Thursday, July 20, 2017

Memorable quotes

I was thinking of all of the advice, stories, pearls of wisdom I've heard over my 23 years of taiko.  Unfortunately, with my wonderful memory, I've forgotten a lot.  Ah well.  A few lines, however, have stuck with me.  As part of me wrapping things up slowly here, I wanted to leave you with the few that come to mind readily and how I've interpreted/used them.  Apologies if I don't get the wording quite right!  And in no particular order:

1.) "Play to inspire, not to impress."  (PJ Hirabayashi)

This was one of the first pieces of advice I can remember outside of ones directed solely at technique.  It wasn't even something directed at me specifically.  This is probably the one piece of advice given that I've thought the most about.

Impressing people takes skill, yes.  You can't really impress people if you're not good at something.  The problem is, it's often very temporary, and often very conditional.  You might have an impressive move or routine, but if the person after you does something more dazzling, well, so much for your impressiveness.  And while someone might remember the time you did that really fast passage followed by a handstand, how much impact does it have the day after?  Would they even remember it?  Would others?  If people do remember it, to what end?  You might have people trying that move out, but aside from that, what does it do?  It has impact in the moment, but not so much afterwards.

Inspiring people doesn't necessarily take skill.  Sometimes it's the person not as good as the next who really puts it out there and inspires people, or overcoming a challenge/struggling that people identify with.  Inspiring can also be a long-term process, such as seeing someone climb "through the ranks" so to speak to play more songs, harder parts, etc.  Playing to inspire means not trying to have the loudest notes or the trickiest patterns or the loudest voice on stage, because it comes from within - the intention to do your best and to represent yourself, your group with authenticity.  It may not feel as exciting, but it's the kind of thing that can have lasting impact on those not just watching, but also those around you.

2.) "If all taiko groups looked the same, taiko would be a very boring art form."  (Roy Hirabayashi)

This seems like a pretty obvious statement on the surface, but when you think about it, how many songs are played by the same groups in NA alone?  Miyake, Omiyage, Yatai-Bayashi, variations of Yodan Uchi, etc.  This isn't a critique of those songs or any groups playing them, just a comment that in some ways, NA taiko (and in other places) is still relatively new as an art form.

There's a lot of "same-ness" in NA taiko, a lot of groups doing similar things with similar songs.  So does that mean taiko is a boring art form?  Hell no.  But what does it say about the art form in North America?  It's not easy to compose an entire show full of new works that are as exciting or as fun as the stuff already available, sure.  But if we rely on open-source pieces, play the same things as other groups play, wear similar clothing, etc., how does the art form evolve?

Or maybe the question is, does it need to?

3.) "Your performance might be a person's first time they see taiko, or a person's last time they see taiko."  (Kenny Endo)

This one is a classic that I think most people have heard - or many people, at least.  It's a really good reminder to never dismiss a performance you're in no matter how disorganized the setup is, how small the audience is, even what mood you're in at the time.

Imagine being on the other side, watching a group perform something you've never seen before, that you might find so much joy in...except the person playing a thing right now seems really disinterested.  Eh, so much for that, maybe you'll go do something else.  And later, when someone asks how that art form was, you might not have a great view of it.  There's a ripple effect that benefits no one.  As much as you love taiko, you'd hate it if someone came away with that viewpoint, right?  Pushing that extra inch, that extra drop of sweat, sometimes can be a huge difference.

4.) "It's all in one, man."  (Russell Baba)

This is a great piece of advice.  Having trouble with meter or worried about when to come in because the count is tricky?  Sometimes you just have to teach yourself how to feel it, rather than think it.

When I was in my percussion ensemble in college, I got sheet music that I simply could not follow along with.  My sight-reading skills were terrible.  So I re-created it in notation software and listened the crap out of it.  "This passage, then there's 3 sections of crazy, so then I know the goose horn hits five seconds later, and then bam I play here."  That was WAY easier than trying to keep up with 14 time signatures happening within a 30-second period, times 100.  Yeesh.

It can even be just knowing where the downbeat is in a solo, knowing where the accents are inherently.  It's about getting the tempo in your body instead of having to actively listen for it, which adds to the number of things your brain is trying to juggle at that time.  It really is like juggling, because instead of looking at each of the objects in the air (which gets impossible after only a few), you instead should be working with the flow and shapes of how things rise and fall.  It's one big picture...

Feeling the pulse of a song, in your head, in your body, that's a skill that more taiko players could stand to learn.  And it's not something best practiced in the studio/dojo, that's something you can learn just by listening to more music, different music, music that challenges your ear and makes your foot tap out a beat.  It's all about feeling a groove - any groove, all grooves - that a song provides and moving with the beat, not having to count on top of it.  An easy skill?  Not often.  But damn there are few skills quite as valuable.


There are so many good artists out there, not just in taiko but all over.  And there are so many good quotes that can really change how you think about your art, if you take a few and really think about them.  And that's what I'd like you to do, to think about something you heard a while back that stuck with you.  What's there below the words, below the surface?  Where can it take you?

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