Big drums.

Last Saturday was not a day filled only with seething rage over grammar. I briefly wandered through a riverside fair with my roommate and a couple of friends, then I left them behind to drift through the artisan stalls while I headed up to a nearby church to take in the reverberations of

Artists for Japan

Wonderful creators and performers doing something wonderful.

I managed to give some money to the relief effort in Japan during the months of March and April but haven’t been able to contribute for the past several weeks.

Since I am tremendously impecunious, there was no way I could participate in the silent auction they were holding (photographs, painting, calligraphy, handmade items).  I wandered through their displayed items and wanted. [Warning: sometimes when I am watching or listening to something in another language I have difficulty thinking in English. Permit me this nerdmoment.]

悪いけど、金がないから 何も買いませんでした。T−シャツが欲しいなのに。。。[It sucks, but I had no money so I didn’t buy anything. Even though I wanted a t-shirt…]

What I could do was participate in a little goodwill, the concept of “sobani iru” [here with you] which newspapers around the world brought to light right after the Tohoku Daishinsai [Great East Japan Earthquake]. This was a win-win situation for me, involving as it did one of my favorite musical genres:

Taiko drumming.

Taiko is a particularly athletic musical form, the martial art of music. There is great significance given to arm movements and vocalizations during each piece. Ensembles choreograph poses to reflect pauses in the beat and maximize striking force on the drum head when needed. Sitting drummers shift incrementally for the best angle for the desired pitch and timbre. Standing drummers brace themselves in poses which allow for quick vertical and horizontal movements, twirl their bachi [batons] gracefully, and slam their will into gigantic drums.

We’re not just talking big drum, here. We’re talking big, mother drum!

Yoinked from the Shizuoka Guide

Big, mother drum!!

Taiko is a music for battle: against fear, against indifference, against ennui. It is also a music for celebration, exuberance, and fun. When you’re near those drums and every strike of the baton reverberates through your very bones, it is utterly impossible not to be transported, energized, transfixed, transformed. At the very least, you’ll want to bang a stick against something, yourself.

Crank up your speakers. The links are coming!

Pieces can be played solo, in groups on a variety of percussion instruments or on a single type of drum, involve flute (traditionally a fue, but modern flutes and shakuhachis are also used), shamisen (a traditional Japanese lute), or voice (vocables, chants, sometimes even singing is woven into the beats). There is also a fair amount of fusion and modernization going on with taiko ensembles, for example: modern percussion, Tuvan throat singing, and taiko (this particular piece also uses a koto, another traditional Japanese instrument). There are those who have absolutely moved taiko from art to spectator sport.

[Another thing that draws me to taiko performances is that most traditional and traditionally-based taiko uniforms very kindly leave arms and shoulders and upper backs unclothed unhindered. Yum. Drummers absolutely are the sexiest people alive. It makes me kitties and puppies sad when drummers wear happi coats.]

No matter who does it or what the occasion is, taiko is FUN.

[I had really hoped to share the drums with some of my friends but none of them took me up on the offer. At least I had a really good time!]


2 thoughts on “Big drums.

  1. I had to look up impecunious, so if you hadn’t translated the Japanese you might have put me right over the edge. ;D

    Taiko is amazing. I remember having to turn and flee while listening to performers at the Edo Tokyo Museum because it hit me that I only had a few days left and started to cry. I had been well aware of the fact all day and was even ready to go home, but something about the drumming really got to me.

    We used to have groups from Hawaii and Japan come for our Japanese Festival, but it’s gotten too expensive. Now we have a group from a local university and they’re not nihonjin. It’s just not the same.

  2. I remember when you took us to see the taiko master at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA, in 2007. Wow! The sound was just breathtaking, and I could have listened to them play all day. Thanks for the memories, Meg. I hope you enjoyed the pictures of that performance that I sent you.

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