On October 24, local taiko instructor Mark H. Rooney hosted a show called #randomactsoftaiko at the Takoma Park Community Center. The concert featured collaborations between taiko players and non-taiko players to make fascinating results. Two current Nen Daiko members, Greg and Lisa Nakamura, played in the show. A past Nen Daiko member, Hanae Coutrier, also played. Here’s Greg’s thoughts about the opportunity.
Mark invited us to help out with the concert. Our main contribution was a collaboration with a rock group he has been working with named ilyAIMY, which is an acronym for “I love you and I miss you.”
The piece was Kashmir based off the Led Zeppelin song. It was one of Mark’s first compositions he had written for taiko many years ago. Even when he had written it back in the day, he had a dream of playing it with a rock band. This was the first time this dream would be realized.
How did the song change when performing with a rock band versus performing it as a stand-alone taiko piece?
Originally when Mark wrote the taiko version of Kashmir, the tempo was a little slower. Playing with the band took the tempo up a bit.
Also, Mark had to change some of the sequences of the patterns he had composed. The song Kashmir has very distinctive rhythms that you HAVE to play. But when playing with the band, you can’t play exactly the same thing as the band or it gets boring. If the band was playing the signature rhythms, Mark would have the taiko players play a counterpoint to that. Towards the end of the song, we were all playing the signature rhythms, to emphasize them.
How did the choreography change when working with the rock band?
Most of the choreography was created by Mark. There was one section where he said, “You all have five minutes to experiment. Come up with something for 8 counts.” We all came up with several ideas and shared it with the group. Then Mark used them as the building blocks for the final choreography.
In some parts of the song, Mark did an odaiko (large drum) solo. During those parts, he wanted less sound from the chu (medium-sized) drums that we were playing. So those parts had the most choreography for us, to keep it interesting for the audience.
What did you learn from playing taiko with a rock band?
You have to keep an ear out for the band. You can’t cover the vocalist or the band.
When taiko players play alone, the person playing the base tempo or ji may slightly adjust to the group. When you are playing with a rock band, we relied on the drummer from the rock band to keep the ji. Their drummer was really steady so it was great.
Also, at the performance, the vocalist Heather, was moving around the stage. We had to stay aware of her location especially when we were moving our bachi in large movements. Her movement around the stage helped create the rock and roll vibe Mark wanted. It was energizing to see them rocking out, much better than playing to a recording of the song.
What did you learn from this collaboration?
It was a good experience learning a song that was written by somebody else. I enjoyed learning about Mark’s particular way of composing. One example of his style was his use of nicknames for different rhythmic lines. He said it was the most characteristic of how he composes. It was different than how I compose. Experiencing new ways of composing helps you get out of a rut. I come up with different rhythms but I don’t name them. My compositions tend to be more melodically driven – based on melodies, not just rhythms.
Thanks to Mark and ilyAIMY for the opportunity. It was my first time playing taiko with a rock band and I would love to do it again!
Check out this video of the final result: