Monday, September 20, 2010

The Way of Taiko

Taiko (太鼓?) means "drum" in Japanese (etymologically "great" or "wide drum"). Outside Japan, the word is often used to refer to any of the various Japanese drums (和太鼓, wa-daiko, "Japanese drum", in Japanese) and to the relatively recent art-form of ensemble taiko drumming (sometimes called more specifically, kumi-daiko (組太鼓)). The performances can last between 5 to 25 minutes and typically follow a jo-ha-kyu (beginning, middle, end/rapid, sudden, urgent, and emergency) structure, which means the performance will speed up significantly towards the grand finale.

According to myth, taiko was started by Ame no Uzume, a shamen-like female deity. One day, fed up with her naughty younger brother, the sun goddess, Amaterasu Oomikami, hid herself in a cave. The world became pitch dark and the other deities tried to appease Amatersu, so that world be bright again. They held a big party in front of the cave and Ame no Uzume danced an erotic dance, stamping her feet on a wooden tub. The gods laughed and cheered loudly and the noise provoked Amaterasu to come out her cave. And thus, the world saw light again.

The various drums of taiko are of Chinese origin and were brought to Japan between the Yayoi period (500 BC - 300 AD). Along with the martial use of the drums, they also held a strong foundation in the court style music called Gagaku, performed in the castles and shrines across ancient Japan. Gagaku alone is one of the oldest styles of court music that is still being played in the world today.

A. Kiriko Daiko
Kiriko Taiko is a taiko style specific only to the Noto Peninsula of Ishikawa Prefecture. The taiko is played in an upright position, usually with two people (or up to five people) on a single drum. Unlike performance taiko where songs are performed, Kiriko Taiko allows for versatility - it allows the player to combine any of the Kiriko Taiko rhythms they have studied in any order. It is this freedom that makes Kiriko Taiko a dynamic and exciting taiko style to both perform and watch. In the Noto Peninsula alone, countless Kiriko Taiko groups exist, each possessing their own specific and unique rhythms, movements, and backgrounds.

B. Hachijodaiko
Hachijodaiko (alternatively spelled Hachijo taiko, Hichijotaiko, or Hachijo daiko) is a unique style of Japanese drumming originating on Japan's Hachijo Island (Hachijojima), a Pacific atoll located some 287 kilometers south of Tokyo. Hachijodaiko is an improvisational style of drumming in which the drum is positioned vertically to allow two players to hit either side at the same time. One player provides the underlying beat, or shitabyoushi, while the other builds on this rhythmical foundation with a unique and typically improvised musical composition (uebyoushi). While there are specific types of underlying bass rhythms (shitabyoushi), the accompanying player is free to express an original musical beat.

C. Miyake
Miyake is a traditional Japanese taiko drumming style that has become known through works of a taiko group Kodo, and is formally called "Miyake-jima Kamitsuki Mikoshi Daiko". The word 'Miyake' comes from Miyake-jima which is an island of the Izu Island chain and located at 180km south of Tokyo.

The style of Miyake Taiko has developed as a music for Gozu Tenno Sai --a traditional festival held on July in Miyake-jima since 1820. In this festival, they keep playing Miyake Taiko from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. to lead their mikoshi portable shrines going around their town. Akio Tsumura had also played for the festival before Miyake-jima erupted in 2000. After he evacuated from the island, he arranged the original music into a form suitable for musical performance.

In feudal Japan, taiko were often used to motivate troops, to help set a marching pace, and to call out orders or announcements. Approaching or entering a battle, the taiko yaku (drummer) was responsible for setting the marching pace, usually with six paces per beat of the drum (beat-2-3-4-5-6, beat-2-3-4-5-6).

According to one of the historical chronicles (the Gunji Yoshu), nine sets of five beats would summon an ally to battle, while nine sets of three beats, sped up three or four times is the call to advance and pursue an enemy.


Straight wooden sticks used to play taiko drums.

Also called Jiuchi, is a basic rhythm used to support the main rhythm, or the O-uchi. It can also be described as the meter or feel of a piece (being in a straight duple meter or having a swing feel). Some of the more common rhythms for ji are don doko, don ko, or don go (swing pattern). A Jikata is a performer who plays the ji rhythm.

Straight simple meter.

"Swung" compound meter.

A Japanese term that can mean "interval" or "space" (i.e., 'a' tto iu ma; the space it takes to say 'a'; compare to the English saying "in the blink of an eye"). It is used in music to describe a period of silence. In taiko music, ma is the period between hits on the drum. It is important to appreciate this silence when playing taiko, just as you would appreciate the sound of a hit on the drum. Since ensemble taiko is focused on rhythm, the ma of a piece is critical to adding drama, excitement, and tension. Ma can be a rhythmic rest, or an extended silence, to be broken at the player's discretion. If the player concentrates on hearing the ma between each hit, in addition to the hits themselves, he or she will create a much more effective and satisfying sound. A good example of how ma is used is in oroshi.

Oroshi is characterized by a series of hits on the taiko. The player starts out slowly with lots of 'ma'(spacing). Gradually the 'ma' between each hit becomes shorter and shorter, until the drummer is playing a rapid roll of hits. In other words, a gradual increase in tempo.

A high pitched instrument meant to establish a common tempo. It is held by hand