In June we were lucky enough to take part in a Taiko drumming workshop. It was a (much belated) 40th birthday present from my folks. I have only now found the time to blog about it.
The Aged Ps learned of the course when the Mugen Kyo Taiko drummers performed at the Alderney Island Hall a few years ago. Mugen Kyo – the name means 'limitless reverberation' – have been established for 20 years. The founders trained in Japan and set up a dojo near Glasgow. They run courses and workshops and also perform, touring the UK regularly. They recently toured Japan and were invited to participate in a Taiko festival in Japan – the first Europeans ever to participate.
The group happened to be touring a couple of weeks before our course, so we went along to see them at Leamington. They were terrific – energetic, dynamic, exciting.
So, we joined the course having done a brief tour of the north east – visiting Yorkshire (bloody foggy – didn't see a single centimetre of the North York Moors), Whitby (gothicly misty),
Berwick upon Tweed (clear skies and nice bridges) and
Lindisfarne (sunny and misty and we regretted that we didn't pack a dress for C so that he could do his Donald Pleasance in Polanski's Cul-de-Sac impersonation).
Then we crossed the border into Scotland in order to join the course which began on Saturday morning. We were a group of 18 including two chaps who had no idea what they were letting themselves in for but were determined to enjoy it. The instructors introduced themselves – we were to be taught by the group's founders as well as two members of the group who had just finished touring. They had nine drums so we each paired up and took it in turns. This was a really good system – the course was very intense so it was great to have a break from actual drumming to rest legs (not arms) and learn the pieces while the other group practised.
We both found many similarities with martial arts: getting into a strong stance, letting gravity do most of the work hitting the drum but maintaining control as the bachi (stick) hits the hara (centre of the drumskin). We learned breathing techniques and the principles of channelling 'ki' (energy). And lots of shouting – very similar to the "kiai" in karate – used at random, in this instance to encourage your team rather than scare your opponent.
We were taught three pieces and learned to play them as a group. You learn the rhythms by chanting, then chant whilst practicing the hand movements with your bachi in the air. We counted in using:
"One, two, so, re" – on 're' raise your hands dramatically to begin drumming.
There were lots of subtleties to the drumming process that we found fascinating. This included the Japanese concept of 'ma' (negative space) where the lack of sound is as important as the sound itself. These are represented by 'tsuku'. It's kinda similar to traditional Japanese paintings, where much of the image area has no image.
We learned about the Ji-uchi or base rhythms:
Gobu-Gobu (doko doko): 5 – 5
Mitsu-uchi (don doko): three hits
Shichi-san (donko donko): 7 –3
These were played for us by the pros so that we could keep time.
Here are the pieces we learned:
DON KA KI DAIKO
DOKO DOKO DON DON
R L R L R L
DON DON DODNKO DON (shout) ha! x5
R R R L L R (jump to next drum, next in line jumps in)
DO-N DO-N KARA KA KA (the karas involve hitting the side of the drum)
R L R L R L
DO-N DO-N KI KI KI (the kis involve hitting the bachi together) x4
DON DOKO DON DOKO DON DOKO DON DON x4
R R L R R L R R L R L
DON DON DON DON DON DON DON DON x2
R L R L R L R L (crescendo)
We played this as a group with a line up of 5 drums at the front and 4 at the back. The first brave soul did a solo of the first two lines, then on "Ha!" jumped to the next drum and the next in line jumped in. This was repeated until all 9 drummers had completed their line. Two drummers were on the O-daiko (the really big drum) and joined in for the next part of the piece. Playing the O-daiko was a brilliant experience – it has such a deep, resonant sound. It's hard work though.
KAMITSUKI KIYARI DAIKO (MIYAKE)
DON (tsuku) DON (tsuku) DON DON (tsuku)
L R L R
DON (tsuku) DON (tsuku) DON DON
L R L R
DO DON KO DON DON
L R L R R
DO TOTO KO DON DON
L RR L R R
CHICHIBU YATAI BAYASHI
Traditionally played at matsuri (festivals), the drummers are located inside huge floats and these are carried through the streets. It's pretty cramped in there. The drum is positioned at a 45deg angle, you sit with it between your legs, lean back and…
R L R L R
R L R L R
DOKONKONKODON DOKO-N DONR L L L R R L R