Definitions

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Taiko

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).

Types of taiko

Japanese taiko drums have been developed into a wide range of percussion instruments that are used in both Japanese folk and classical musical traditions.

Taiko, in general, are stick percussion instruments. With the exception of the kotsuzumi and ootsuzumi, all taiko are struck with bachi. They have heads on both sides of the drum body, and a sealed resonating cavity. Taiko are also characterized by a high amount of tension on the drums heads, with a correspondingly high pitch relative to body size. This high tension likely developed in response to Japan's wet and humid summers when most festivals take place. Many taiko are not tunable, and a drum with high head tension would counteract the slacking effects of humidity.

Taiko are categorized into two types of construction. Byou-uchi daiko (鋲撃ち太鼓) taiko have heads nailed to the body. Tsukushime-daiko (付締め太鼓) have heads sewn onto iron rings, which are then laced to each other around the drum body.

Byou-uchi daiko are typically hollowed out of a single piece of wood. The preferred wood is keyaki (欅) due to its density and beautiful grain, but a number of other woods are used, grouped under the generic term meari (目有). Byou-uchi daiko cannot be tuned, and their sizes are limited by the diameter of the tree they are made from.

The typical byou-uchi daiko is the nagado-daiko (長胴太鼓, long-body taiko). The nagado-daiko is an elongated drum, roughly shaped like a wine barrel, that can be shifted in many different ways that affect the sound of the instrument. The drum can also be played by more than one performer at the same time. This style of drum also signifies the family of drums that are made from a single piece of wood. Nakado-daiko are available in a variety of sizes, from 1.0 shaku (12" in head diameter), to 3.0 shaku in 1 sun increments. The chu-daiko is a medium sized nakado-daiko. Nagado-daiko over 3.0 shaku are also available, but they are referred to as ōdaiko (大太鼓 great drum). Smaller byou-uchi daiko such as the sumo-daiko and hayashi-daiko also exist.

One of the most defining drums of any Taiko ensemble would be the ōdaiko. The ōdaiko is the largest drum in all of Taiko if not the entire world. Some of the drums are so large that they cannot even be moved so they’ve taken up residence inside of a temple or shrine. Made from a single piece of wood, some ōdaiko can come from trees that are hundreds of years old.

Tsukeshime-daiko (付締め太鼓) are available in a wide variety of styles, and are tunable. This style of taiko is typically tensioned before each performance. The tensioning system is usually rope, but bolt systems and turnbuckles have been used as well. Tsukeshime-daiko can either have stitched heads placed on bodies carved from single piece of wood, such as the shime-daiko and tsuzumi, or stitched heads placed on a stave-construction body such as the okedo-daiko.

The shime-daiko is roughly snare-drum sized, and is generally available in five sizes - Namizuke, or number 1 size, is the lightest and is used in classical theater such as noh and kabuki. Nichougakke, or number 2, are usually used by amateur players for its light and yet sturdy frame. sanchou - gochou; number 3 to number 5 are used by semi-professional to world class performance groups.

Other Japanese taiko include the uchiwa-daiko (団扇太鼓、fan taiko), hira-daiko (平太鼓, flat taiko), o-daiko (大太鼓, big taiko), and a host of percussion instruments used in Japan's traditional noh, gagaku, and kabuki ensembles.

The Aomori region is famous for the Nebuta festival where huge okedo are played by many people while carted through the streets. The Okedo has its own upright stand which was invented by Asano Taiko Drum Company.

Again, like the nagado-daiko, the okedo has a rim sound, called "ka." When playing the rim of an okedo, however, it is important to only hit the outermost metal ring and not the actual rim of the drum body. The thin, light wood of the okedo is particularly susceptible to denting and will quickly deteriorate if hit.

The early history of taiko

Along with the martial use of the Taiko drums, they also held a strong foundation in the court style music called Gagaku. You would expect to find this style of music held 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.

Modern taiko

Modern taiko is recognized as having been established in 1951 by Daihachi Oguchi. He is credited with forming the first actual Taiko ensemble referred to as kumi-daiko and starting the modern popularity of Taiko performances. Daihachi Oguchi was originally known for his jazz drumming performances. As the story goes, he was going to play a drumming piece for one of the local shrines and decided to add somewhat of a jazz style flare to the piece. Coming from a jazz background, Daihachi Oguchi speculated why the Taiko drums had never previously been played as an ensemble before. From this simple idea Daihachi Oguchi put together various Taiko of all different shapes, sizes, and pitches to be included in his ensemble. The drums were also arranged in the same type of manner that a jazz drum set would be expected to look like. Since an actual Taiko ensemble had never really performed together and the people he had playing with him were in no way professional musicians, he based the rhythms of their performance on the simplistic arrangement of the shrine music that had been previously played; which allowed for nearly any person with the interest in Taiko could play along. It was from the foundation of the first Taiko ensemble that Daihachi Oguchi continued on to lead the successful Taiko group named Osuwa Daiko. At 84 years old, Daihachi Oguchi died on June 27th, 2008, after being hit by a car across from his home in Nagano, Japan. Oguchi is widely attributed as the GrandMaster of modern Taiko. He formed or helped to form nearly 200 taiko groups in Japan, Singapore, Canada and the U.S.

Around the same time as Daihachi Oguchi’s Taiko ensemble's name was spreading around Japan via radio and television broadcasts, another pioneer in the field called, Sukeroku Daiko, emerged. Their performances consisted of speed, fluidity, and power. They also brought flashy choreography and solos. Despite the group’s eventual break up, one of its members, Seido Kobayashi, went on to form the group Oedo Sukeroku Daiko, which is credited for being the very first professional Taiko group.

Another Taiko ensemble that set the framework for one of the most popular groups began on Sado Island. The group, Za Ondekoza, was founded in 1969 by a man named Tagayasu Den. He set out to make Taiko more than just entertainment but a way of life. He collected a group of youths from rural areas across Japan so that they would be uninfluenced by the big city way of life. With this mindset, the students practiced a very rigorous training regime that typically consisted of marathon running and communal living. Due to complications, the group members and Tagayasu Den split off and Mr. Den left Sado Island. The remaining members, with the help of drums from Asano Taiko, went on to form the Taiko group Kodo.

Kodo has gone on to be one of the world's most popular and recognized performance ensembles. Since 1988, the group has also hosted the Earth Celebration International Music Festival, which brings music enthusiasts from all over the world to their headquarters.

Most recently, a new generation of Taiko performers groups have emerged. Art Lee (Art Lee - Taiko) is a solo performer living in Japan, and director of a group, Tokara, through which he introduces a new style of artistry of movement and sound into Taiko composition. Entertainment groups such as Wadaiko Yamato and TAO have become full agencies in which the performance group is the main charter of the company as a whole. Other groups such as Shidara, stick with the traditional way of life of their area, while infusing their towns festival traditions into the entertainment industry.

The Taiko band GOCOO from Tokyo is the first internationally renowned group lead by a female drummer (Kaoly Asano). GOCOO is also the first Taiko ensemble to exhibit free-spirited Taiko MUSIC, rising freely between the East and the West, tradition and pop, rite and party.

Additionally, taiko has grown in the United States since coming over from Japan in the late 1960s. The first American taiko group, San Francisco Taiko Dojo, was formed in 1968 by Seiichi Tanaka, a postwar immigrant who studied taiko in Japan and brought the styles and teachings to America. A year later, a few members of Senshin Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles were putting away a drum after an obon festival and decided to just have a jam session and after several hours of playing, they decided to form a group. Shortly after, Kinnara taiko was formed. In 1973, the third American taiko group, San Jose Taiko, was formed by a group of young Japanese Americans in the San Jose Japantown.

In the 1990s, there was a new development in taiko in the United States. In 1990, students at UCLA formed the first intercollegiate taiko group, Kyodo Taiko. In 1992, the second and third collegiate groups were formed, Stanford Taiko at Stanford University and Jodaiko at the University of California, Irvine. Since the formation of these three groups, collegiate groups have formed all around the nation. It's estimated that about 36 collegiate taiko groups and about 300 taiko groups in general exist in the United States today.

As a sign of taiko's emerging influence, Bear McCreary heavily relied upon the instrument for much of the music in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica series.

Taiko performance

There are four different styles of Taiko performance.Multi-drum, multi-player (複式複打法)
Two or more drummers play more than one type of Taiko. This style of performance is popular nowadays. It is also referred to as Kumidaiko (組太鼓).Multi-drum, one player (複式単打法)
One drummer plays more than one type of Taiko.One drum, multi-player (単式複打法)
Two or more drummers play only one type of Taiko.One drum, one player (単式単打法)
One drummer plays only one type of Taiko.

Taiko ensembles

Taiko ensembles are groups that are nearly completely drum instruments, with a couple of exceptions. Each from the drums plays a very specific role to the overall aspect of the ensemble. Of the many different styles and shapes of Taiko drums, the most common drum found in an ensemble would likely be the nagado-daiko.

Drums are not the only instruments played in the ensemble. They also incorporate a wide variety of other Japanese instruments to their ensembles. Common string instruments found with many different Taiko groups would be the biwa, koto, and the shamisen. Of the woodwinds used, the bamboo flutes known as the shakuhachi and the shinobue are popular items.

Uses of the taiko in warfare

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.

Related terms

Bachi : Straight wooden sticks used to play taiko drums. (See separate entry for additional details.) Ji : 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. Kizami : Straight simple meter. Ukare : "Swung" compound meter. Ma : 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 : 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. Chanchiki : A high pitched instrument meant to establish a common tempo. It is held by hand

See also

Further reading

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  • Ulrich, A. "Pounding Ecstasy." San Francisco Focus (1993): 67-68.
  • Uyechi, Linda. "University Taiko: Roots and Evolution." In Symposium on North American Taiko, Stanford Taiko Invitational. Stanford, CA.
  • Varian, Heidi. The Way of Taiko. Berkeley, Calif.: Stone Bridge Press, 2005.
  • Wadaiko Ga Wakaru Hon. [Understanding Taiko], ed. Asano Taiko Co.: Asano Taiko, 1995.
  • Wadaiko Nyūmon. [Introduction to Taiko], ed. Taiko Center. Kyoto: Taiko Center, 1992.
  • "What Is Taiko." The Kodō Beat, Winter 2001, 1-2.
  • Whiteside, Wendy. "The Beat Goes On." Student Paper, Washington University of St. Luis, 2001.
  • Wong, Deborah Anne. Speak It Louder: Asian Americans Making Music. New York: Routledge, 2004.
  • Yamamoto, Hiroko. Nihon No Taiko, Ajia No Taiko [Japanese Drums, Asian Drums]. Tokyo: Seikyusha, 2002.
  • Yamazaki, Kiyonori. Wadaiko Ongaku Ni Mieru Nihon No Rizumu: Ma, Omote Ma, Ura Ma [Japan’s Rhythm as Seen in Japanese Taiko Music: Space, Fore-Space, Back-Space]. Tokyo: Nihon Zusho Kankoukai, 2003.
  • Yano, Christine R. "The Reintegration of Japanese Bon Dance in Hawaii after World War II." Selected Reports in Ethnomusicology 6, no. Asian Music in North America (1985): 151-162.
  • Yoon, Paul Jong-Chul. ""She's Really Become Japanese Now!" Taiko Drumming and Asian American Identifications." American Music 19, no. 4 Asian American Music (2001): 417-438.
  • Yuuki, Emi. Ondekoza's Run across the U.S.A.- My Youthful Days, America 15,000km. Tokyo: Popurasha, 1995.
  • (Zai) Nippon Taiko Renmei [Nippon Taiko Foundation]. March 27 2006. Accessed March 9 2006.

External links

  • http://www.taiko.com/taiko_resource/history.html#research
  • Japanese Drumming Videos - videos of ensemble taiko drumming
  • http://www.sftaiko.com - Main site for San Francisco Taiko
  • http://www.taiko.org/main.html - Main site for San Jose Taiko
  • http://www.stanford.edu/group/stanfordtaiko - Main site for Stanford Taiko
  • http://wadaiko-makoto.org/ Wadaiko Makoto Japanese/french Taiko band home page

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