Thursday, August 31, 2017

Wrapping Up: The Blog

Going to talk about the blog a little bit, with two final posts to follow.

I started this blog on February 26th, 2009.  That's 8 years and 7 months ago.  The idea at the time was just to be a brain dump for me, but also to hopefully be entertaining and at times provide advice and/or drills.  I had minimal experience with blogging, never really took the time to make this blog more attractive to get more traffic (sorry!), and most posts were written in less than a week's advance time.

Many times I would stare at the screen hoping for something to inspire a topic, sometimes for longer periods of time than others.  When inspiration hit at random times, I wrote notes down to go to for when those creative droughts hit.  Sometimes I felt I had some really interesting things to talk about, other times I would finish a  "post" and feel very unsatisfied with it.  It was almost like being a writer, because I was, well...writing.

I never wanted fame from this, but I did like hearing when people found my posts useful, and I even liked the few times people would argue with me, because it made me think and led to further discussion.  Unfortunately, a blog isn't a good place to have conversations, so comments were few and far between.

I know I started repeating myself, intentionally when I came up with a new angle or deeper understanding, but as I reviewed my posts, unintentionally many times as well.  After posting twice a week for many years, I'm not surprised that happened, and it's another good reason to come to an end.  I'm sure I'll have more to say, more questions to ask, but it won't be through here.

A few random statistics for you to munch on:

- There were 875 published posts at the time of this post, plus 30 drafts that were either not fully-fleshed out or just didn't sound right.

- In the last year, the U.S. gave me 59% of my viewership, followed by 10% from the U.K., 5% from Russia, and 4% each from Canada and Germany.

- Last month I had 1,126 page views.

- My most popular post of all time was "The Tall Whisper" back in Dec. 2010, but I think some of this was due to people searching for pictures like the one I posted.  The two most popular posts in the last 12 months were my Question Everything posts on kiai and bachi.  (Links on the previous post.)

- 467 people viewed my Glossary, which was "in progress" pretty much always, ha.

- Most people found the blog from Google or directly, but very few from Facebook, which is surprising.  But I didn't link many of my posts on Facebook, certainly nowhere near 875 of them.

- The average time spent on my blog was 1m24s.  About enough time to read a single post, I would guess.  Like this one.  Which you are doing now.  :)

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Monday, August 28, 2017

Wrapping up: My favorite posts

I've written 902 entries as of this one.  903!  That's a lot of stuff to wade through, much of which is just me saying I played here, did this thing there, and lots of rambling...

But sometimes a post of mine really expresses what I'm thinking, and/or causes me to think more.  Sometimes a post still has impact to people years after I've written it.  Sometimes a post reflects an ideal or philosophy I continue to try and meet.  So here's what I was able to pull, that speak to what this blog was all about.  I truly hope that within the links below, there's something that resonates, that inspires, that helps someone reading it.

What the @%#&! is taiko?
Identity, self, me, art!
Taiko don't care
Extracting meaning
Who plays better taiko?
Too late.
The art of the struggle
Cultural Appropriation
Excuses, revisited
Video: Madonna and taiko
Is this taiko? Vol. 01
Taiko in an age of instant gratification

Hand independence
Drill: 23468 
Drill: My Favorite Drill
Video: Konnakol (just a little bit)

Question Everything/Questions
Question Everything: Bachi
Question Everything: Ego
Question Everything: Kuchishoga
Question Everything: Ki
Question Everything: Training in Japan
Question Everything: Shatter the illusions
Question Everything: Are you any good?
Who sculpts you?

Failure *is* an option
Do simple things well
Ack! (stage fright)
Limitations aren't fixed
Soloing, part 3: Musicality
Soloing, part 5-2: Rhythms on multiple drums
Soloing, part 9-2: Endings
The Tall Whisperer
Loop of progression
Mouthful of sprinkles
Standards and comments
Perception of Quality
Being creative
On testing (and failing)
Suck or fail?
Out of the box
Taiko Elevator
Working on Rhythm
Soloing for the song (feat. Ringo Starr...kind of) part 1

Pulling back the curtain: What's touring like?
12 weeks, 12 songs: Epilogue
Competitions - The findings

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Big post in progress, come back on Monday!

The post I'm working on is actually taking a while.  So yeah, come back Monday.  It's not the last post, but it's taking a lot more work than most!

Monday, August 21, 2017

NATC 2017, ruminations

Okay, I promise this is the last post about NATC.  But now that I've dissected what I enjoyed and why, I wanted to put some thoughts and questions out there...

1.) All those taiko groups that aren't on social media.

We heard that about 50% of the groups in North America aren't on social media.  So that means they're not seeing the threads on Facebook, seeing what's out there, sharing what they're doing.  I wonder why not?  And then I wonder if it matters?  Would it be more trouble than it's worth?  Would it really enhance their experience?  Food for thought.

2.) What/who is the "future of taiko"?

At Taiko Jam, On Ensemble was referred to as "the future of taiko".  But are they?  Nothing bad to say about OE, but when I see what the "taiko landscape" looks like since they started, I see a lot of the same stuff out there.  And that's not a critique either!  Just an observation.

I definitely see their influence out there, as people and groups both try to emulate what they see in OE as well as being more open to different approaches and musical sensibilities.  But there's still an overwhelmingly large number of community groups and those numbers seem to be growing just as much as ever.  Maybe the actual numbers would tell a different story, but I don't see the future of taiko being much different for quite a while.  That's not a good nor bad thing, just...a thing.  Am I wrong?  Tell me otherwise!

3.) Where can NATC go from here?

I heard there were about 700 people at NATC 2017.  That included workshop leaders, performers, participants, volunteers, people at the marketplace, observers, etc.  That's a lot of people.  But it's really not been able to get bigger than that (Stanford was the largest so far but I forget the number).

It's hard to find facilities that can provide all the things we need for all the workshops and performances, while also provide housing and food and still be affordable.  And it's hard to find volunteers since there are a LOT needed already, and a larger conference would just add to that number.  Anything outside of the major "taiko hubs" means finding people to help is really hard!

I know some people wish NATC was longer, but then it makes it harder on some people taking even more time off work - people including workshop leaders, facilitators, etc.  Possible, just difficult.

Half the attendees are new to NATC (first-timers), so that means the half left over (~250 this time?) are people who have come before.  If we're only seeing about ~250 people that have been before, after 10 conferences, does that mean people stop wanting to come/can't come, or do people stop playing taiko?  Or are we just not able to let those people sign up because we have to limit our size?

Granted, maybe we don't need a larger conference!  Maybe this is the ideal size and even with resources to make it possible, a larger one would just be too cumbersome.  I know TCA probably talks about this sort of thing, but I think it's a good topic to think and talk about as part of the community.

Anyways, that's it for NATC-related posts, I promise!  Not sure how many posts I've got left to go, but it's almost coming to an end!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

(post-post) NATC 2017!

Ok, I'm mostly recovered, so I can talk about my experiences at NATC 2017.

First off, it was a great conference.  There will always be hiccups and behind-the-scenes chaos of some sort no matter what, but things ran pretty well!  It was my 9th NATC out of the 10 that have been held, and I really regret missing that first one...  I'm still processing a lot of what went on last weekend but I wanted to get things written down, for my own sake as well as for the blog's.  So here goes, in no particular order:

1.) The "Women in Taiko" STI was awesome.

I didn't go to the 3-day event before NATC, but I definitely felt the impact.  I've heard from some of the attendees and felt the residual energy throughout the Conference.  For a community with so many female players (about 66%) , there's an inverse number of male workshop leaders.  Why is that?  The idea of a woman on stage as kazari-mono (decoration) is very common, why is that?  How many women weren't able to become as famous as their male counterparts because they spent their time raising the kids?  How many women players that are good aren't taken as seriously because they're considered "cute"?  Lots of issues, lots of questions.

I'm hoping this topic can be expanded on and addressed within our community!  Really glad it happened.

2.) Going as a participant was invigorating.

I've been a Workshop Leader for several NATC, and went as an observer/assistant for the last two.  Being an Observer means I have freedom to go to different workshops, but it's not quite the same experience, I've come to realize.  Taking workshops and going through the motions of the lesson, trying new techniques or new approaches to technique, those had an impact on me.

I find myself inspired from the simple act of moving differently from how I've been moving for years now.  It opens doors and hints at new possibilities.  I don't want to leave my style behind, but instead see how much of my own style I can cultivate within the boundaries of the group's style.

3.) Longer conversations had impact.

There are a LOT of conversations to be had at NATC.  Most of the time they're about catching up with old friends, getting to meet new people, or quick chats about how a workshop went.

I got to talk for a long time with 4 different people in particular, people I've known for a while but have never really been able to get to know.  People who play, people who used to play, people who lead, people who teach, people who made things possible, people who still make things possible.

These conversations ranged from asking meta-questions to talking about the nuances of technique.  And these conversations, more than anything - more than participating, more than watching performances - have my head buzzing, gears turning.

4.) I don't get to "geek out" over taiko often enough.

I spent 20 minutes alone in the marketplace talking with a couple of well-known taiko players about sub-division drills and practice tips.  Before that, I spent time talking about different ways to clap and with which hand.  During walks across campus I had discussions about pedagogy and practice.  During meals I talked with friends about naname stands and relative heights.  I live for those kind of exchanges, even after 24 years of the art.

5.) No post-NATC blues.

I've seen/heard people get the "blues" after leaving NATC, because they're leaving this environment of so much learning, cooperation, support and connection.  For me, I pretty much use all my 'extrovert juice" for the year in those 4 days, and by the time I leave, I'm feeling a really good balance.

6.) I really hope to teach workshops again.

In one of my workshops, people were talking about a technique being really difficult that I've spent decades working on.  It made me want to teach workshops again (not that I haven't wanted to, but this stoked the flames again).

It's funny, after saying I loved being a participant, I also really miss teaching, too.  I'm thinking of offering things that haven't been addressed much in the past, things I spend a lot of time thinking about and working on.  With all the time I've spent analyzing workshop feedback, I like to think I could craft some really good workshops!  Time will tell.


I needed NATC for it's ability to collectively kick-start my creative and inspirational juices.  A lack of sleep and sore calves from all the walking around campus is a small price to pay.  And even though I said this on Facebook, a big thank you to everyone who made NATC happen this year, as well as to everyone who's made it happen from years past.  It was great to talk to people who've read my blog and hear how it's been helpful, and so I hope I can continue providing that even if on a smaller scale through teaching and sharing my thoughts on the Facebook Taiko Community as topics come up.

Looking forward to NATC 2019!  Yikes!  :D

Monday, August 14, 2017

(post) NATC 2017

So it's the day after conference, but I'm writing this far in advance because I *know* I'll be in no shape to write anything.  I probably had a lot of fun and embarrassed myself a couple of times doing wacky things.  Probably!

I'll see y'all on Thursday!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

(pre) NATC 2017

Woo!  Heading out this morning to San Diego for the long-awaited North American Taiko Conference.

I'm feeling calm about it, but looking forward to seeing old friends and making new ones, challenging assumptions and learning different approaches.  I'm planning on not getting enough sleep and walking many many miles back and forth across campus, because that's the norm, haha.

If my blog has helped any of you, made you think twice about something you never thought much about before, or just been entertaining over the years, I'd love hearing it if you find me this weekend!  I'm guessing I've got about a month left for this thing before I put it to rest.

So enjoy yourself if you're going this weekend, and if not, I hope you can make the next one!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Wrapping Up: Fear vs. Failure

These two things are topics I came back to again and again in the course of my posts.

Which is worse?  Is the fear that prevents you from trying something worse than actually failing at it?  Is failing at something you've been practicing for a while worse than messing up because you're so worried about it?

To me, fear is far more crippling than failure is.  You can and will fail as you progress, screw up on the road to getting better.  But you can learn from failure!  It might very well suck at the time, but a year later the sting is gone and you've probably taken steps to make sure that failure never happens again.  But fear?

Fear will keep you from trying.  And not trying means not doing, which means you can't get better at something.  Fear will spiral around in your head and wind up convincing you that something with a small risk could end up with the worst humiliation ever.  Fear can actually affect your technique and make you more likely to fail!

You might make a failure a bigger deal than it is, but ultimately it's something that actually happened.  Fear is a product of the mind that can be expanded to ridiculous levels with no basis in reality.  You know why kids learn so quickly?  One reason is that they have no fear, no baggage about "what if..." and "but I might..."  They just do.  And if they mess up, they mess up.  It doesn't have the impact we as adults give it.  We can learn from that.

Would you rather be someone who only plays a limited amount of things because they're worried about looking like a failure in front of others?  Or someone who's open to trying new things, often messing up, but getting better with every attempt?  Which of the two types is going to wind up better off in the long run, with more experience to draw from, more practiced skills?

That's not to say that failure is minor.  While I recommend brushing off mistakes and errors during the performance, I strongly recommend taking them seriously after the show.  If you don't address the things that went wrong that were within your control, you're not going to get better and you're limiting the potential of the ensemble.  But failure is rarely literally failure in these situations.  Your bachi aren't going to explode into 50 pieces and blind someone.  You're not going to hit the drum so hard that it rolls into the audience and crushes someone.  You can't screw up a song so badly that the composer catches on fire!  Mostly likely, you get off tempo or play the wrong section.  That sucks, but is it really "failure"?

Failure can and will happen, but once it does, the song continues.  You move on.  Fear can and may happen, but it won't go away until you make it go away - either by forcing it out or doing the thing you were so worried about.  I would rather fail almost any day rather than fear the failing.

So what about you?  What do you fear in your art and how can you overcome it?  Where did you fail and how did you learn from it?  And has fear of something caused you to fail?

I'll end this post with a quote attributed to Bruce Lee.  "Don't fear failure. — Not failure, but low aim, is the crime. In great attempts it is glorious even to fail.”

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Wrapping Up: Improvisation

Not sure exactly when I'm ending the blog, maybe end of September?  As I get close to the last post, I decided I wanted to talk a bit about the things I think about a lot in a series called "Wrapping Up".

What a better topic to start with than improvisation?

Improv is quite the art.  I've written about it at length, as you'll find if you've read my posts.  To be good at improv, you have to first be good at the thing you're improvising in.  For taiko, this means musicality and technique, but also often movement and energy/expression, as well.  Some people are better at it than others; most of us will need to practice it to get good with it, let alone comfortable with it.

Want to be good at improv?  Work on risk management just as much as your musical ability.  Improv means not playing what you've always played and sometimes not playing what's the most comfortable for you.  This means you might not play something great.  Which means you might not play something good.  Which means you might fail.  But that's a risk you have to take, in order to improve the skills that can make your improv better.  Eventually, your skills grow, your comfort increases, and the risk diminishes.  What's more, even when you do encounter a "fail" moment, you're better able to handle it and move on, IF you've been practicing!

Another thing that you'll need to be a good improviser is being able to adapt to the situation.  Maybe you don't want to overshadow/out-do someone, maybe you need to match a mood, maybe you need to kick the energy up three notches, whatever.  Or maybe you're not the only person improvising, so you need to balance what you're doing with other people.  Sometimes these observations are easy to take in, happening over an entire song or set, but other times you need to react within a few measures before reacting yet again.

And the last component is having a large repertoire to pull from, in terms of patterns and movements.  If you're totally comfortable improvising but only have five patterns you can play, that's pretty limiting.  If you can only improvise to a slow dongo, you're pretty limited to what songs that'll be useful in.  If you can only improvise using large movements, what about songs that don't call for them or when in smaller venues?  The more things you can pull from your "kit", the more pieces and situations you'll be able to fit into when you improvise.  Where do you get more patterns?  Listen to more music.  I can't (and won't) stress this enough!

Good improv takes mental acuity and active practice.  While a set/scriped solo delivered spot-on can be super-rewarding, for me it's never matched the feeling of being "in the zone" and having things come out of my hands and really really nailing it.  I hope it's something you already practice, but if not, it's never too late!

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