Study in Japan

Arts / Article

By Iris Shiraishi, Mu Daiko Artistic Director

A true highlight of my taiko career happened just recently!  A grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (MRAC) Next Step Fund enabled me to spend two weeks in Tokyo to study with master artist/instructor Kyosuke Suzuki of the Wakayama Ryu (school). Suzuki Sensei (teacher) teaches the music and dance of the Shinto shrine, including the festival music – Edo Bayashi –  along with the shishimai or lion dance and kagura (dance) music. Three Mu Daiko members were able to accompany me, including Heather Jeche, Miyo Nakaoka, and Jeff Ellsworth.

I’ve always been fascinated with this music. Its beautiful fue (Japanese flute) melodies, smaller taiko, and percussion all together create music that is both ethereal, hearty, exacting, and improvisational. And it is totally different from the kumidaiko style and music that Mu Daiko and other taiko groups perform. I’ve had a couple of private Edo Bayashi lessons with Suzuki Sensei in the past along with a workshop, and was introduced to this music by another master artist, Kenny Endo. I’ve chugged along on my own in between these contact points, listening to the CDs and trying to imitate its nuances and sensibilities.

The chance to have eight hours of lessons in Asakusa, an area of rich cultural traditions, was an amazing experience. Suzuki Sensei is passionate and dedicated in transmitting this music intact and was an exacting, generous teacher. He pushed us quickly through the music – as soon as it appeared we had a handle on one phrase or rhythm or concept, he proceeded rapidly to the next. It was a phenomenal experience to have him face us, mirror our sticking, sing the fue melody and shout out cues to us all at the same time. Never in this lifetime will I attain this kind of mastery, but I’m so grateful to have been able to sit next to it!

This kind of experience enriches and deepens all of the kumidaiko work we do as part of Mu Daiko. On my return to Minnesota, I stepped back into my taiko classes with a renewed vigor, sharing stories and different approaches to technique inspired by Suzuki Sensei, and also by the additional lessons we had with three up-an-coming Japanese kumidaiko artists.

My students are deep into preparation for our annual student recital – Passing the Beat 2014 – which is coming up June 21 & 22 at the Sabes Jewish Community Center in Minneapolis. These students are a true microcosm of the state of North American taiko. They are individuals from all walks of life and at many playing levels, all of them embracing the excitement, passion, and community building in an art from that comes from “the other”. And the Mu community welcomes them with open arms!