Thursday, January 19, 2017

Taiko in an age of instant gratification

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Instant gratification!  Twitter and status messages so everyone knows exactly what you're thinking.  Movies to download in less than a few minutes.  Music you can access instantly through a variety of online services.  Online shopping with overnight shipping.  Food from everywhere in your neighborhood coming to you.

If you want it, you can have it right away.  If you think it, you can broadcast it to millions right away.

How does taiko fit into a world like this?

One of the beautiful aspects of taiko is that playing it, experiencing it, puts you in the present.  In the now.  But that moment keeps expanding as long as you keep playing.  If you're practicing, you can focus on form.  If you're performing, you can focus on putting yourself out there.  It also teaches you about your role in a community - in this case, an ensemble.  You can't have your solo when you want it, nor your favorite piece to play when you want it.  It's "not about you."

Looking at social media, in a tweet or status update, I can say what I want and people will take it how they want it.  It could be seen as political.  Biased.  It could lack context and be mis-read.  In a solo, there are no words, just sound, motion, feeling.  It can affect people, speak to people.  When I communicate through a solo, the message is simple - I want to entertain you, delight you.  I want you to feel the joy I feel, in that moment.  It's about connection.

The most satisfied taiko players I know, the ones who are the most genuinely happy, are the ones that connect with other players.  Not through social media, but that person-to-person connection that helps people get better, helps people build and garner resources.

There's also the concept of ma, or space.  When you're playing a song, not just listening to it, you have to give the notes their proper spacing.  You have to listen to where your notes fall and how they line up with the rest of the group's.  You have to have that awareness and connection to the people around you to do well.  We tend to rush things as people.  We tend to speed up, we tend to make motions faster than they need to be.  Why?  I'm no psychologist, but maybe it's our culture, our want to get to the next thing quicker.  Recognizing that feeling of speeding up and acknowledging ma is a humbling, powerful feeling.  It's not about what *I* want, it's about connecting to the song and to the ensemble.

Related, we also tend to lean forward, stare into our screens, hunch over our keyboards, etc.  Taiko forces us to be in our bodies, be aware of our posture, work with our entire bodies and think about how the rest of the ensemble is moving, not just focus on the bubble around us.

Learning taiko teaches us patience, as well.  Odds are, you didn't get good quickly.  It took time to get where you are now and there's much more room to grow, right?  You might want to learn that new cool song right NOW but did it happen?  Nope.  It probably took you hours, days, maybe weeks!  And that was for one song.  However, all that time spent learning was time spent growing - getting better at playing, getting better at learning, too!

Also, if you play taiko, you are no longer just a consumer of art, but a producer of it.  Realize that this is a wonderful, important thing!  People that watch you play get to see, hear, and feel your output.  It's something anyone who performs gets to give their audience, something that can't be simply downloaded or purchased.  A recording is better than nothing, but so much less than being there, experiencing what you are generating.  What you are doing is valuable - for you, for your group, for your community, for people you'll never know you touched.

Technology might change, but connection will always matter.  What do you think?

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