I think it is rare to see such impressive musicianship and excellent teaching skills in the same person, and even more amazing to find a group of four people who work so well together in both of those respects.
They split up the job of teaching us so that each member of On Ensemble taught us something about a different aspect of playing taiko specifically, or playing rhythms in general, all in the context of learning a new song. Some of the time they taught us as a large group, but for learning the individual parts, they broke us into smaller groups (Maz led my group).
Overall, it was really well planned. I totally appreciated the fact that they stuck to a well organized schedule, while maintaining a relaxed atmosphere, and did their best to make sure everyone got a chance to play frequently. When I wasn’t playing I was air drumming along, or doing my best to absorb the details of what the group that was up was doing. I was sometimes sleepy, but never bored.
The music that we were learning was a new concept for me in more ways than one. Shoji created something both clever (the sections followed a formula between loud and soft) and intricate, with an deep, pulsing, groove. At the end of the day, he emphasized the fact that he’d created this as open source taiko… meaning that we SHOULD take it home, change it up, and make it truly our own, without even crediting him for the song. He didn’t even give it a name so it can become an entirely different thing for every group that plays it.
STI culminated in playing what we’d learned in front of an audience (whoever Kris could convince to come). I was relieved to be in the back, playing Odaiko, where I wasn’t super visible, so I wasn’t too nervous. Instead it was a fun way to end our lessons.
I’m really sad that STI is over… three days hardly seems enough. However, Taiko Conference proper is just about to begin. We still get to hang out with other players. For example, the three of us had dinner last night with Kelvin, plus John-Paul and Matt– two of the other participants. We also have an appointment to rehearse taiko games with Kris this evening.
I’m so glad that the end of STI is not the end of my taiko vacation, and am looking forward to being surrounded by a mob of additional players.
Another note: It was great to see some old friends from the KASA/Mix trip again, including former Kodo apprentice, Joe, as well as John-Paul, and Marinda. I was also pleased to meet fellow STI participant Carrie Carter, writer of All Things Taiko, and to discover that like me, she went to Oberlin College!