Odaiko New England

Taiko Whirlwind, or What happend to April, May, and June?

Spring is the busy season for Odaiko New England.  It’s the time of year when everyone wants to have taiko at their outdoor festivals.  It’s also my personal busy season.  I’m a landscape designer, and run my own business.  I know I’m not the only taiko player to have a difficult time balancing work, life, and taiko, so I imagine my spring will sound familiar to a lot of folks out there.

It all started in April, right after we got our new ONE jackets and other gear:

Sheilarae, Kristen, Jasmine, and I sported our new jackets while loading for the first of many spring gigs.

Sheilarae, Kristen, Jasmine, and I sported our new jackets and hats while loading equipment for the first of many spring gigs.

April 17: Stone Church Arts

The week I finished my taxes, I completed spring cleanups for 2 clients, planted 5 apple trees, interviewed 2 new crew members, organized my tools, and attended taiko practice as usual.  The week’s activities culminated in a 2 hour concert in Bellows Falls, VT on Saturday.  This was an excellent show, based on reVision, our 15th anniversary concert from last spring.  Since it was a full length concert, we needed transition pieces to distract the audience while setting up drums for the next piece.  That meant I got to break out my sanshin and play Island Stroll with Diane again.  I am happy every chance we get to perform it.  The first time was terrifying, but now I think we are both getting a lot more confident.

Kristen and Karen playing Shin-en.

Kristen and Karen playing Shin-en.

May 1: Rhode Island Cherry Blossom Festival

The last week in April included many hours of weeding, mulching and pruning, during the day, with visits to the dojo in the evening.  I needed the practice since, on May 1, we had the privilege of performing at Rhode Island’s first Sakura Matsuri (Cherry Blossom Festival).

Unfortunately, the same early spring and warm weather that brought me a lot more April business than usual, also encouraged the cherry blossoms to open well ahead of schedule.  That meant that the blossoms were long gone by the time we were there to celebrate them.  It was also surprisingly hot weather for early May.  No matter!  We still had a good time with both performances that morning.

A noisy waterfall in the background in Pawtucket, RI wasn't loud enough to drown out the sound of our drums.

A noisy waterfall in the background in Pawtucket, RI wasn't loud enough to drown out the sound of our drums.

May 1: Wesleyan University Student Recital

For some of us, performing twice in one morning, just isn’t enough taiko.  So, after we finished our performance at the Cherry Blossom Festival, Kristen, Tanya, and I hopped into Tanya’s car and drove to Middletown, CT.  There we had a delicious and leisurely meal before meeting up with Karen and watching the Wesleyan University student taiko recital.

The Wesleyan students displayed tremendous energy, and some pretty awesome solo skills.

Mark loosk on as the Wesleyan Students perform Matsuri.

Mark looks on as the Wesleyan Students perform Matsuri.

Fortunately, there was time for ice cream with Mark before our drive home.  On our way, Tanya and I learned that a massive water pipe had burst not far from my home, affecting the drinking water supply for the entire area–much of the Boston area was under a boil water order.  (Lucky Tanya lives far enough West that she didn’t have to worry about it.)

May 2: Walk for Hunger

The very next day, we had an opportunity to bring taiko to the masses.  Project Bread’s Walk for Hunger is an enormous fundraiser, involving over 40,000 people who walk to raise money for emergency food programs.  Our job was to play at the finish line, as a way of thanking the walkers for their efforts.  We also served as entertainment for the volunteers stationed at the finish line to hand out water.

This type of gig has a very different feel from a stage performance.  For one thing, we were playing to create a festive atmosphere, to an audience that wasn’t likely to give us their full attention, except briefly as they pass by.  That meant that we didn’t play our standard arrangements of a wide variety of songs.  Instead we played fewer songs with more looping.  We played in the sun for over two hours, so I was especially appreciative when we were given ice cream bars.  Did I eat 3?

May 8: Spring Thunder Festival

Twice a year, we put together a taiko showcase in order to give our students an opportunity to strut their stuff, while giving members a chance to try out something new.  The spring showcase (or Spring Thunder Festival), was a smashing success.  Watching the students perform with joy can be quite inspirational for a jaded old player like myself.   (Yeah, okay…  4 years of taiko hasn’t actually jaded me, but the students are still an inspiration.)

The community members had the chance to learn the Hachijo-Yatai Bayashi Medley in just a few weeks.  That was both challenging, and a blast!  I love playing the Yatai part against Hachijo.

May 15: Asian Heritage Festival, House of the Samurai

A week later my parents were planning to come for a visit.  But wait!  I’d volunteered to perform at the House of the Samurai Asian Heritage Festival in Londonderry, NH that weekend!  What to do?

Easy Solution: Mom and Dad were driving from VT anyway, so they just stopped in Londonderry to see me play, and then gave me a ride home.

I particularly enjoyed this gig.  The House of the Samurai is a Karate dojo which also has programs in Yoga and Chi Gong.  The space was beautiful, Ken and Mandy (the owners of the dojo) were tremendously nice, and after our performance we had the chance to relax and enjoy the other activities they’d arranged for the day.  It was my parents’ first chance to see a our festival set–which it turns out my Mom likes a lot more than the formal concerts.

Cat, Joy, Jasmine, ?, the Odaiko, ?, Juni, Diane, and myself after the show.

Cat, Joy, Jasmine, Ken and Mandy Akiyama, Juni, Diane, and myself after the show.

May 22: YMCA Movie Night

Thanks to Karen, we had a quick chance to build a connection with our neighbors at the North Suburban YMCA in Woburn by performing a few songs before they screened “Up”.

June 12: Waltham Riverfest

Last year, I had my first chance to lead a gig.  It was an exciting opportunity to get practice in leadership, logistics, and public speaking.  But the memory will always be darkened by the fact that I spent the rest of my time that weekend arranging a trip to Texas for my cousin’s funeral.

I couldn’t help thinking about the good and the bad from last year, but with my family in the audience, and rain clouds overhead, the second Waltham Riverfest was a completely different story.  Last year’s performance had been perfect weather.  This year, the looming rain began to fall just as the previous act wrapped up.  Fortunately, we had a plastic sheet to protect the drums, and the organizers had a canopy that we could set up under.

We couldn’t have played without the canopy, but it was very small-about 10 feet by 10 feet.  Somehow, we managed to squeeze the odaiko and 3 chudaiko under it.   Fortunately I’d brought Smokey, my Remo shime.  Since she’s made of synthetic materials, it was okay to play her in the rain, so we didn’t have to fit 5 drums into the tiny space!

The audience was larger than last year, despite the significantly worse weather.  There wasn’t enough space for naname, and I was concerned that the rain would get harder, so we had to shorten the set, but still managed to play a Reimei remix, Kashmir, and Shin-en before a wet audience.  We even managed to pull off some audience participation.

Meanwhile, another crew of Odaiko New Englanders were getting rained on while participating in the Boston Pride parade and festival.  But that’s someone else’s story.

June 13: Dragon Boat Festival

The next day, we put in our annual appearance at the Boston Dragon Boat Festival.  This has been one of my favorite festivals since the first time I played it in 2007.

This year our set included Mahora, a marathon song, which I remember playing at Dragon Boats two years earlier.

June 26: Taiko in the Woods

As June, and the busy season, drew to a close, a few of us attended a private camping party, in which we had the chance to play for the other attendees.  I love playing with the forest as a backdrop.

Cat captured me mid-twirl as I played Matsuri.

Cat captured me mid-twirl as I played Matsuri.

Always a Little Behind

Keeping up with posting to the blog can be tough with a performance schedule like this, on top of practices and the miscellaneous work that we do for the group–not to mention our day jobs.  Even though there are many ONE members who could be blogging, we don’t always find the time.  I don’t know how my favorite Taiko bloggers (like All Things Taiko, On Ensemble, and Raion Taiko) keep up!  I don’t even have time to read all their awesome posts, let alone write for and manage the ONE blog!  Maybe I’ll learn.  Maybe next year I’ll keep up…  For now, I’m going to cheat a little bit, and post this with a date of July 1 for the sake of our archives, even though I’m actually writing this much later.

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