On the weekend on May 23-25, myself and two other members of TCNJ Taiko, Chris Leone and Stephanie Pypniowski, had the opportunity to travel out to Stanford University in California to attend the 2008 Intercollegiate Taiko Invitationals. This was the 14th annual gathering of collegiate Taiko players from across the country, which started in 1995 at Stanford. TCNJ Taiko still being in it’s formative stage, we figured that Invitationals would serve as a good place to learn technique, gain more exposure to the collegiate community, and network with both professional and collegiate groups. The weekend ended up being more than we could have imagined, surpassing our expectations.
Friday, May 23rd, 2008
So we originally arrived at Newark at midnight the night before for a 6:30AM flight, because we were accounting for extra time due to getting through TSA. Just our luck that the security checkpoint for our gate wasn’t even open, so we couldn’t do anything until 4:30. After failed attempts to sleep, we passed the time playing cards and eating the fried rice I had made and brought. Chris spent some quality time with Apollo Justice (of the Phoenix Wright series)…
After two long plane rides and various mass-transit trips, we arrived in sunny Palo Alto, CA around 1PM. Of course check-in didn’t start for about 8 hours, so we ditched our bags in Chris’s room and explored Stanford’s beautiful campus, the Stanford Shopping Center and downtown Palo-Alto. We had a nice dinner of really cheap (compared to the east coast) but really good sushi, and browsed all the shops and restaurants up and down University Ave.
The first night was pretty uneventful; we met in our dorm groups for the night and just had some time to hang out and get settled. Most people started arriving around 9PM or so, but about half of the people coming didn’t come until closer to 1AM or so. Until then, we got to know each other, played some games to pass the time, etc., and then passed out around 2 or so.
Saturday, May 24th, 2008
After an early-morning wakeup and breakfast, everyone was ushered into White Plaza for warmups. We did some basic stretches and exercises, and then broke into our workshop groups to learn Modori. Modori (meaning “somersault”) is a piece written by Stanford Taiko’s David Wells which was taught to everyone in attendance, and played by representatives of each school at the end of both of the weekend’s concerts as the Finale piece.
After warmups and learning Modori, we went to our first workshop. Mine was Improvisation with Russel Hisashi Baba and Jeanne Aiko Mercer of Shasta Taiko. First we talked a bit about improvisation and the theory behind it. Then we did an exercise where we went around in a circle and all created patterns that the rest of us then had to repeat, and another exercise where we all improved for increasing amounts of time. After that we did a cool exercise where we improved with two other players to create a whole song, completely improvised, which was really cool and ended up working better than I thought it would. There was another exercise to build confidence in soloists, and then we did a quick exercise to practice Oroshi on O-daiko, which was cool, after which we had to wrap up because the workshop time slot was over.
After lunch, we had moved on to our second workshops. Mine was Group Performance with San Jose Taiko. We started off with an exercise which tuned us in to stage presence and what needs to be running through your mind as a performer, and how your actions need to reflect purpose. We then did a 15-minute “Roy drill”, which really brought out the energy in the group. We then learned an exercise, building it up first by learning the notes, then adding kiai, and then movements. Using that exercise, we learned how to connect with the audience, and our fellow taiko players.
This workshop I found especially helpful, as energy and presence is an aspect where TCNJ Taiko has room for improvement. Having not had much of a chance to practice with other experienced taiko players, it was a good experience to really feel the energy throughout the room, and to feed off the other players. This year I hope to get our group to feel that same feeling – I’m still excited thinking back to the experience, and I want all of us to get a chance to experience it.
After the second workshops was practice for the concert, where we solidified Modori, and the other groups warmed up. [video of practice] The concert was informal, so I joined Chris and Steph in the audience since I wasn’t going to be playing until the end. We got the chance to watch most of the concert, and it was great to see all the groups we had watched on YouTube right there in front of us. It was also exciting to see all the people we had met over the course of the weekend thus far performing for us!
The last piece of the concert was Modori, which we had all learned, and it was played by representatives of each school. I got the chance to represent TCNJ Taiko on stage, along with 7 other schools. It was a great experience to perform a new song (and even solo in it!) in front of hundreds of collegiate taiko players! [video of Modori, Sat. night] Although it started out alittle rocky, it magically came together (thanks Deni >_<) and we all did an awesome job for having learned it only a few hours prior.
After the concert, we headed over to dinner, where we were surprised by entertainment. Stanford Calypso (Stanford’s own steel drum band) performed a few songs for us (including a really cool arrangement of Billie Jean), and then we were treated to a few dance numbers by Stanford’s Polynesian dance group. While they performed, we were treated to tasty Indian food and cookies, and then we had plenty of time to hang out and chat with other groups, etc. We took this opportunity to meet Kenny Endo and On Ensemble (and buy a DVD or two), and got to chat with them about our group.
After dinner, we attended a lecture on The History of Taiko, led by Stanford Taiko’s Faculty Adviser, Steve Sano. The whole talk was very informational, and we learned alot through the videos and such that were presented.
That concluded the scheduled festivities for the day, so the three of us retreated to Chris’s room to make hachimaki (since we hadn’t had the chance beforehand) for the exchange the next day. We eventually went back to our respective dorms, where we spent more time hanging out with our dorm groups until we went to bed… again around 2AM, probably alot later than we should have >_<.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
After another early-morning wake up, breakfast, and rousing set of warmups/exercises, we headed off to our third and final workshop of the weekend. My third workshop was Shime (and small drum) playing, led by Kris Bergstrom and Kelvin Underwood of On Ensemble. Chris and Steph had already been to this workshop and liked it, and I’d never had any real instruction on shime, so I was glad to finally learn. It was a very informative workshop, and I got a good feel for technique and how it differs from larger drums. I also signed up for Kris’s “30 Days to Better Shime” course which I’m currently following throughout the month of June.
Next we had a discussion panel on Composition, led by Kenny Endo, Shoji Kameda (member of On Ensemble and writer of Omiyage), and Roy Hirabayashi (Executive director of San Jose Taiko). This was also very informative and gave a lot of insight into the composition process.
After the panel, we had lunch and our hachimaki exchange. I swapped hachimaki with Masa from UCD’s Bakuhatsu Taiko Dan, who I’d gotten to know over the course of the weekend. It was cool to see all the interesting designs (UCB’s were band-aids, and one group made theirs into Pokéman)… hopefully we’ll be able to make cooler ones next year. -_-
After lunch, we had Master Classes / Free Time. Me, Steph, and Chris decided to attend UCSD Asayake Taiko’s master class with On Ensemble. Asayake impressed us with their song, Jikan Gire (“Time is running out”), with it’s odd metering and high energy. It was a great experience, getting to see them work with the group and transform an already amazing piece into something even cooler! It definitely gave some great examples of how you can think about compositions in a fresh way, and how to communicate that vision to the group.
The last planned festivity of the invitational was the second and final concert. At this concert, we got to see all the groups that hadn’t performed the night before (minus St. Louis and ourselves). It was exciting to see all these other groups perform for us! And the finale performance of Modori went alot smoother than the night before >_<
After the concert, we said our goodbyes since most of the other groups were packing up to leave. Our flight was the next day so we stuck around until most people left.
At some point we decided to go to dinner, and Chris F’s friend Jill volunteered to drive us to Mountain View for dinner (which was very nice of her). A little bit of driving, and a few of Chris’s definitive decisions later, we ended up at a nice Chinese restaurant, where we had delicious food and talked about the events of the weekend. We then headed out to the nearest boba establishment, but due to a slight miscalculation, we weren’t able to order before they closed for the night.
After that we retreated to Colin’s house to sleep for the night, but ended up staying up past 2 talking about taiko (notice a pattern?).
Monday, May 26th, 2008
After 3 fun days in Cali, it was finally time to head home. The trip home was pretty uneventful – during our 3-hours stop in Denver, we got dinner at Wolfgang Puck Express (which was pretty good but kinda pricey) and dessert at the Ben&Jerry’s, where I got an awesome Cookie Cookie Sundae for only $5. After that we hung out in the terminal and finally touched down in Newark around 1 and were back home by 2 or so.
Hopefully we’ll be able to go to next year’s invitationals at UCI, hosted by Jodaiko! Hopefully we can bring more people, and maybe even perform a song (like many of the people we met expressed interest in)! ‘Till next year!
LMU Shin Kanarazu Daiko, St. Louis Osuwa Taiko, Stanford Taiko, TCNJ Taiko, UCB Raijin Taiko, UCD Bakuhatsu Taiko Dan, UCI Jodaiko, UCLA Kyodo Taiko, UCLA Yukai Daiko, UCR Senryu Taiko, UCSD Asayake Taiko, USC Kazan Taiko