Sunday, April 17, 2016

Taiko in the library!

I had a chance to do something I've wanted to do for a long time yesterday—I attended a workshop put on by Portland Taiko—in a downtown library, of all places! They did a few of these workshops this year, and I managed to get on the list for this one. I didn't know what to expect, really, and was just hoping I could last an hour and a half, with my wrist and ankle braces and not-so-fit muscles. I need not have worried.

Four members of the group showed up with more than a dozen big chu daiko drums and the striking sticks—bachi—for us to use. In the video, that's Wynn keeping time in the back on the smaller shime drum, Chad on the left, Lisa in the front, and Kristal on the right. They were very relaxed and welcoming, and I got to spend a little time talking to Chad about the drums and the group before all the participants arrived.

They started with a rousing performance, which I was kicking myself for not videoing, before they moved all the drums into the middle of the room and we got to start playing them. The group showed us the proper position for playing, named and demonstrated the strikes, and showed us one of their beginner songs. It had five lines, each one a series of strikes in a different rhythm. We only had time to learn three of the lines, but I learned them well enough to write them down when I got home. We took a brief break while Wynn told us a bit of the history of taiko performance, and I was surprised to learn that the first taiko ensembles were not formed until the 1950's. So while the drums themselves are ancient, taiko performances like the ones familiar in the US are not. He also pointed out that the relatively easy availability of used wine barrels is helping feed the growing appetite for taiko drums in the US. They have to be taken apart, sanded, glued together, and covered with the rawhide cow skins—not really a one-person job—but way less expensive than finding hardwood log sections to age for years and carve out.

After we finished learning what we had time to, the group performed another song, which I did manage to capture on my iPod, and the clip above is from that. (Apologies for the substandard video.)

If you've never heard a real taiko drum up close, I can tell you, it's a spiritual experience. Before we got started, I leaned over my drum, putting one ear close to the surface, and struck it gently with one bachi, and the reverberations went all the way to my bones. But besides the awesomeness of the sound, you get the precision of all the performers locked into the groove, the dramatics of the moves, and best of all, the sheer joy on their faces as they play. These people know how to have fun!

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