, the moment
You own it, you better never let it go
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime yo


Some would say that just adds to the feeling of pressure when performing, but I choose to look at it as saying you need to seize the experience and make it yours.  If you have the wherewithal to think about messing up, to worry about if you're doing things right, to worry about x y and z, then you've essentially retreated within yourself and the performance is not affecting you.  You've separated yourself from it.

Sometimes the best way to be confident is to act confident.  Sometimes it's just giving yourself up to the performance.  Either way, you have to be proactive and make it happen.  The alternative?  Wait for it to be there down the line, years later.  Not the worst thing, but why wait if you don't have to?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Question Everything: Perception

I caught a new show last week called "Penn and Teller: Fool Us".  It's a British show about legendary magician duo Penn and Teller watching magic acts and trying to guess how they were done.  The episode I saw had a pair of illusionists, someone who did suggestions sealed in envelopes, and a card trick act.

While it was fun to watch the acts themselves, I found that I was way more interested in how Penn and Teller analyzed the performances.  They were impressed by the illusionists and not sure how it was done, although Teller did make a correct guess (that was kept between him and the performers).  They were stumped by the guy who had sealed envelopes with audience guesses.  They were able to figure out how the card trick was done, but they admitted it was because of the angles that they were made to sit at for the purposes of the TV cameras.

What really stood out was how they mentioned "to the layman" a few times in talking about what they saw.  The audience was seeing the performance in a totally different way from what Penn and Teller were seeing.  I'm sure some people in the audience (like me) were watching to try and figure out how the tricks were done, rather than just enjoying the show.  What we were seeing, however, was the act the performers wanted us to see.  We see the overall, the highlights, the misdirection.  We're not able to see the subtleties, the things that are strategically hidden, even sometimes the underlying skill that enables a person to do what they do.

Someone highly skilled in the art will be able to see things you and I cannot, maybe even sometimes when those things are pointed out!  I know that from all of our concerts, I am much more aware of how a performance is staged, how people and drums are spaced, the effect that lighting has, etc.  There are people much more proficient in that area than myself who see far more than I do.

Sometimes we make mistakes and think, "it's ok, the audience didn't notice."  But you know, some of them might have noticed quite well - just like perhaps you would notice something in a taiko performance that the layperson might not.  It's not an idea meant to freak you out, just to make you realize that you should always try to do your best and not just use that as an excuse.

Also, it's good when planning something to think of how it might appear to people who aren't aware of the details as well as those who are.  What will people who have never seen taiko think of your solo, song, or show?  What will experienced audiences think?  What about experienced players?  It also can be useful to think of angles and how they affect how things will be perceived, even if just to use as a way to critique your work in a different light.

Sometimes it's great to just sit back and enjoy a show, but what are you looking at?  If you care to look closer, what's there to see?  And when you see what you're looking for, what's left to be discovered?


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Body Awareness, pt. 2

A while ago, I was at a bowling alley and observed people playing.  I'm not that great at it myself, never having taking lessons, but I've definitely enjoyed many games of it so far.

One woman was having some issues not getting her ball in the gutter, so a friend of hers tried to help.  She was drawing the ball back with her right hand and letting the weight of the ball swing it around behind her, so when she threw the ball, she was throwing in an arc and basically guaranteeing a gutter-ball.

I watched him show her how to pull the hand straight back without any arcing, just back and forth past the leg in a straight line.  He even moved her hand for her, so she could feel the sensation of not-arcing.  And then she went to bowl...and arced and threw it into the gutter.

It was an interesting display of a lack of body awareness.  I didn't think badly of her because of it, but it made me wonder what was missing.  She was told, she was shown, and she was moved in the general way that would have helped her form tremendously, but something didn't click.

We all have a limit to where our body awareness can't pick up on something quickly, and absolutely it's affected by who's teaching us.  Still, where are you in terms of being shown what to do and being able to do it?  If someone moves your body a certain way, will you be able to repeat that movement without them?  What is your body remembering?  Are you aware of what you're doing differently than before?

I find body awareness is one of those things that can make all the difference.  It's one thing to put your hands in a position you want, your legs in a stance you want, but can you keep them there two minutes later?  Can you remember how it felt to move a certain way and when you're not moving that way?

Some people come by this skill really easily, but if it's not something that comes natural to you, it just means you'll need to take more time and work at it.  Still, as skills go, this is one that can pay off in spades.  You'll need to be honest with yourself, and it might take someone else to help keep you honest, but it has direct, obvious effects and never stops being valuable.  Learning it in one place will help you in others, as well!  For example, you could always try bowling...

Monday, September 8, 2014

When bad information is good


We all want good information, right?  You don't want to waste your time learning something that's incorrect only to find out later that you've been mistaken.  Or does even that have possible benefits?

A long time ago I was watching a Batman cartoon.  In one episode, Bruce Wayne is downtown when a robbery happens nearby.  Before he can react, Batman comes to stop the crime.  But since Bruce is Batman (spoiler!), Bruce is dumbfounded.  What just happened?  After other confusing things happen, Bruce is in the library where he tries to read a book.  The letters and words are garbled, shaped chaotically, impossible to read.  That's when he realizes he's in a dream, because you can't read in a dream.

As a kid, this stuck with me.  I never knew that, but wow, how cool is that!

And then a few months ago, I woke from a dream where I was reading something - and I remembered a sentence once awake.  But you can't read in a dream, I thought!  Hmm.

Turns out I was wrong, and on research, I'm not the only one asking that question.  Other people seem to have heard this "fact" and found it to be wrong.  At first, it's not a big deal.  You find things that you thought were one way were in fact another all the time.  What makes this interesting is that had I never heard the incorrect statement that you can't read in a dream, I never would have given the realization to the contrary any thought.

Something I took as "truth" was wrong all along.  It didn't affect how I lived my life, and I'm sure there are many many more things that I'm wrong about that I haven't discovered.  Still, if I hadn't learned it wrong to begin with, I may never had paid attention to the truth of the matter later; it would have been just a fact among many that I skim over daily.

Does this mean you should learn things the wrong way first?  Nah, that's inefficient.  Just realize that because you now know what was wrong, that knowledge helps you reinforce where NOT to go, what NOT to do, and that can only help you to go in the right, informed direction!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Soloing, part 12-1: Improvisation – as a whole



I've been thinking about improvisation a lot recently.  I was doing a couple of sessions with our auditioning class and wanted to get them thinking about improvisation on top of giving them some concrete drills.

What is improvisation, anyways?  It’s the act of creating something on the fly, impromptu, in the moment.  Everyone improvises.  You improvise a dozen times a day without realizing it, I bet.  Do you drive?  Then you decide on the fly when to merge, when to slow down, etc.  Do you talk to people on the phone?  Then you’re deciding what you’ll say based on the conversation.  Do you have a pet?  How you play with your pet is probably another example of improvisation in action.  True, this isn’t what most people think of as “improv”, but it’s still there.

Most taiko players see improv as a tool.  It’s just the thing they use when it’s time to solo.  The solo ends, the tool is pocketed away until next time.  That doesn’t mean they’ve mastered the tool or that it’s something they’re comfortable with, but the tool still works.  On a basic level, this is fine.

You can also take improv to a higher level by thinking of it as a skill.  And with any skill, the more practice you give it, the better it can get.  We practice striking, we practice tempo, we practice sequence – so it makes perfect sense that improv would also be on that list.

Finally, taking it one step higher, you can view improv as an art form.  It’s something that you can spend years of study on – decades even – and still have so much more to learn. There is the day-to-day improvisation that we do as human beings, sometimes even for survival, but most of the recognizable improv that we think about is attached to an existing art form.  If I pointed at you and said “improvise!”   What would you do?  Would you sing a song, do a dance, play a rhythm?  Would you arrange things into patterns?   Maybe tell some jokes?  All of those things are already their own art, and you’d be using improvisation within them.

On a larger level, there are so many things people can improvise within!  Some of these are: comedy, sparring, drumming, singing, dancing, guitar, poetry, debate, cooking, etc.  When you watch/listen to someone improvising in those arts, is there anything you can learn and use in your taiko solos?  On a smaller level, just looking within taiko, there are many elements you can improvise in within a solo.  Some of these are: rhythm, movement, footwork, facial expressions, intention/mood, interaction, kiai, etc.  When you solo (or plan a solo), how many of those elements are you taking into consideration?

While I’ll get more into taiko-specific improvisation in the next part of this series, I think it’s really important to understand that since improvisation is not unique to any one art, it’s worth looking at other arts and asking how they utilize it.  What can we learn in the process?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Soloing, part 9-2: Endings



There’s almost nothing sadder than a solo without an ending.  It's like a story without a conclusion, a melody without resolution, a cake without frosting?  Ok, maybe not that last one.

Wait, don’t all solos have an ending?  I mean when it’s over, that’s the end, right?  What I’m getting at is having an intentional ending, anything from long minutes to a pose.  This is your final point, your pearl of wisdom, your signature, etc.

A really good ending can save a so-so solo.  I know I’ve been out of the zone, trying to find something that feels better, not quite getting there, and then just flipping the switch and pulling off a strong, set ending.  It’s sort of like hitting an “abort” switch, but with a good outcome.

However, a so-so ending can bring a great solo down.  Imagine getting really into a movie but at the end, the plot resolves in a really unsatisfying way.  That’s what you’ll remember, even if you enjoyed the rest of it.

It’s also a shame when a solo just ends without any indication that.

…it’s ending.

I don’t think you necessarily need to have a set ending for all of your solos, but it can’t hurt to have a “go-to” ending that you can pull off when you really need it.  I would also say that you should at least step up your endings compared to whatever else you’ve been doing.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, it doesn’t have to one-up the people before you, it just needs to feel like it’s intentional in its effort.

A benefit to having a set ending is that you know you have something safe to “land on” (a counterpart to the Launchpad from 9-1).  It gives you some freedom to explore, and you have the option to just plug on the ending at…well, the end.

I also recommend watching taiko solos and taking note of how people end their solos.  What works for you?  What doesn’t?  And then can you identify why or why not?  That will go a long way into helping you find your own way of leaving the audience with a great solo.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Competitions - The findings

About a month ago I wrote a post HERE about taiko competition and that I wanted to gather some data on the subject.  I wrote up two surveys and asked taiko players to answer the one that fit them better - one for those who do compete, and one for those that don't.

I'll start with the analysis, then post the data below so as not to bore the people who don't care about the details.

For the 49 who answered the Non-Competition survey, only 33% said they'd seen a taiko competition, and 43% said that they wanted to compete in one.  That leaves 67% who had not seen one and 57% who did not want to compete in one.

Pride and purpose were the least valued reasons why people wanted to compete, while having a shared goal, skill increasing, and curiosity were highest.

Concerns about their group's skill level was the least valued reason why people did NOT want to compete, with concerns over the taiko community and the spirit of cooperation being the highest.

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For the 31 who answered the Competition survey, 82% said they enjoyed competing.

89% of the responses said they did 0-2 competitions a year.   61% of respondents said they spent at least 50% or more of their training preparing for competitions.

Winning, recognition, and pride were the least valued reasons why people enjoying competing, while skill improvement, a tangible goal, and positive community impact were the highest.

Morale loss on losing and diminishing "thrill" were the least valued reasons why people did NOT enjoy competing, while wanting to focus on non-competitive things and personal stress were the highest.

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Overall, for both the Non-Competition and Competition participants, it was 50/50 as to who competed in other things vs. those who did not.

A large majority (70%) of those who answered the Competition survey had only played with one group.  That number was much smaller (49%) within the Non-Competition survey.

There was only slight difference between the two surveys in how long participants had been playing with their current/primary group.  The range of the Competition survey was mainly within 3-5 and 10-15 years, while in Non-Competition it was 5-10 and 3-5.

As for how long participants had been playing taiko in total, for the Competition survey there was a larger concentration at 5-10, then 15+.  For Non-Competition it was at 3-5 then evenly around 5-10 and 10-15.

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We can make some inferences based on this data, but even I will admit it's a very small sample size and many people answered the survey incorrectly or incompletely.  But it's a start!

So if I go by the data, It's definitely a minority of people who are interesting in seeing and/or participating in taiko competitions.  Would seeing competitions open their minds to the idea?  The data doesn't answer this, but from personal experience, I would say no.  Those who do compete seem to enjoy it rather overwhelmingly, but spend a majority of their time preparing for the few competitions they do.

Competition itself doesn't seem to be the issue here, since both groups compete in other things in equal amounts.

We could try to say that there are more people who've played longer that don't want competitions, but because of the small sample size, I'd be wary of this.  It would be interesting to see if the younger crowd or those who have played for less amount of time (0-5 years) are more interested in taiko competition.

So what can we learn from this?  A lot, if we keep an open mind - but it has to go BOTH WAYS.  There will always be people who do not want to have competition in taiko and trying to tell them that competition helps this or benefits that just makes them dig in their heels all the more.  There will always be people who truly want competition in taiko and trying to tell them that competition hurts this or harms that just makes them more fervent in their beliefs.

It's a lot like politics - those with the loudest voice are the most heard but often turn people off from the actual discussion of the subject.  Both sides have valid points and I think there's a lot of opportunity for sharing and understanding.

Personally, after all this collection, I feel like I know more about why people feel the way they do, but I'm still neutral.  The NA taiko community seems to be naturally resistant to the idea of taiko competition as a whole, so it's probably a moot point.  What will happen to that resistance in 10, 20, 30 years from now when there's a new generation of leaders, and perspectives on things have changed?  And for those that are comfortable in a culture of competition, will seeing how other groups view cooperation be a changing factor?  Or something more practical like how much time could be spent on other areas?  I guess we'll have to see, but in the meantime, maybe some good discussion is in order!


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- 49 people replied to Non-Competition.
     - 1 response said they wanted to compete, but then answered both sections.  I kept the data in.
- 31 people replied to Competition.
     - 11 were incomplete, only answering a few of the 10 questions.
     - 3 responses said that they liked competing, but then answered both sections.  I kept the data in.

- Non-Competition: 65% were from the USA, with 2%-10% each from Canada, South American and European countries.
- Competition: 68% were from Brazil, with 23% from the USA, 6% from Canada, and 3% from Japan.

(For the next set of answers, a Likert-type scale was used.  1 was the lowest score, 5 was the highest.  The numbers displayed were the average scores for each category.)

- Non-Competition: 67% had not seen a taiko competition before.
     - Of those 33% that had seen a competition:
          - 3.94 "I was entertained."
          - 3.81 "I was impressed by the skills/level of competition."
          - 3.25 "The competition made me want to see more competitions."
          - 3.14 "The judging was fair."
          - 2.94 "The competition made me want to compete."
         
- Non-Competition: 43% would like to compete, 57% would not.
     - Of those 43% that would:
          - 4.47 "It would give my group a shared goal."
          - 4.47 "It would increase my/my group's skills."
          - 4.47 "I am curious to experience a taiko competition."
          - 4.21 "It would increase my/my group's visibility."
          - 4.05 "I feel it would impact the taiko community I play in positively"
          - 3.95 "It would bring me/my group group a sense of pride."
          - 3.89 "It would give me/my group a sense of purpose."
          - 3.47 "Winning is a motivating factor for me."

     - Of those 57% that would not:
          - 4.25 "I prefer a spirit of cooperation vs. competition."
          - 4.00 "I feel it would impact the taiko community I play in negatively."
          - 3.83 "It would upset the dynamics of my group."
          - 3.63 "I have no interest in competing."
          - 3.53 "I don’t feel my personal skills are up to competitive levels."
          - 3.50 "I don't like the pressure associated with competing."
          - 3.11 "I don’t feel my group's skill are up to competitive levels."

 - Competition: 82% said they enjoyed it, 18% said they did not.
     - Of those 82% that enjoyed it:
          - 4.31 "It brings people's skills up."
          - 4.19 "It gives me/my group a tangible goal."
          - 4.19 "It impacts the taiko community I play in positively."
          - 3.88 "It gives me a sense of purpose."
          - 3.81 "It brings recognition/pride to our group."
          - 3.73 "It brings recognition/pride to myself."
          - 3.56 "Winning is rewarding."

     - Of those 18% that did not enjoy it:
          - 3.80 "I want to focus more on other taiko-related things."
          - 3.44 "It brings too much personal stress."
          - 3.33 "It brings too much group stress."
          - 3.33 "It impacts the taiko community I play in negatively."
          - 3.29 "Judges are biased/not qualified."
          - 2.67 "Losing hurts morale too much."
          - 2.56 "The “thrill” of competing fades."

- Competition: How many competitions does your primary group do a year?
     -1          1          2          3          4          5+
     25%     39%      25%     4%                    7%
- Competition: How much of your group's training goes towards competition?
     -10%      10%      20%      30%      40%      50%      60%      70%      80%      90%      90%+
      21%                     4%      14%                    7%       7%       18%      11%      7%        11%

- Do you compete in other (non-taiko) competitions?
                           Yes       No
Non-Comp.:          49%    51%
Competition:         50%    50%

-  How many taiko groups have you been a member of?
                         1          2          3+
Non-Comp.:         49%    36%    16%
Competition:       70%    20%    10%

- How long have you been playing taiko with your current/primary group?

                         -1          1-3         3-5          5-10          10-15          15+
Non-Comp.:         9%         20%       22%        27%         11%          11%
Competition:       5%         20%       30%        10%         25%          10%

- How long have you been playing taiko in total?

                         -1          1-3         3-5          5-10          10-15          15+
Non-Comp.:         0%         4%         20%        40%           9%          27%
Competition:       0%         15%       30%        20%         20%          15%