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Weblog of Kaoru Watanabe, NY based Flute/Fue player

Filtering by Category: Diary/report

Australia (Jan 18-29)

Bryce Craig

Hi everyone, Please enjoy Kaoru's latest travel report from his time in Australia and New Zealand! Leave a comment too!




I left for Australia the day after I returned home from Barbados and arrived in Sydney to find Ian Cleworth and Riley Lee from TaikOz waiting at the airport.  A few hours after landing, we went to the St. Luke's church where the Kinetic Jazz Festival takes place for a rehearsal with Kim Sanders.  Kim and I exchanged pieces, me showing him some Japanese folk music and original music and him showing me a Romanian folk song.  Riley, Kim and I did some trio improvisation and we called it a day.  I took a walk in Newtown, a very hip neighborhood with plenty of coffee shops, bookstores, art galleries and clothing shops.  The following day I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art by the Sydney Opera House and saw some some fantastic exhibitions of the works of Anish Kapoor, other international and local Australian artists and was pleasantly surprised to see Greg Ligon's video work with music by my friend Jason Moran.  In the evening, I performed with the Tim Clarkson septet playing flute on one tune and fue on another.  One of the greatest cultural treasures that the US has given the world is jazz and it was inspiring to see musicians of such high caliber playing in Sydney.  The music was challenging rhythmically and harmonically but the musicians breezed right through it.

Anish Kapoor. Amazing show at Museum of Contemporary Art in Australia


I traveled to New Zealand to see my friend Melanie Taylor who had just returned home after many years living in Sado working for Kodo.  She will continue working for Kodo from abroad while going to graduate school in Melbourne (pronounced malbin as I was sternly corrected by Ozzie friends).  Over the course of three days, we had lamb bar-b-que with her family, visited the Aukland zoo, One Tree Hill, the beach, and drove a couple hours to Waitomo to visit the glowworm caves - where I played the fue in the dark, the cavernous ceilings dotted with countless glowing specks.  I was back in Australia Friday night in time for the Saturday morning TaikOz Intensive.  About forty or so participants from all over Australia and Tazmania were present, taiko enthusiasts who traveled some great distances to share and learn as much as they could.  For the next three days, there were workshops in all styles of taiko, fue and onikenbai given by myself and members of TaikOz.  Since Ian and Riley started TaikOz in the 90's, the group has grown to a high caliber professional ensemble, with deep connections to many instructors and performers in Japan including Iwasaki Onikenbai, Hachijo, Miyake, Hayashi Eitetsu and Kodo.  All the members are devoted students, all have extensive training in western percussion and drum set.  Everybody in the group has diverse and interesting resumes: Ian was in the Sydney Symphony for over a decade, Anton is a dancer, martial arts expert and model, Riley is a highly acclaimed shakuhachi master, etc etc!  Riley was also one of the earliest members of Ondekoza- Kodo's predecessors on Sado Island.  When I lived in the Mano school house while a probationary member of Kodo, I saw a drawing of Riley on an old Ondekoza poster every time I went to my room at night.  Riley is my sempai also in that he taught a semester at Princeton just before I did.  Despite all these connections, we hadn't me until about a year ago, in Brooklyn, where he taught a VERY intense breathing workshop at KWTC.


One Tree Hill

As for the intensive, I was amazed to learn how much taiko was being played in what seemed to me a very remote part of the world.  Living in NY even, it sometimes feels difficult enough getting information from Japan, but there are many dedicated taiko players in relatively large groups all over Australia, New Zealand, and the many islands in the area.  I even heard there were multiple groups in Tasmania some with forty members.


The Kinetic Jazz Orchestra rehearsing a piece that was apparently written for me!

I left the second night of the intensive early to perform at the Kinetic Jazz Festival with Kim, Riley and last minute addition of Timothy Constable, from Synergy Percussion.  We performed folk, original and improvised music as solos, trios and a quartet. I felt the four of us really blended and connected in beautiful ways and the audience seemed to be with us along the journey.  The sound was all acoustic and the church seemed a perfect setting for the music we created.  Two sets later, I sat in with the Kinetic Jazz Festival Orchestra on a couple tunes, including one that was written for me by Ms. Gai Bryant.  It was such an honor to perform a big band chart written for me- the first time that's ever happened!


The final evening of the intensive, I cut short my last workshop and ended it with a short, somewhat impromptu concert.  First I had all the participants perform Ichirei, a piece I had been teaching over the course of a few days- I don't think I've ever had 30 some people playing that piece at one time and have definitely never had ten or so fue players playing it en masse.  Following that, I performed with TaikOz- first an improvised Odaiko/noh kan duet, than a Steven Reich type mallet piece that Riley and I improvised over and finally my piece Together Alone which had members of TaikOz playing taiko with their hands.  It was very free and conversational yet very tight and accurate in all the right ways.


TaikOz Intensive 2013 (More at:

My final day in Australia, I had lunch with all the members of TaikOz, then visited their studio in the evening and saw their amazing array of miyadaiko, shime, okedo, o-daiko, hirado, narimono and costumes- mostly all from Japan.  Very impressive.  I left the following morning.  It was a great honor and a whole lot of fun hanging out with the members of TaikOz and all the intensive participants.



The day after I returned home, Mari and I set out for Antigua, this time for the wedding of our friends.  In the end, I flew sixty hours over the course of three weeks.  I return home with a surplus of e-mails to respond to, a few concerts coming up and a new semester at Wesleyan University.  Oh and bags of dirty laundry to wash.


Barbados & Trinidad (Jan 13-18)

Bryce Craig

Hi everyone, I'm here to share Kaoru's tour report from his Japanese Arts in Latin America (JAILA) tour where he played with Isaku Kageyama, Brian Kushmaul, Sheena Richardson, Keisha Coddington and other great artists. I've embedded pictures from his Instagram account. Enjoy!



Trinidad and Barbados JAILA Tour (January 13-18)

This was my second time visiting Trinidad under the auspices of Japan Foundation's JAILA program.  We were greeted at the airport by representatives from the Japanese Embassy, including Mr. Yoshimura who was one of the coordinators on my previous trip to Trinidad.  

The first morning there, we met with two of three musical collaborators for the concert that was to take place the following evening: Brian Kushmaul, an American percussion professor at University of Trinidad and Tobago and one of his students, Sheena Richardson- who commutes from her home every day two hours each way in order to study at the university.  They were very quick to learn a somewhat complicated composition of mine and we had a great time making music together and talking about the local music scene.  At the workshop, Isaku and I performed or spoke of Japanese festival, folk, theater and contemporary music and about the instruments themselves.  Afterwards, we talked for over an hour with very enthusiastic members of the audience, many being musicians and university students who study either music or Japanese language.  Many came up and said they had seen me in 2010.

Denard and Omar from the Japanese Consulate

That evening, after dinner at Ambassador Tekuza's's residency, Brian took all of us, including the ambassador and his wife, to visit a few steel pan orchestra rehearsals.  Although I have performed with steel pan players in the past and have heard recordings of steel pan, it was my first time seeing large steel pan orchestras live.  Some have over a hundred people playing and to hear the sheer volume of so many musicians performing with perfect synchronicity was overwhelming.  
The first group we visited was the award winning Invaders.  During the twenty some minutes we observed, they only played the same few phrases over and over and over again, with the arranger coming around to fix parts here and there and occasionally having the musicians play considerably slower to clarify the rhythms and melodies.  Another band, the Silver Stars similarly spent time focussing on a few phrases but would also run entire pieces, perhaps for the entertainment of the handful of tourists and other onlookers.  Perhaps the most extraordinary session we witnessed was Boogsie Sharpe rehearsing his band Phase Two.  In order to teach his band one short phrase, Boogsie took about twenty minutes dictating the phrase one note at a time.  I was amazed at this laborious yet thorough process which allows large groups of musicians with no formal musical training to play complex and virtuosic music with astonishing accuracy.  

Silver Stars

The next day, we had our first rehearsal with eighteen year old pan player Keisha Coddington.  Inspired by what I had seen the previous night, I taught her a fairly tricky phrase by singing it and playing it on the shinobue.  WIthin moments, she caught the phrase by ear and was able to play it back with unwavering confidence.  I had taught this phrase to many accomplished musicians in the past but this eighteen year old was perhaps the quickest in getting it so completely.  

Isaku on stage and the ambassador preparing his speech

That evening, Isaku and I performed at Queens Hall, a concert hall built in the 50's that has recently been outfitted with modern lighting and sound systems and new stage.  The majority of the concert comprised of Isaku and I performing duo, with our collaborators Brian, Sheena and Keisha in on a few pieces.   Our closing number, a rendition of the popular Calypso Tey Ley Ley elicited a standing ovation from the sold out audience.  Isaku and I stayed in the lobby for almost an hour after the concert, signing autographs and taking pictures with enthusiastic attendees.


The following day, we traveled to Barbados, just a fifty minute long flight.  We checked into our hotel, located just across the street from a pristine beach.  After a "dolphin lunch" (actually mahi mahi) and mauby (a simultaneously sweet and bitter drink that is made from boiled tree bark, spices and sugar) we rehearsed with the Haynesville Youth Group, a troupe of children and young adults who perform African, Tuk Band and Calypso music and dance.  The performers, some as young as nine, did not make a sound as they set up their myriad of drums, bells and shakers, showing their disciplined and respectful nature.  

The Haynesville Youth Group- our collaborators for the concert tonight, young men and women who play African, tuk band (from Barbados) and Calypso music, dance and song.

After the rehearsal, I had a long talk with a young man named Jahdial who was eager to share information about tuk band music and how it accompanies the exploits of the many colorful characters found in Barbadian folk lore.  That evening, we were invited to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Kirton for some delicious Barbadian home cooking and sampling of fine local rums.

Sightseeing with Ambassador Tezukasa and company

We spent the following morning sightseeing with the ambassador- visiting a fish market, an instrument shop and other sights.  In the afternoon, we rehearsed for the evening concert.  For dinner, we bought fried fish, cou cou and mac pie from the back of a food truck.  The concert went well, with very warm response from the audience.  In the collaboration with the youth group we blended a Japanese Kiyari uta with a folk melody from Barbados called Bridgetown.  After the performance, there was a VIP reception hosted by the Governor General of Barbados, where I had a delightful time chatting with diplomats from the UK, Venezuela, Brazil, the US and elsewhere.  The reception was like the rest of the trip- a whirlwind of sharing stories of travel, culture, music and family with new friends.  The final morning we had a leisurely poolside breakfast before heading to the airport.  By evening, we returned to New York's 30 degree winds and two airport personnel having a senseless shouting match in front of us, reminding us we had indeed arrived home.  
I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to the Japan Foundation for having me on this trip.  Thank you to everyone I met during the trip, especially those who have reached out online on Facebook or on my website! Keep in touch and maybe we will meet again!

View from my room in Barbados

Now on Instagram...

Bryce Craig

Hello, Here's some exciting news for you iPhone and Android phone users. You can now follow Kaoru on Instagram! His username is kaorufue. For those of you who do not have the Instagram app, Kaoru's pictures will also be posted on his Facebook page.

Check it out! Here is an Instagram preview:

On Ensemble, Kaoru, Abe, and Eien's last show of their Ohio tour is on Tuesday, Nov 13. at Urbana University's Student Center from 7-9pm. Free! More info here:

See what Kris, Shoji, Maz, Kaoru, Abe, and Eien have been up to during their tour:


Hope you wonderful weekend. Happy Veteran's Day.


Tour Update

Bryce Craig


Hi everyone, I recently helped Kaoru opened a Facebook artist's page to help him be more engaged with his community. I invite you to "Like" it and add his page to your "Interest Lists" for up-to-date content, pictures, and conversations with him and his community, including you!


Here are a few pictures from tour so far with On Ensemble (also joined by Abe Lagrimas Jr. and Eien Hunter-Ishikawa). There's a week and a half left to go!! All IMPACT tour performances are free. The next show is tomorrow, Saturday, November 3rd at 7:30pm, Voinovich Auditorium, Northwest State Community College, 22600 State Route 34, Archbold, OH 43502.

[gallery orderby="post_date"]

Check out the tour schedule at:

Mongolia Tour Report

Mari Nakano

Sept 25th,  2009 Day 1 Last night, we arrived in Mongolia after a 14 hour plane trip from JFK to Seoul plus another 3 hours to Ulaanbaatar.  We were picked up at the airport by Byamba and Soyol, the children of the great Tserendorj, the venerable praise song singer who will be performing with us.  This morning, I woke and took a walk to Subhaatar Square, a huge open space in the middle of the city with a mammoth statue of Genghis Khan presiding over it.  It was chilly compared to NY- around 50 degrees, but nothing compared to what I was expecting - I saw that a few nights ago it got down to the low 20s.  I saw an elderly man wearing traditional garb sitting at the square with a tray on his lap, selling a telephone.  Not a cell phone, but a white office phone.  Our eyes met briefly and I considered taking a picture but I was still too new to the country to risk incurring the wrath of a telephone peddler.  Fifteen minutes later I saw a woman selling fruit and a couple of office telephones.  I didn't realize it was such a lucrative product.

This afternoon, Tetsuro, Shoji and I attempted to make a stand for one of the drums since we didn't bring enough due to budget and weight restrictions for our luggage.  Lacking the appropriate power tools we started trying to hand screw the thing together but after much sweating and heavy breathing, we had to leave to go to rehearsal. The rehearsal at the Khan Bank Theater was a lively, open exchange with all the musicians offering their ideas and their artistry.  I created an outline for the overall concert and for the structure of the pieces, but I also left wide open spaces for improvisation and interpretation.  Despite it being our first time making music together we were somewhat familiar with each other, greatly thanks to our many skype sessions over the last year or so.  I felt very comfortable working with them and I have to thank my good friend Nominjin for her wonderful translation work. 

We fleshed out two pieces, one a praise song that Tserendorj wrote for the ensemble.  Shoji and Tetsuro created some taiko parts to accompany his chanting and to accompany solos by the other members of the ensemble.  Khongorzul, despite feeling under the weather, sounded absolutely incredible when she sang.  If I had to pick one word to describe her singing I would say "piercing", but I'd have to follow that word with an explanation: by no means is her voice screeching, painful or annoying, but it cuts through the air and hits you directly in the heart.  It is so strong and so pure and so full of soul that it makes you want to smile and weep at the same time.  Am I exaggerating?  I challenge any one out there to listen to her sing in person and tell me then if you think I'm exaggerating...


The Khoomei-Taiko Ensemble (KTE)-update

Mari Nakano

Hello friends, I and my colleagues are in final stages of preparation for the The Khoomei-Taiko Ensemble (KTE), An exciting new project which explores the possibilities of discovering new vital connections between the cultural traditions of Mongolia, Japan and the United States. KTE combines the American tradition for conceptual exploration of cross-cultural synthesis with ancient Mongolian and Japanese folk music traditions, bringing acclaimed musicians together from the three countries for a series of workshops and performances in Mongolia and across the United States. The instruments used by the KTE musicians include the taiko (drum); koto (Japanese zither); shinobue and noh kan (Japanese bamboo flutes); moorin khuur (horsehead fiddle); and Mongolian jaw harp. A wide variety of singing styles are featured in the program including Japanese folk song and Mongolian praise song, long song and khoomei (throat singing), a remarkable technique in which one performer sings two or three distinct pitches simultaneously.

Among the musicians are two former members of the iconic Japanese taiko group Kodo, Tetsuro Naito and Kaoru Watanabe; the long song singer Khongorzul who gained international notoriety while performing with Yo Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble; the venerable Tserendorj, an officially recognized treasured institution in Mongolia with over forty years of experience; Shoji Kameda a regular member of the GRAMMY-nominated band Hiroshima and On Ensemble; Shinetsog a young khoomei master and Miki Maruta, an acclaimed Tokyo-based koto player.

I'll be leaving for Mongolia on the 24th for a couple weeks. We'll be back in the NY area at Symphony Space, Peter Norton Symphony Space, Harlem Stage/Aaron Davis Hall, Kumble Theater for the Performing Arts in New York, The Charles B. Wang Center of SUNY at Stony Brook in Long Island. We'll also be in Washington DC and the Seattle area. Please check out the website for more info!

Japan Tour Report

Mari Nakano

Hello all!  Thanks for visiting my website.  Here is a very belated report of a trip I made to Japan in June.  More updates coming up soon including: Taiko Conference report and word about a new upcoming project Khoomei-Taiko Ensemble, which teams up musicians from Mongolia, Japan and the US. Week One June 1- 7th

Start the week off right with meetings, rehearsals, a couple of shows and a workshop.  The first performance was at a cozy, intimate jazz club called "In F" in Oizumi Gakuen.  This is one of my favorite clubs in Tokyo- the owner Sato san is a true music lover who always matches me up with great musicians.  This set was with the pianist Tsuboguchi and trumpet player Ruike.  Sato san is from Niigata prefecture, the same prefecture I lived for eight years, and has many types of Niigata sake- some of the best in the world.

After that I had a performance at Super Deluxe, a revisiting of a show I did a couple years ago called RESONANCE.  This year's RESONANCE II featured Tatsuya Nakatani (percussion), Tamango (tap), Mio Matsuda (vocals), Yuu Ishizuka (taiko) and Daniel Rosen(ceramics) and two guests artists Junji sama, an eighty four year old Nihon Buyo (classical dance) master  and Artio, a Senegalese drummer/dancer.  It was an incredible evening with some very beautiful moments. Daniel had created a screen of ceramic plates on which he projected video and images throughout the concert.  He set up a camera above his head to shoot his potter's wheel.  On this he placed bits of paper, shaped pieces of clay and splashed paints of various colors- continuously creating and destroying spinning designs and collages.  All of this was projected live onto three different screens throughout the space.  Often times the video was being projected directly on the performers themselves.  There was wide array of combinations between performers- Tamango and Yuu, Tatsuya and myself, trios, quartets as well as full group improvisations.  I really thank SuperDeluxe for having us again, as well as the audience, the many volunteers who helped out and to the audience who continuously supports the arts.

Week Two

Had meetings and dinner with many old friends.  On wednesday, performed in a quartet as part of the Sengawa Jazz Festival with my old friend cellist Sakamoto Hiromichi, the great drummer Yoshigaki Yasuhiro Tamango and myself at the Kickback Cafe.  This was my first time performing with Yoshigaki san - the level of creativity, sensitivity and responsiveness was fantastic.  Tamango and I in our years of playing together had two firsts in a row- a dance duet followed by a fue duet- both in one extended improvisation.  The staff at the Kickback were incredibly accommodating and personable.

We traveled to Kyoto on Saturday and loaded in at the Urban Guild.  I found out later that that this venue was recently converted from a number of small bars into one large room with a small stage, an old out-of-tune upright piano and simple wooden furniture.  This place also houses regional championships of a game where wooden disks are flicked against others to knock them into holes with rules very similar to that of the game marbles.

About an hour before the show started, Daniel encouraged a few of us to go out to the streets and try to lure some last minute audience members.  We went out to the Kamo river and Tamango sat in with a college band jamming to the euphoric college kids dancing around them.  We passed out some fliers but didn't expect too many of these kids to come to our concert.  When we were almost back to the venue however, a young couple came up and thanked Tamango for his dancing.  We got to talking and in the end they not only came to the show, but they sat in the front row and pretty lead the audience with their shouting and hollering .  The energy of the crowd was incredible and this fueled the performers to even greater heights.  By the end of the evening, the audience was on their feet dancing- I'd say quite an accomplishment for an avant-garde, multimedia, multidisciplinary performance art show!

The next day we performed in Osaka in the venue Full Bloom.  This place was more a lounge for dance parties then a music venue so we had to be a little creative with lighting and sound constraints.  Many of Tatsuya's friend and family came to support and one small girl in particular was very endearing.  Not shy at all, she allowed strangers to pick her up and swing her around.  Later she asked to look at the bottom of Tamango's feet, which were blackened from dancing barefoot.  At first she seemed in awe of his great feet- the tools of the artist, capable of creating both thundering stomps and whispered shuffles all in impeccable rhythm- but after a close inspection, she dismissively turned around to her mother and commented dryly that they were dirty.

The next day, I traveled back to Kyoto and did an intimate performance at a quaint restaurant/ cafe called Otoya.  The founder of the Kyoto Taiko Center, Mr. Higashi acted as host and we bantered between the pieces.  At one point, he asked the audience for requests and I tried to respond in kind.  Among the requests were for a song that evokes a bamboo forest (she was an artist who works with bamboo), music from the Tamasaburo/Kodo production of "Amaterasu", "When the Saints Go Marching In"and "Amazing Grace".  It was interesting to me that people requested decidedly western melodies and no Japanese ones.  The people that requested the pieces told me that they were learning those pieces- and not Japanese repertoire- in a fue club where they were learning to play.

The next two weeks entailed my hanging out in Tokyo, taking a lesson and otherwise jamming out with the 15th generation Noh Kan player Isso Yukihiro for about 8 hours at his house, hanging out with the great fue maker Ranjo at his studio in Chiba prefecture, meeting up with friends and relatives, including the acclaimed calligrapher Kakinuma Koji and the taiko maker Yoshi Miyamoto.  I was able to see some Noh, a taiko/beatbox/jazz piano show, and performed a final time at In F with the great violinist/vocalist Ota Keisuke and the drummer Masanori Amakura.  Besides these two wonderful musicians, many guests joined in on two, three or four songs each:  the shamisen player Tanaka Yumiko, the bassists Shanir Blumntkrantz, Todd Nichols and Sugawa Takashi, the dancer Mami Nakase and last but not least the Noh Kan player Isso Yukihiro.  The music went from heavy to playful, absurd to sentimental.  With so many great musicians contributing their art, the room was full of laughter and good feelings.  I had a really great time and have so much love and appreciation for the musicians , the audience and especially the owner of In F, Sato san.

I returned to NY the next day, the 26th of June.

Birthday of Jimmy Mirikitani

Mari Nakano

Some of my students helped celebrate the birthday of the great Jimmy Mirikitani on June 13th.  I was unfortunately in Japan at the time but Lin, Kelly, Susan and Alia took a few of the Taiko Center drums down to his party.  Apparently he stole the show with his drumming.  For those of you who don't know who he is, please watch the incredible documentary Cats of Mirikitani by my friend Linda Hattendorf. imgp0309


photos by Linda Hattendorf

Me and poutin ~from Montreal

Mari Nakano

I am performing with two wonderful musicians in Montreal this week, percussionist Patrick Graham and hurdy gurdy player Ben Grossman as well as dancer Tomomi Morimoto.  This concert, presented by MAI, an international arts institution here in Montreal and celebrates the release of Patrick's new album Rheo: "Rheō is the Greek term ῥέω, meaning  to flow. Rheō is the root of the word rhythm. Rheō is a new music project, a cross-cultural and multi-faceted exploration of rhythm.

For the Rheō project, I will be joined by vielle à roue player Ben Grossman (Guelph, ON) and Japanese and western flutistKaoru Watanabe (New York), as well as special guest, contemporary dancer Tomomi Morimoto(Montreal). Rheō will feature new, genre-bending solos, duos and trios, live electronics, and improvisation in a performance that explores the flow of pulse and sound, movement and colour, and the constant flow between cultures." Please visit his website SO, my new friend Ben Grossman took it upon himself to introduce me to the Quebec comfort food, poutine, basically fries with cheese curd and gravy.  The people at the store, in describing it to me, said it was a heart attack in a basket.  Ben had the foresight to take before and after pictures.  See results below.

200901montreal200901montreal_2 Poutine, my new favorite food as long as I hold it to once every three or four years...

Taiko Center recital concert report

Mari Nakano

On Dec the 21st, 2008, the Kaoru Watanabe Taiko Center had the first of what will be a biannual fundraising/student recital/ concert event at the Village@Gureje in Brooklyn, where the taiko classes themselves take place.  My hope for the event was, besides raising funds and awareness for the taiko center, to celebrate community and friendship through music, food and (plenty of) alcohol.  Many students and friends cooked and donated drinks, party supplies, time and energy and musical talent.  Volunteers were busy checking coats, shoes (no shoes allowed), serving drinks, selling raffle tickets, CDs, making sure the food was all eaten.  When we entered the space that day to set up,  we found five leaks in the ceiling caused by the melting ice and snow accumulated on the roof.  We bought potted plants and strategically placing them under the leaks and ended up with a nice indoor garden, replete with waterfalls and murmuring streams as part of the stage. I spent about an hour demonstrating how and what I teach and had my students and random members of the audience helping out.  The second part of the program opened with a shakuhachi solo performed by Marco Leinhard from Ondekoza and was followed Nobuko Miyazaki and I playing a fue composition, Elaine Wang and I doing a dance/fue piece, and tap dancer Tamango and myself improvising.  Finally we had a special guest, Will Calhoun from Living Colour perform a solo which grew into a session featuring Tamango, Gureje's owner Jimi and myself.  Both the artists and the audience really seemed to enjoy themselves and many of us were dancing and drinking into the early morning.

The idea is to do events like this twice a year, bringing more guests each time, ever increasing the scale and scope of the event.  As the performance level of the students improves, we can push to perform harder and harder pieces, we will bring in more guest performers and continue to expand on this community of lovers of taiko and beyond.

Please visit photographer Lia Chang's website to see her perspective of the event:

to see photo album of the recital concert, go to "Photos" page.

Tour Report: Jamaica/Nicaragua

Mari Nakano

Tour Report: Jamaica/Nicaragua

First of all, I would like to thank Mr. Matsumoto, Ms. Yanagi, Ms. Yamazaki at the Japan Foundation and everyone at the Japanese Embassies of Jamaica and Nicaragua and Ms. Matsui of American Airlines.

Sunday the 9th  

After a short layover in Miami, I arrive in Jamaica.  Before going through customs I am greeted by representatives of the Japanese Embassy who whisk me through the process.  Immediately, I am aware of a certain jovial lightness of being in the people - even while waiting for luggage.  The humidity and warmth on my face reminds me of summer in Japan even though we are already a week into November.  I meet Kenny at the hotel and have my first taste of the national dish ackee and saltfish, albeit in the post-modern manifestation of ackee and saltfish lasagna.

Monday 10th

In the morning, Kenny and I practice in the hotel room, revisiting older pieces and developing a new piece of mine entitled "A More Perfect Union".  The name, as most of you know, comes from a phrase in the US constitution which Barack Obama consequently used in a speech he gave a few months ago that addressed the complexities of race relations in America.  The contents of the speech reflected Obama's profound understanding of the issues at hand that grew from both studied knowledge and personal experience and the speech was delivered with grace and humility.  The song doesn't have much to do with the speech other than it was written around the same time but it does serve as a reminder to me of these historic times.  I find wherever I go, people seem as pleased and excited about America's choice for president elect as I am and I allow myself to actually feel a sense of pride for being an American.  
In the afternoon, Kenny and I take some time to visit the concert hall and school where we will be performing and giving workshops.  I notice a sign at the school that says "BEWARE SLEEPING POLICEMAN".  I thought this sign was hilarious and imagined all sorts of explanations for what the sign could mean until someone told me that a "sleeping policeman" is a speed bump.  
In the evening, Kenny and I are invited to dine at the Japanese embassy with Ambassador Obata.  We are treated to an exquisite seven course meal prepared by a private chef and learned much of the relationship between Jamaica and Japan.  The menu contains elements of the local cuisine, such as jerk sauce and ackee.  My deep-felt thanks to Ambassador Obata, Mr Ishihama and Ms. Shimote for the gracious hospitality.

Tuesday 11th

We have a performance and lecture demonstration at Mico College.  The students are very receptive to our music, much of which I can imagine contained many new sounds for many of them.  We are greeted with very warm applause and insightful questions at the end.  Many teachers approach us and very insistently ask us to come back and teach their students more about Japanese culture and music.  
We visit the Bob Marley museum in the afternoon and learn of this local hero's short but rich life and buy some cheap souvenirs.  I don't know many people who aren't huge fans of Bob Marley's music, but learning more of what he believed in and fought for, I gain even more respect for him as a person.  One of his sons, Damian, whose dreadlocks went down to his calves, also happens to be there with his entourage.  We pass wordlessly in the parking lot.  
We have dinner with friends - more Jamaican food: conch in curry sauce, fried foods called "festival" and "bammy".  This of course is all washed down with a bottle or two of Red Stripe beer.    

Wednesday 12th

We perform at the Courtleigh Auditorium, the largest concert hall in Kingston.  After our performance there are short presentations by local groups- a trio of young children drummers and a choir called Nexus.  We finish the concert with all the performers doing Bob Marley's seminal "One Love" which was appropriate for the general feeling of well being in the room that night.  After the show, we are swamped with people young and old with questions and requests for autographs.  Again, many students and teachers are adamant that we come to their school to teach more.  Among the audience members was a woman from Sado, Japan and a music teacher from Austria who had been in Jamaica for decades.  Kenny and I are in great appreciation of the Embassy of Japan in Jamaica for presenting us and especially to Ms. Shimote for all her hard work in making sure everything is taken care of.  
By the end of our three days in Kingston, I have integrated some of the local dialect, patois, into my regular speech: "Wha ah gwan?"  "mi gaan" "criss" etc  as well as learned a few of the handshakes (locking the fingers and rubbing the thumbs, etc).  As people of most cultures do, Jamaicans find it endearing to be greeted in the local manner by someone who doesn't seem like they should know how to.  
After getting back to the hotel, I get a call from two teachers- a mother and her daughter- whom I'd been talking to about traditional Jamaican drum and flute music.  They were at the hotel and brought with them a CD of the music and two pages handwritten descriptions of the music.  I was very moved by what they had done for me.  As they were about to drive away, an interesting thing happened.  The mother said to me almost as if berating me, "I can see you're on the heart path...  Always keep on that path."  I acknowledged that perhaps I tried.  She continued,  "Because..." she paused a long time to consider her words.  Her voice became softer and she seemed to almost tear up a little.  "Because ...  it is important."   With that, they drove off.  

Thursday 13th

We travel to Nicaragua via Miami.  We are informed of the flagrant voter fraud that was exposed recently (destroyed and discarded ballots) and how as a result there are massive demonstrations and confrontations between supporters of opposing parties.  Until very recently America has also had election day treachery, having this problem in common with the second poorest country in Central America after Haiti.  Another result is our performance at Managua's main concert hall has been cancelled and that we are asked not to leave the hotel unless accompanied by someone from the Japanese Embassy.  We are taken to a nearby mall to look for souvenirs where we find that someone offers Chinese calligraphy workshops once a week.  

Friday 14th

We have an appearance on a nationally broadcast morning television show.  Usually, television shows are very particular about time and about timing in order to coordinate all the commercials and various segments.  We quickly learned that this was not necessarily the case with Canel 11 in Managua.  We arrive early to prepare for our alloted time slot but the producers decide to put us on right away- about half an hour early.  The interviews are haphazardly thrown together, the order of things turned upside down and we are never told how long to play.  I end the piece at my own discretion and people seem fine with it- so fine in fact that they ask us to perform again in twenty minutes.  We quickly decide what piece to do and unpack another drum and stand.  Again, we answer a few more random questions and perform a piece of undetermined length.  As soon as we finish, the crew moves in to reset the stage for the next show.  We are told the next day by a waiter in our hotel that he saw the show and really enjoyed our performance.  Due to the cancelled concert, Kenny points out the television appearance was probably the performance that the most people watched during our time in Nicaragua.  
In the afternoon, we give a lecture demonstration at a music school.  Again, a very responsive audience with good questions.  Many violin players there.  Students are shocked to hear how expensive some of my flutes are.  I am told later that an average salary for someone with a "decent" job in the city often can't cover even the electric bill.  I would imagine the thought of saving thousands of dollars for a bamboo flute is incomprehensible to most of the people in attendance.  The workshop takes place in a four story high building, one of the few in Managua due to a devastating earthquake in the 70's from which the city still hasn't recovered.  The tallest buildings still standing from that time are for the most part condemned and there are no funds to neither repair nor tear them down.  A beautiful old cathedral, badly cracked and slightly lopsided stands next to the music school, abandoned for decades.  I reflect on how much I have in terms of material goods, instruments, an education, and opportunities.  On the other hand, as a whole, I find Nicaraguans seem no more or no less miserable nor happy than people in New York or Tokyo.  Misery and poverty, joy and spiritual wealth can be found anywhere.

Saturday 15th

Because the evening performance has been cancelled, we quickly put together a small concert in the Japanese Embassy for staff members and their family.  It turns out there is a small taiko at the Embassy thats been sitting in a storage room unused for many years.  We borrow the drum for our performance.  We strongly encourage people at the embassy to use the drum to start a taiko group here in Nicaragua.  We promise to return for workshops and to check on their progress.  
Again, we are very grateful to the Embassy of Japan in Nicaragua and especially Mr Fuchigami and Mr. Nakayama for his tireless effort in accommodating our many requests.
In the afternoon, we are shown around the town of Masaya and other areas outside of Managua and are treated to breathtaking vistas of Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua, of valleys lush with green and others black with igneous rock formed when one of the many volcanos in the area erupted some centuries ago.  We are also treated to some wonderful Nicaraguan Marimba playing by an elderly man in a market.  
In the evening, we go see some live music at a club near the hotel.  The music features two guitars, bass, keyboard, accordion and the Nicaraguan marimba with everybody singing.  The leader speaks as much as he sings, going on at length in Spanish about things that are far beyond my comprehension.  However, his charming voice, coupled with the festive music and Flor De Cana rum make for a relaxing final last evening of our short tour.  We hear news that people are planning a march for the afternoon of the next day which can very possibly lead to more violence.  We leave Nicaragua early in the morning- it is a warm sunny day, very peaceful despite the ominous news of what the day may bring.  I am home in Brooklyn by nightfall.  

San Francisco Journal

Mari Nakano

San Francisco Sept 8th

I have spent the last week in SF with dancers Lenora Lee, Elaine Wang and Mina Nishimura, performing at a small dance studio called CounterPulse, sharing the bill the Melody Takada, Francis Wong, Genny Lim, Tatsu Aoki and Nishijima Sensei.  For me, this series of performances marks my debut as a "modern" dancer although I strongly hesitate in using the word in parenthesis.  I have trained and performed traditional Japanese folk dance extensively during my time with Kodo and have studied lots of movement and balance techniques though dealing with the very physical art of playing taiko, and studying and performing with great Kyogen, Ryukyu Buyo, Kabuki, Noh, and Butoh dancers.  With this performance however, I am doing what I suppose would be considered "modern dance" for the simple if not quite accurate argument that it is not any sort of Japanese dance, other folk dance, nor is it ballet nor jazz nor hip hop nor swing nor break etc.  In a very free form way, I am twisting, turning, bending, crouching and swaying and even lifting and catching my partner of one piece, the beautiful Elaine Wang - all while playing the flute.  It is all very new to me although Elaine and I have been working on it off and on for some time now.  Elaine taught me very basic ballet technique every time we got together to work on the piece and shared with me her knowledge and insight into dance.  People seem to enjoy the performances the last couple of days  and I have been able to abandon any self-consciousness that I may have had and am able to really put myself out there.  We take this show to LA this week and then will perform it in New York in October.  
This morning I woke up around 6:30 and went up into Buena Vista park and played fue in the hills for about an hour.  Walking up that hill with the sounds of birds accompanying the crunch of my footsteps and my breathing loud in my ears, I was reminded of what it was like during my apprenticeship with Kodo, living on Sado Island, waking before sunrise everyday to run six miles up and down along the coast.  It was very hard training but made easier by the routine of it and the fact that all your fellow apprentices are going through just as much as  I was.  When starting out, I felt my body gradually warm up and often very quickly find myself quite alone on the long stretch of road in the semi darkness.  Some days it rained, some it snowed but the guys, in our youthful exuberance, ran shirtless all year round.  As the sun rose and the trees, the sign posts, the guard rail, the small fishing villages, and - over the waves Japan Sea, far on the horizon - Niigata city slowly came clearer into view, my body fell into rhythm with my breathing.  It was peaceful and beautiful but the truth of the matter is, I don't think a day went by that I didn't think about turning back a little before the halfway mark and start heading home early- what's skipping a mile or two once in a while if you're running six miles everyday, six days a week for two years?  But I don't think a day went by when I actually did.    
Since the apprentice center was deep in the mountains, the final mile or so of the run was a steep climb up from sea level road.  I would do a hard sprint for the final fifty yards up hill and finally stop running when I crested the hill that lead to a short gentle downhill slope to the grounds of the center.  I would practice some shouts and songs during that final short walk, shouting "HA" repeatedly from the diaphragm and singing various folk songs at the top of my lungs.  Not only was it good singing and shouting practice- your vocal chords are all warmed up and your lungs feel very strong and loose after such a long and intense run- but I realize in retrospect that it was also a sort of declaration of triumph- not to sound overly dramatic, but like the roar of an animal after catching their prey.  It was the satisfying completion of the morning ritual that started another day of even more strenuous drumming and dancing.  I not only conquered the 6 mile road and the long final uphill, but, even if only for one more day, by sheer will I was able to push through the fatigue to make it back home.  Then it was time for breakfast.  

Go: Organic Orchestra report

Mari Nakano

I performed in this wonderful ensemble lead by the great percussionist Adam Rudolph at the Roulette in Soho this past monday. The music can basically be described as structured group improvisation shaped by Adam as he guides the musicians along with a variety of predetermined hand signals indicating pitch, scales, melodic shapes, dynamics, range, tempo, texture, solos etc.

For instance, Adam may indicate the strings to play a low, soft long held note using any note of a certain scale - creating a lush dissonant chord- while the trumpets play short high bursts of staccato notes in a different key and over these layers of sound, a bass clarinetist may be improvising freely.  Consequently, much of the music is atonal and devoid of specific tempo, although there are times when Adam directs us to play pre-established rhythmic grooves and melodies.

Adam was constantly listening to the contours and movement of the  solos and accordingly shaping the orchestral backing, giving the   music a compelling ephemeral quality to it.  All of the twenty some musicians there were strong improvisers, able to take the music in very different emotional directions.

Adam also encouraged everyone in the orchestra to bring non-western woodwind instruments.  Among the many "non- conventional" instruments that I saw there was a fulani flute from West Africa, Brazilian flutes, harmonic flutes, quarter tone flutes, a shakuhachi, bird whistles, bottles, didgeridoos, Native American flutes, and an ornate Vietnamese flute.  My Noh Kan, Ryuteki and shinobue felt very at home in this setting.

The Orcehstra will perform once more this monday, November 26th.

Gagaku and Capoeira

Mari Nakano

Okay, it's hard to say if I really started either considering I've only done each once but they both are something that I think I can really get into if I just keep it up.  These are both things that I've had interest in but have had neither the time nor the opportunity to properly study. Gagaku is something that I have always loved and have spent time in the past trying to stylistically imitate the way the Ryuteki (Gagaku flute) is supposed to sound from CDs.  Ironically it is not until I after I left Japan that I have sought a little more formal training in Gagaku.  I visited the workshop of the Tenri Institute.  The workshop was taught by Noriyuki and Louise Sasaki who also teach Gagaku at Columbia University.  Like I said, I only went once, but they graciously gave me some music to work on and I realized that I had been thinking of some of the most well known songs (Etenraku for example) wrong as far as what where the measures and beats lay.  One thing I have learned about Japanese music in general is the importance of the SHOUGA (not ginger but the type of omonomopiatic vocalization of melodies that they have in so much of Japanese music).  I started really trying to check out the Shouga and through that trying to get some of the more subtle nuances that I had been missing when trying to imitate just from records.  One goal of mine is to try to memorize a Gagaku piece in it's entirety- including the shouga- by the next practice a couple of weeks from now.  I also want to memorize a few more Bach pieces so I sort of have a lot on my plate.

So, on to Capoeira.  I visited the studio of the venerable Maestre Joa Grande.  An instructor named Matt took me aside and showed me the very basic movements of Capoeira and their names.  Not being able to speak Portuguese, I really struggled trying to remember the names of some of the moves.  I remember the English equivalent to some: "Cut the Grass"  "Scissors"  the name of a frog, the tail of a certain type of fish, etc but that doesn't help when Matt was calling out the names of the movements in their native tongue.  Since I haven't been getting too much exercise recently, I really felt it in my legs and I know I will suffer for it tomorrow.  However- it was great!  A huge challenge to the mind and body.  I intend on keeping it up.  I will probably take a lot of classes in the beginning to get the basics, then cool of a little as my I get really busy with all the calls for gigs that I expect will be coming any day now.

Earth Celebration '07 report

Mari Nakano

Earth Celebration '07 August 17th, 18th and 19thAn account of the three days of concerts

For me personally, Earth Celebration was a whirlwind of  emotions; a desperate grappling of euphoria and despair, an icy coldness trying to blanket an overriding anxiousness and endless, fervent praying. Come to think of it, maybe it's like this every year for me as Artistic Director and maybe that's a sign that I'm doing something wrong! Nonetheless, I always feel that I'm a sort of Atlas trying to carry the world on my shoulders- that I'm using physical and emotional will to make this thing work. To make it happen.

Of course, what really makes it happen are the great people on stage who produce all those wonderful sounds and create those beautiful images, the backstage crew who thanklessly make sure the cogs are greased and mashing away together seamlessly, the staff and volunteers who make sure people and things get to where they need to go, when they need to- and provide as much comfort as possible throughout. I know it's definitely not me that makes things happen but there are moments when it feels that way.

During the first day's concert the mood was very relaxed. Rehearsals had gone well and it seemed everyone was able to remember the feelings and emotions to be expressed in the individual pieces, the timing and intensity of the transitions, all while retaining the overall flow of the concert. Since I was only playing in one piece, I decided to let go of the reigns and not get too involved. I ended up watching most of the concert from the audience - and enjoying it!

The second day for me had a little more tension- there were some technical and personnel issues, that occurred on many fronts including things seemingly unrelated to the stage- that allowed for some potentially very beautiful elements of the evening to not quite bloom as I hoped they would. Of course the performers and staff were ALL models of professionalism, each displaying his or her craft with the utmost grace and elegance, but there had also been a random series of unfortunate turns of events that somewhat diminished the results of what my expectations to the evening were. I still consider the concert a success though and feel that it offered the usually excitable Earth Celebration audience an opportunity to relax under the beautiful crescent moon hanging in the sky and be immersed in the sounds of meditative Indian ragas and plaintive Okinawan melodies.

The morning of the third concert came and I vowed to myself that none of the various little problems that plagued the second day would effect the third concert. To take it a step further I literally told myself that I was going to make things work- even if I had to give my life for it! To do it with the intent that this was the last thing I was going to do on Earth! I look back on it now and think: Such drama! But that's what weeks of inadequate sleep and high levels of stress do I suppose. Anyway, since the afternoon rehearsal was the first time all the performers actually gathered on stage together I knew that what we were able to accomplish during that rehearsal was crucial.

Fortunately things went as well as could be expected in the afternoon. Then came the actual concert. There were many guest artists involved this year and I wanted to not only feature each one but to have interesting musical combinations between them and with Kodo. In order to generate a large wave of energy and tension that would somehow give a sense of continuity to the disparate songs, I decided to structure part of the concert as a series of pieces that were linked with very quick transitions that used Kumada's lighting artistry to instantly draw the audience's eye from one story to the next.

This meant that performers often had to set up and prepare to play a piece before the previous piece was finished, in a darkened part of the stage. And that's why we have a very capable back stage crew to give the performers cues for when to go on stage. However, since so many of the performers don't speak Japanese, and since in most cases they had to be reminded not just when to go, but what piece to play, at what point to start, what was coming next and how to finish- I took it upon myself to rush around backstage during the show- literally running back and forth between stage left, stage right and to the back of center stage (where there were stairs for entrances)- to personally explain to each guest performer what was happening.

By the end of the show, after all those transitions came off flawlessly (and after what I hear were some amazing performances) by the time the final note of the grand finale came, my feelings of relief were almost overwhelming. Everybody was onstage playing and after having drawn out the second to last note forever, I conducted, with abandon, that last note with a big up and down jump- I leapt as high into the air as I could so that I could savor that feeling of euphoria- to stretch out that feeling, and time along with it forever. I distinctly remember looking down at the stage during that leap and wondering if I was ever going to come back down.


Mari Nakano

Thank you to everyone who came to RESONANCE at SuperDeluxe.  I felt a lot of love in the audience that night and the energy was palpable.   People, including the performers in many ways, didn't know quite what to expect- but it didn't seem there were too many people disappointed by the end of the night.  For me, it was probably one of the most gratifying performances in my life.  I was able to incorporate elements of jazz, free jazz, Brazilian music, spoken word, electronics, Japanese Noh and Minyou, performance art, live painting, contemporary dance, interactive stage art, etc etc into a somewhat surprisingly symbiotic concert.  The artists I gathered together all contributed so much to the show and each beautifully held his/her own like the true artists they are.

Thank you to the artists, all the volunteers, Mike and SuperDeluxe, Yamano san, and especially Eri chan for all the invaluable support!

I will post photographs and video as soon as they are ready.