Monday, June 29, 2015

New Song Diary: Two songs?

On Saturday we held a brainstorming/workshop session for possible new compositions (down the line).

I brought two ideas to the group to try out on some guinea pigs, and both went well.  But now I'm thinking...wait, TWO songs?  I was having enough trouble just working on one, now I've got two in the pipe.   Smart move, Mr. Composer-man.

Still, it'll be interesting to see where things go.  One is the piece I've had for years about independent hand movement, and the other takes two ideas I couldn't develop by themselves (katsugi okedo, naname X-form) and shoves 'em together.

I'll post more on here as things happen, and there's no guarantee either will develop fully - or be performed - but at least there's momentum!

As for now, my brain needs to be off.  See you next post!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Workshop feedback

For the last 4 days I've been putting data from every survey from every workshop at NATC 2015.  All the numbers, all the comments, all the :) :) :) (yeah, you know who you are).  Anyways, I had a couple of thoughts:

1) I wonder how the numbers would change if people couldn't tell who was teaching them.  It's practically impossible, unless you cover the instructor in a monkey suit and disguise their voice.  But would that change the feedback given?

When you're taking a workshop from one of the "Classics" as many like to be called - people that have played for decades, founded groups, been at the forefront of the taiko movement - it's easy to be awestruck, especially if you're new to taiko.  If someone gives all 5s (the highest on a 1-5 scale), it's not to say the person didn't really receive an all-5 experience, but the skeptic in me thinks back to the monkey suit...if they didn't know who was teaching them, would they have given such high marks?

2.) It's also really interesting when people are asking for the exact opposite thing in the same workshop.  "Speed up the pace" here, "slow down the pace" there.  What's an instructor to do?  This is always a hard thing and there's no *right* solution.

3.) The one thing that's hard on both students and teachers is room size.  This is one of those things that sometimes can't be helped.  Last-minute room changes, workshops requiring a lot of room to move, odaiko workshops, workshops with lots of participants, etc.  NATC is rarely in a venue where they have the pick of all the rooms possible, or where they can choose rooms big enough to accommodate everyone easily.  The only solutions I can think of are to A) limit all but a few workshops to less people, which means workshops fill up quicker and some people are left with few choices and/or B) have more workshop leaders which means a lot more expense for the TCA.  The former will just mean people are still upset but for a different reason, and the latter just isn't feasible.  Back where we started!  Hmm...this one will probably stay tricky for a while...


As someone who believes that data like this helps make NATC better, I appreciate when people give their feedback in this way, even when it is in awed tones.  I believe instructors want to get better, that workshops can get better, that NATC has a lot of potential, and that all benefit from the data you and I give them.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Cheating the game

At the dojo, we have the students run around, do pushups/situps/burpees/etc.  One of the drills we do is a tapping drill where you try to touch your partner's shoulders, or knees, or both.  Get in, touch, get out. The idea of the drill is for people to develop skills for sparring later on, which involve a similar sense of timing, distance, posture, etc.

One of my partners, an advanced student, went into the shoulder tapping like each tap on my shoulder would get her a cookie.  Whap whap whap whap whap whap - with no sense of defense or worry about getting touched back.  This is like going into a fight where you and your opponent just punch each other in the face until one falls down.

The second round was touching knees and they took a wide stance facing me and leaned forward.  There was no way to touch their knees without being touched in return, but this is like a basketball player hanging off the hoop and putting their hand over the opening.  No one will ever score, so it's brilliant, right?  Well no, that just screws over everyone.  No one gets points, no one has fun, no one gets better.

That's "breaking the game".  It's not quite cheating, but it straddles that line.  It makes the person doing it feel clever, but ruins it for everyone else.  On some rare occasions, this can lead to some amazing discoveries, but for the most part...not so much.  I could have been creative and knelt on the floor, ensuring no one could touch my knees, but does that teach me anything or am I just showing off how clever I am?

How does this relate to taiko?  Not as directly, but there are some things people do to cheat - mostly cheat themselves.

When drilling or performing, do you hold back or pace yourself?  Why?  Do you want to feel better when others are struggling later or are you maybe saving energy so you can look good when other people are tired?  It's not that you need to go all-out from the first hit, but since you're not pushing yourself, you're limiting how much better you can be.

It's harder to "cheat" in taiko than in an art with a direct competitive drill, but the idea of doing things to get around the system benefit no one and seem like such a waste of time.  Doing things 100% by the book can be stifling, doing things way outside the box can be daunting, but trying to play a different game than everyone else - when you're doing kumidaiko - might very well leave you at a disadvantage!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

NATC 2015, aftermath


So the drive back from Vegas was just as long as the drive there!  The packing went pretty well but we hit a lot of traffic getting back to the hotel we stopped at on the way down.  The consolation was seeing a trio of friends also headed back from NATC who happened to stop at the same Panera we were at for dinner!

So, NATC 2015 observations:

- My first conference ever where I didn't play on taiko once.  Felt weird.

- The people I've known for years, the people that have gone to many NATC - like me - tended to be Observers rather than Participants.  How can we offer workshops that they want to take while still giving newer people plenty to choose from?

- More focus on women in taiko, both in terms of Workshop Leaders (almost 40% women, up from 30% and less in the past) and a discussion session talking about gender/women in taiko.

- A renewed appreciation for the volunteers that move things around in the heat, endure the smell of warm garbage while loading up the truck, etc.  They make everything go smoothly for everyone else!

- Hot.  Oy.

- Wishing people would ease up a bit on the drums during the jam sessions.  Yikes.

- Too many things to do, not enough time to eat/Marketplace/network/chill.  For those used to NATC, many of us know you have to skip things to make time for some of that stuff, but for those who are new, it's overwhelming and when it's over...wait, what just happened?

- Really smooth on the surface for the Participants and Workshop Leaders, which is great.  Really crazy for Volunteers.  Too bad there weren't more available!

- Had to miss the first couple of songs in Taiko Jam because we were helping consolidate our gear and needed to eat.  But the second half was amazing!

I'm sure there will be more thoughts that I'll wish I put down here, but overall, I had a good time!  I have some workshop ideas that I will submit for NATC 2017,  unique ones that have a better chance of being selected (I hope!)

A big thanks again to Elise and the Las Vegas hosting groups, the volunteers, the Workshop Leaders, and everyone who made it out there and made it happen!  Woo!

Monday, June 8, 2015

NATC or bust!

...or something like that.

On Wednesday, Yurika and I take a 24-foot Budget truck chock-full of taiko goodness to Vegas!  It'll be about 12 hours over 2 days, but a pretty easy drive.  We'll pack things back up and head out Sunday afternoon and return to San Jose sometime Monday.

Last week I finished both updating the workshop surveys and post-NATC online surveys.  All that data really helps make future NATC even better, so if you get a chance to fill things out, please do so!  I spend a lot of time compiling and analyzing all that data and I really enjoy it.  Yes, I'm weird.

I've reached the point where going to NATC is much more about seeing old friends and making new ones than it is about the performances and workshops.  I want to be someone who encourages people to do more, to try more and I don't feel like I have to be in the spotlight to do that.  But someone might make me go up and play during the Opening Reception.  We'll see.  ;)

Anyways, I probably won't post again until the Thursday after NATC, but I'm sure I'll have lots of ideas for things to write about.

Hope to see a lot of you there!


Thursday, June 4, 2015

On being "unique".

You ever walk to your car and grit your teeth when someone nearby with a powerful engine guns it?  It's not like they're doing that to go fast; they're in the parking lot like you are!  It's just to be noticed.  To be special.  But here's the thing: anyone can get a car with a powerful engine and step on the pedal.  It's not unique, it's just a cry for attention.

As performers, many of us want to stand out, to be unique.  Sometimes it's not a good thing (like when you're in a group and you don't move/act like everyone else.  Sometimes it's a great thing, like having that little extra in the ensemble or moves during solos that no one else is doing.

How important is it for you to be "unique" when you play taiko?

I'd rather watch someone deliver a solid, energetic, and melodic solo rather than someone who is focused on getting my attention.  The former shows confidence and skill.  The latter often shows a lack of confidence and gimmickry.  In fact, I would say I've learned a lot more from those who were simply good at what they did rather than those that tried to stand out.

It's not that you can't be unique AND have skill plus confidence.  Those who have this combination are the ones that have been practicing for many many years and have taken the time to really work on their art form.

I realize that I say this from a position of possible uniqueness.  I'm rather tall, rather pale, and have been practicing martial arts almost as long as I have been taiko.  Are there others like me?  I haven't met one yet.  It's a sort of passive uniqueness, because I don't really have to do anything to make it so.  But does it mean anything?  Nope!  Do I get to do things other people don't?  Not really.  Basically, I reflect a lot of light on stage and double as security for when all those fans try to get on stage (no, not really).

If being "unique" is really important to you, spending time on getting better is a step to getting there.  Being a good teacher helps you get recognized.  Volunteering and being indispensable to the taiko community is a great was to stand out.  Maybe get a fun hairstyle!  But when it comes to soloing, I truly believe being a better artist will get you SO much more than simply trying to be unique.

Ask yourself if you want to be the guy in the parking lot annoying people by making a lot of noise, or the person that makes someone's day by letting them have the parking spot you could have taken.  Which has more impact?  Which will be remembered at the end of the day?  Who do you want to be?

Monday, June 1, 2015

From the teacher's point of view...

At a class last week at the dojo, the beginners were so non-responsive, sensei had them doing extra pushups to help "correct" their behavior.  The week before, during a drill, I got some pushback (resistance) to instruction I was giving on how to do a technique.

It made me think that a lot of people would benefit tremendously from being in a teaching position and having their own behavior put in front of them:

  • How would you feel if you asked people to get to a spot/drum and they took their time strolling over there, when you were ready to get to the lesson?

  • What would you think when you gave a simple instruction, followed by "okay?" and got back blank stares?
  • How would you react to a student who didn't want to do what you told them, when it was a perfectly normal instruction?
  • What would it do to your enthusiasm for teaching when people acted like they didn't want to be there, with body language that signaled boredom?
Are you guilty of these things?  To some extent, most of us are at some point.  But if you realized what it was like for your teacher or instructor to deal with a bunch of you acting that way, you'd probably feel like apologizing, ha!

It may not be instinctual to step out of your own head and put yourself in the instructor's during a class, but it might reveal some habits or behaviors you exhibit that you may not be aware of!