Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Fall Tour 2015: Part 4

Let's see...

Saturday was just a day of travel to Flushing, NY, and exchanging two members with two fresh ones.  The driving was short and people were able to rest a bit.  The highlight, however, was going downtown to have dinner with four retired members of Soh Daiko for a feast at a Chinese restaurant.  The only thing better than the hospitality was getting to hang out and chat with them all for a few hours.  Thanks again for that!

On Sunday we had a 3:00 show and had to tech in early.  Even though a show may be only one-hour show instead of two, the amount of time it takes to do lighting and spiking is about the same.  The show went pretty well, even with a lighter audience.  Nice to end a show when it's still daylight, too!

We packed up afterwards and drove maybe two minutes away to another theater on the campus, to tech in for the school show on Monday.  It wasn't a late night, but it was still a pretty tiring day nonetheless.

The school show had 1,200 kids in the audience, and at first it was a bit scary because they were very...expressive.  But instead of being ornery or rude, the were just excited and they were a lot of fun to play for.

Today we're in the last theater before the Easter break/workshop tour.  I have an Uncle coming tonight with his wife who live in MA - she came to a school show we did at Dartmouth many years ago, and I haven't seen him in around...15 years or so?  Hoping for a good show to give them something to really enjoy.

Tomorrow half of us leave and the other half drive up North to Canadia for some workshops; let's hope I survive the snow!  (And moose...)

Friday, March 27, 2015

Fall Tour 2015: Part 3

Whew.  It's been a long few days.

On Wednesday we went back into the theater and had a pretty easy tech, since everything was already inside and the lighting went super-smoothly.  Lots of downtime to enjoy.  The theater seats about 400 and made for an intimate show, with a very receptive audience.  I had a pretty good run; nothing out of the ordinary yet solid.

We had to cut our time in the lobby after the show short to get back on stage and start the pack for Kutztown.  I personally only got a little over six hours of sleep that night and then we were on the road for about 90 minutes and loading into the new theater.  This one was rather nice, but we didn't have the same amount of downtime as in the previous one.

It was a pretty rainy day; we even had thunderstorms just before we were to go on.  Unfortunately, the weather had an impact on our show.  We were worried that people wouldn't come to the show because of the weather, but that wasn't really the case.  What did happen was that the lights were affected by a leak, and just before we were to go on for the second half, there was a pretty interesting light show on the stage that was beyond anyone's control.  Ultimately we had to do the show with the work lights on, which is just a large white coverage of the stage.  We let the audience know the problem and they seemed to sympathize with our plight.  It was no one's fault and we were still able to put on a good second half.  There was no sign from the audience that they enjoyed it any less!

It was nice to not have to pack up that night because we had a school show and a workshop after that, all in the theater.  The workshop included three groups: the Kutztown University percussion group, and two High School taiko groups, one from Leechburg and the other from Twin Valley.  I think we intimidated them a little bit, but I really hope we left them inspired.  The taiko groups had a joint concert the same night but we weren't able to make it given the distance.

One of our members is really out of it and we're hoping rest helps.  Tomorrow we send off two members and get in two fresh ones, start tech in a new theater in NY, and on Sunday we play a shorter concert.

But for now, sleep!  Zzzzzz.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Spring Tour 2015: part 2

Feeling better, but people are fighting what's been passed on...yuck.

The concert in Huntingdon, PA, was a pretty good show.  I felt like all my solos were in the zone, despite the odd mistake here and there.  The audience was very responsive and that does wonders for our energy on stage!  The crew went above and beyond normal hospitality, giving us customized water bottles and coffee cups.

The following day was a Saturday and we drove about 4 hours to Newark, then had the rest of the weekend free.  Most of the group went into NY the next day but I wanted to rest and stumbled on an amazing comfort-food/soul-food buffet that provided one of the best meals I've ever had on a tour.  Seriously amazing food and I wish we were there longer so I could have gone back!

Monday we did a short workshop for Rutgers University, a mix of young and older kids. It was in a small auditorium and made for less of a barrier between us and the audience, which is a nice experience.  After it was over, we head back to PA to load our gear in the theater in Harrisburg.

Today, Tuesday, we had a workshop in a school for the arts, mixing dancers and musicians of high-school age.  It was interesting to see how the dancers and musicians differed in both their approach to trying taiko as well as how they fared once they started.  But we didn't stay there long , because we had a school show a few miles away for an after-school program.  Thursday will be a little painful, because we leave around 8am to drive to a new theater in Kutztown (90 mins. away), load in, and repeat the process with a concert that night.  Two shows back-to-back in two different cities is not easy and takes a toll, but we don't have to pack up that night and that helps tremendously!

But now it's time for leftovers: lobster mac and cheese!  So freaking good...

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Spring Tour 2015: Part 1

Unlike several other tours, this one started off uneventful!  No flight delays, no luggage delays, no people delays, no weather issues, and all of our equipment was at the first theater ready to go.

Actually, the only thing to deal with was (is) my cold, but I'll save that for a post when I get back.

We've had a couple of great presenters to work with so far, in the two theaters we've been in, the first in Johnstown, PA, and the second not-too-far away in Huntington, PA.  We did a concert for 3over 00 plus two school shows of 600 each in the former and the latter we play tomorrow night.

We get the weekend mostly off, just a drive to NJ.  We'll have shows there, then back in PA, then over in CT, where I'm hoping an uncle of mine comes to see the show with his wife (I haven't seen him in about 15 years, and that time I was on a 5-week tour!)

So while the last few days have been good, there haven't been any wacky adventures and things are going very well.  But who knows what might happen as the weather gets colder and things get more...Canadian?  (We're going to Canada later, dun dun DUNNN...)

Monday, March 16, 2015

Repetition (video)

I wasn't planning to post something just before tour, but this video had me saying "YES!" out loud a few times, so I wanted to share:


The video on this page is short; just under five minutes. But it's rather interesting!

Repetition in music is hugely powerful.  Take your favorite song.  How often have you listened to it?  Your brain WANTS to hear it again and again.  But it's more than just wanting to hear an entire passage of music; within a song, repetition has the same effect.

There's nothing "wrong" with songs that have little repetition - or solos for that matter - but just based on human psychology, they're not as enjoyable to the brain.  The video does a much better job of illustrating this than I can, so I'll stop there.

So for everyone who solos out there, take a look at what you play.  Is there repetition in your music?  Do you choose to have it or not have it, or are you just playing notes on a whim?

One of my favorite parameter drills lately is to have people repeat whatever patterns they play exactly.  It's interesting how much thinking people have to do when I make them do this, because they now have to think more and start listening to what they're playing.  For some, this is easy, but for many, it's difficult.

Maybe this video changes how you think of your solos and compositions, maybe it doesn't.  The most important thing here is: did it make you realize something about your playing you didn't think about before?

Thursday, March 12, 2015


Here's a fun question:

Would you rather be someone who never gets critique or comments and is totally happy, but unaware of how many issues they have?  Or someone who constantly gets told what they need to work on and feels like they're not good enough, but is actually a strong player?

There are definitely people on both ends of the spectrum already out there, and it's not anything unique to taiko, either.  Most people fall somewhere in between, but not everyone!

So which would you rather be?  Is it an easy choice?  It's not for me, because who wouldn't want to be happy?  But who wouldn't want to be a strong player?  But if I'm always feeling not good enough...  But never getting better...

No answers on this one, folks.  Just something to chew on!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Gonna be busy...

Short post today.

Things are getting busy!  On Saturday we did our touring concert down in Monterey (about 90 minutes south).  This coming Saturday we drive three hours north to Folsom for another Bangerz concert, drive back Sunday, then fly out EARLY on Monday for a month-long tour.

We'll be in PA, NJ, NY, CT, MD, and spending some time in Canada and VT.  I think we have about eight concerts during this time, as well as several workshops, school shows, and assorted fun along the way.  I'll probably post normally for the next two posts but after that things will be sparse as they usually are when I'm on the road.

Hope to see some of you on the road!

Thursday, March 5, 2015


When you *really* think about it, there's a lot of factors you can analyze when playing taiko:

Feet: Is your weight on the balls of your feet or the heels?  Are you letting your feet roll onto their sides?  Are you flat-footed?  Are your toes gripping to provide you with more stability?  Are you light on your feet?  If you leave the ground, do you land heavy or springy?

Knees: Are your knees helping you put your weight into a strike?  Are they absorbing any of the shock?  Are they bent, stiff, straight, locked?  Which direction do they bend towards - the toes or at an angle?

Hips: Do your hips turn when you're playing naname?  Are they loose or tight?  Are they parallel to the ground or does one "side" stick up (left, back, etc.)?

Torso: How's your posture?  Do you keep it upright?  Do you open it up?  Too much?  Does it concave inwards?

Shoulders: Are they loose?  Are you sure?  Do you raise them first when striking?  Do you raise them at all when striking?  Is one higher than the other?

Elbows: How much do you lead with your elbows when your arms are extended?  Are they touching your torso when you play a passage of notes?  Are they away from your torso?  In front?  Outwards? Where are they pointed when you play betta?

Hands: How tight is your grip?  Which fingers are making contact?  Where is the bachi against your palm?  How much is the bachi moving as you strike?  Are you correcting for that?  Which direction are your palms facing when you strike, when you lift, when you pull back?  Is your thumb along the bachi or wrapped around?  Is your index finger along the bachi or wrapped around? How much do you choke up?  Do you let the bachi have "weight"?

Face: Where are you looking when you play?  Do you make eye contact with the audience, performers?  Are you smiling?  What's your resting face like?  Does it look like you're thinking?

Kiai: How loud are you?  Are you using hara or throat?  Are you doing it to make noise or to support?  Are you changing it up?  Are you picking your moments or just letting it go whenever?

Strike: Are you over-hitting?  Under-hitting?  Are you too close to make a good sound?  Too far away?  Where are you striking on the drum?  Is it consistent? After the strike, how much does the bachi come back? A lot?  Still touching the head?  Straight back?  Off to the side?

Ki: Are you showing intention when you play?  Is your energy the same in every song or adaptive?  Do you rely on "hamming it up" to be noticed?  Do you support others genuinely?  Does it show in your body as well as your face?

This is overwhelming!  And what's more, this is just addressing playing betta and naname; we're not even talking about odaiko, katsugi okedo, playing while kneeling or seated, playing different kinds of hand percussion, etc.  So what's a taiko player to do?

You play from the heart, you try to get better, and you recognize when you do get better.  And have fun!  That's what you do.  So don't freak out, and remember - while there will always be a hundred things you can worry about, if you're not coming from a genuine place with your taiko, none of those things matter!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Grip strength

How strong are your hands?  And what are strong hands, exactly?  Grip strength is a big part of good technique that I rarely hear taiko players talking about - or working on!

You can have strength enough to crush walnuts, but is that really what you want to accomplish with a bachi in your hand?  Nah, of course not.  It's not that simple.

It's much more about control over the strength you do have and being able to have dynamic strength - the ability to pulse your grip fast enough and *just* enough to keep your bachi from moving too much.  By this definition, it's a lot more about dexterity than strength.  But sometimes you DO need strength, because even if you're fast enough to squeeze, if you have nothing to squeeze with, it's not very effective.

You can certainly train grip strength by simply playing more, but that goes for any taiko skill.  What can you do aside from that?

There are a lot of grip-strengthers on the market, from squeeze balls to those Eagle Claw devices.  I like the gyro-balls myself because they also work your wrists.

Another thing you can do that can develop a more explosive grip is grab a weight from the top down, like a claw machine, lift it up quickly while letting go, then grabbing it as quickly as possible.  Gripping the side of a dumbbell (where it's thickest) is harder than the middle, especially if the sides are big.  You have to actually let go of it to make this effective, and careful that you don't try something too heavy or slam your hand down against the weight.

Or you know, you can always do fingertip pushups, because those are pretty easy, right?  Right.

Unlike a lot of weight training, you can do some of this work nearly anywhere.  Get a squish ball and have it at your desk, in your car, in the bathroom, etc.  Really useful for your weaker hand!