Thursday, July 7, 2016

Question Everything: Song names

I've seen a lot of taiko pieces, and one thing I've noticed is a lot of them have Japanese names.

Surprising, I know.  An art form that came from Japan has people giving new compositions Japanese names?  Wow.

But for all of those songs written outside of Japan, by people of non-Japanese decent, why give it a Japanese name?  There's nothing inherently wrong with that, mind you, but why?

I wonder why, especially in North America where there are a lot of European and non-Japanese Asian taiko players/composers, there aren't more non-Japanese song titles.  Where are the Gaelic, Mandarin, Tagalog names?  I've really wanted to use something Gaelic (I'm part Irish) like "Saoirse" or "Aoibhneas" but I'll feel sorry for people trying to pronounce them...

I've written about eight pieces now and the only one with a Japanese name was a co-composition where I let my partner name the piece.  A Japanese name never occurred to me with the others.  Maybe future compositions will inspire one?

Sure, a Japanese title might really capture the essence of a song the way you - or a composer - wants it to feel.  But was it because it "sounds better" in Japanese?  Sounds "more authentic"?  Are you picking a Japanese title because the words speak to you and what you want from the piece, or because it's the "default"?

Here's a list of random non-English, non-Japanese words that (probably) don't have a counterpart in other languages.  Can you imagine how a song would sound or look with these as a title?  Would you be able to capture these well in Japanese?  Or any other language rather than their own?

- Mamihlapinatapei (Yagan, South America) "implying a wordless yet meaningful look shared by two people who both desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start."
- Wei-wu-wei (Chinese) "a deliberate, and principled, decision to do nothing whatsoever, and to do it for a particular reason."
- Duende (Spanish) "the mysterious power of a work of art to deeply move a person."
- Pålegg (Norwegian) "anything — ham, cheese, jam, Nutella, mustard, herring, pickles, Doritos, you name it — you might consider putting into a sandwich."
- Gumusservi (Czech) "moonlight shining on water."

After writing this blog, I think I'm going to hunt for something really nifty to inspire my next piece.  Who needs English when you can say shemomedjano which means "you can't stop eating even after you're full" in Georgian?

Thanks to for the awesome words!

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