My Taiko Journey
Not that long ago I sat down to dinner with a dozen or so friends. We have been on a journey together, a journey that we were celebrating and are still celebrating, for the journey continues on and these words are a little piece of me and my experience of this adventure.
The milestone I refer to above was the first year anniversary of joining Narukami Taiko. I can’t pinpoint my first exposure to Taiko Drumming, I know I had seen it, and was very roughly aware of what it was, but I do know for sure that the Narukami Open Day back in 2015 was my first hands-on experience. I could probably write an entire article on just that open day, but suffice to say, it was such a positive experience that the very next day I was in contact with Jessie and I had my fingers crossed there would be an opportunity to come and join the group.
I love music. I always have, and I hope always will. I love a variety of different musical styles, but in particular electronic music would be the one genre I couldn’t be without and this may explain my instant affinity with the sounds of Taiko.
Fast forward a number of weeks of that first term, and whereas still feeling a little reserved and shy with the Monday group, we were already beginning to form a rough and ready rendition of Gaina. It was becoming apparent with each passing week that yes players are individuals, but the music and the song will only ever be really achieved by the individuals working together as a cohesive group. This isn’t easy to accomplish with a group of inexperienced, often shy people who come together once a week, but yet somehow the act of playing together brings us together within that state of mind that is purely about the music, where it permeates through each person in the room and binds us as the sounds stop being merely sounds and begin to form actual music and eventually the song forces itself into existence. This song has been played before, innumerable times by many before us, but never in that form crafted by the people in this room. It is a power which bonds us together as we become part of the tradition of the song and the art, and I feel privileged to be part of that.
As the terms progress, we continue to learn new songs and new styles of playing, and with that comes some additional realisations about Taiko and how new layers of enjoyment continue to be added. Movement and the physicality of drumming is something I learned is core to the art. In the first term adding movements for Gaina seemed like a cruel way to mess up all the work you’d put into learning the song, but as I learned Ujigawa and Gezanbayashi, it began to make sense that actually the movement is as much the song as the rhythm. I have a natural tendency toward enjoying physical pursuits and the challenge of the physicality of playing the drums, as well as doing it in a graceful and elegant way is something I began to enjoy more and more, and that has continued to be the case to this day. I definitely don’t have the natural elegance of some in the group, but i prefer to turn that around and use the group to help me develop this as best i can. We all have strengths and weaknesses with various aspects of the discipline and what binds us even more tightly is to be able to share with others how to best accomplish a skill that you have but someone else doesn’t. The strength of the group encourages a natural tendency to leave reservations at the door and be open with each other for being helped and offering help, and i have found that absolutely invaluable and is a testament to the culture of Narukami Taiko.
A key part of any performing art is…. you guessed it… Performing ! Requests for performances occur regularly, and every player is encouraged to take that daunting step into playing in front of others; out there, no safety net… gulp…
I believe doing live performances is the natural progression after putting so much effort into learning; it’s a motivator to learning and it feels like music is meant to be shared and it’s nice to be in a position where you can offer this to people. Music is great, but Live music is the truest form.
The first performance I was asked to be part of was WestFest, West Park School fete in Johnsonville. I’m sure i’m not the first to have been there the night before my first performance, going through the song, thinking of the movements, the sequences, and generally trying to banish the horrifying ideas of dropping sticks and making mistakes. Show time came and I stepped out feeling nervous, especially looking out into the crowd and instantly spotting someone i knew looking right back at me. Gaina begins, things are going OK, and i’m beginning to relax. I build into that crescendo and Crack! ... one stick hits the other and takes it clean out of my hand. It’s ok, it’s ok, I grab the spare stick and instantly notice i’m holding it the wrong way around. Ordinarily that shouldn’t matter, but for some reason i decide it’s important to swap it over and further disrupt my train of thought. I then proceed to mis-read where the song is at and make another very obvious mistake with the sequence. Please just let the ground open and swallow me up right now and release me from this humiliation ! Luckily i had to jump straight into Ujigawa and that song went off without any unscheduled separations of hands and sticks, although i’m guessing I could have been marked down for various other movement-related issues, but I didn’t really care about that, I was clutching both sticks and I hit the right beats. Success !
I felt pretty unhappy after that first performance, but I also felt a level of exhilaration. There was a very tangible feeling of “imagine how good that could have felt if…” that I was able to channel into making some positive changes to prepare for future performances. The next time I performed was at the CubaDupa festival which, with the help of the prior experience, i came away from with an immense feeling of satisfaction and truly feeling I had been part of something special. I continue to love being part of performances; it doesn’t mean it comes without nerves or a bit of a mental battle, but it always feels worth it as it comes with a unique level of accomplishment that you’ll never experience in the classroom.
Back to the present day, the journey continues and grows more colourful with each passing week. I’m now in the throes of bringing up a tally of 10 songs that i know, or am learning. I sometimes find it hard to believe where i’ve got to in such a short time as I still feel like a newbie. I can see all sorts of positive effects in my life that have come about as part of being part of Narukami, probably the main one being a major increase in self-confidence. The social aspect to the group is extremely strong and I have gained so many friends from this group that I feel enriched, and this continues to expose me to all sorts of new experiences passed on by being part of the group. Each passing term heightens my understanding of Japanese culture, Taiko-related and otherwise, and this is definitely something I wish to improve as time passes. Hopefully one day I will visit Japan and get to experience this first hand. I guess that’s down to me.
Last thing to say is a massive “Thank You” to Jessie whose passion and determination has made this group possible and continues to drive it forward. It continues to be a very positive part of my life, and I’m sure of the lives of the various people who were sat around that table celebrating our first year together. Here’s to the many anniversaries ahead !