Drums of the Dragon Part Two: Differences

June 10, 2016

On June 12, 2016, Midnight Taiko will be writing taiko history in Calgary! For the first time in our city, our taiko players will be performing alongside musicians of the Calgary Wind Symphony, in a joint concert entitled DRUMS OF THE DRAGON!

Taiko is a whole musical world in itself. Although there are obvious musical similarities, there are also significant differences!

One of the first things that you will notice at a taiko performance, is the physical movement of the taiko performers. Physical fitness and choreography are essential components of taiko, in contrast to a classical performance where most of the musicians are usually seated in a structured orderly format.

ben_memberYou may also notice that taiko players will shout or yell syllables while they are playing. This is called kiai, and is a release of energy from the performer’s hara (the body’s centre). Sometimes players kiai to encourage or cheer on their fellow drummers, especially during a solo: the energy is released from the hara and is given to the other person as a form of encouragement. Audience members are encouraged to kiai as well, to encourage performers to play well!

Large classical ensembles such as orchestras or concert bands also require a conductor, who stands in the front and centre so that all musicians can see him or her. The conductor has many responsibilities, including musical direction, keeping the musicians together in time, showing changes in tempo, musicality, and putting together all the different parts that the musicians are playing. Taiko ensembles do not use a conductor, but usually rely on a timekeeping backbeat rhythm known as ji-uchi. The “ji” is usually played by a higher pitched drum such as the shimedaiko, so that it can be heard over the booming volume of the taiko drums.

Taiko is often taught aurally, using a spoken method of teaching. We call it kuchishoga, or “word-writing” “word-singing”. Each note has a name, depending on which drum is used, how long/short the note is, and how loud/soft the note is. There is a saying in taiko “If you can say it, you can play it” and often when new pieces are being taught, the first step is to learn the kuchishoga before you can play it on the drum.

In classical music, there is a universal method of writing the music. Sheet music is written using a system of clefs, notes, rests, and other symbols which are understood by trained musicians around the world, and across centuries of time. Each instrument in the band or orchestra has their own sheet music, and the conductor is responsible for the score, which has all the parts written together.

Sheet music for Twinkle, Twinkle

Taiko, on the other hand, has variation in teaching methods and notation. Notation will vary from one taiko group to the next. Some groups use a more traditional percussion notation, while other groups develop their own notation which can widely vary from group to group.

Below is a link to an example of sheet music from the open-source song Omiyage, which will be performed by Midnight Taiko at Drums of the Dragon. This notation was developed by Jeanne Kiyan and Jen Baik.

To demonstrate the variation of taiko notation, below is another example of taiko sheet music notation from Kris Bergstrom of the Los Angeles Taiko Institute, which looks quite different than traditional notation and is also quite different than the earlier TaikoProject example. This is one phrase from the Copyleft song Jack Bazaar.

Link to sheet music for Naname Phrase Hedgetrimmer

Considering the above differences, there have been a few challenges for Midnight, and preparations for Drums of the Dragon have been ongoing since January, especially for the members and apprentices who will be performing in the joint pieces Gloriosa and The Great Wave. Reading the sheet music, counting through rests, and watching the conductor are all finely tuned skills of musicians that are automatic for wind players at the Calgary Wind Symphony level, but these skills are not typically utilized in a taiko ensemble like Midnight Taiko. It has been a challenge and a lot of work, and each member and apprentice should be highly praised for all the preparation that has gone into this project. This is an amazing opportunity for Midnight Taiko and the entire group is looking forward to concert day!

Concert tickets can be purchased here:  Calgary Wind Symphony website