Nen Daiko performed in Taiko Jam 2017 at the North American Taiko Conference in San Diego, California. This conference is held every two years and the 2017 conference was the 10th one. It brings together taiko performers from mostly North America, but also from other parts of the world including Japan and Europe.
Taiko Jam is the keynote concert for the conference where a few groups are invited to perform for conference attendees and the public. This was Nen Daiko's first time ever to be invited to perform at Taiko Jam - a huge honor. The concert also featured: Yuichiro Funabashi, Leader of Kodo's Taiko Performing Arts Ensemble.
So many of you were instrumental to Nen Daiko being able to perform at Taiko Jam! Your generous donations to our Taiko Jam quilt campaign were essential to getting 13 of us to San Diego. We felt like you were all with us on this adventure! We were posting throughout to social media, but here's a summary of Taiko Jam 2017 from Nen Daiko's perspective.
Before the Performances
Nen Daiko helped promote Taiko Jam on a local television station's morning show. It was an early performance - 5:40am! - but hopefully enticed more people to come to Taiko Jam.
The morning of our first performance, we had our technical rehearsal with Roy Hirabayashi and the amazing stage crew. This was our first opportunity to play on the gorgeous Asano drums. We were blown away by their sound and heft! We practiced moving them safely during the performance - they are quite a bit heavier than our own drums.
Our friends at Soh Daiko, who performed in two Taiko Jams, advised us to savor every minute leading up to performances. They suggested we really tune in to each other. This was the best advice and led to special moments even before we went on stage. For example, we did this exercise which involves listening to each other as each person practiced their solo components from the songs.
Backstage, we enjoyed delicious snacks provided by the Taiko Jam team (Hawaiian-style chicken and rice) as well as three types of spam musubi lovingly made by Judy Koyama and many other treats. Hooray for Team Koyama!
After trying not to over-stuff ourselves, we calmed our nerves by singing Wanderlust. Months earlier, when we contemplated singing this song instead of playing it on fue (bamboo flute) as usual, some Nen Daiko members were skeptical. Can we even sing? But the answer is clearly "yes" and the acoustics of the green room boosted our confidence.
Another highlight of our pre-performance time was getting to know Yuichiro Funabashi from Kodo. Yuichiro was instantly an honorary Nen Daiko member, eating with us and getting to know our quirks. We gave him a Nen Daiko t-shirt and a block print of our logo, and were thrilled when he wore the t-shirt!
Speaking of block prints, we made these fabric prints as gifts to our fellow performers and the stage crew. It was so cool to see many performers wearing them around their necks.
Soon it was time to get dressed for our performance. We were performing last in the show (!) so we had plenty of time to feel nervous.
This is how we look when we are nervous.
The last thing we did before performing was our meditation. This time we meditated holding the Taiko Jam quilt and thinking about all of our supporters.
Before we knew it, the hours had evaporated and it was time to perform! Thank you to the volunteer photographers who captured these incredible moments. On stage, we had no idea how things looked to the audience, so seeing these photos has helped make the whole experience more real! As Walt Whitman wrote, "We were together. I forget the rest."
Nen Daiko was introduced to the audience by Alan Okada. Alan was one of the founders of our sister taiko group Soh Daiko. He and his group were instrumental in getting Nen Daiko started back in 1994. He helped ground us before going on stage, by reminding us of all the history and members of the taiko community that were at our foundation supporting us.
Satori no Michi
The song Satori no Michi was composed by long-time Nen Daiko member Ruth Setsuko Vines and she was in the audience when we performed at Taiko Jam! For those who had joined Nen Daiko in recent years, this was the opportunity to meet our famous Ruth, and it was clear we were all Nennies, as the connection was instantaneous. Ruth said that our performance of Satori no Michi made it even "more alive" for her.
In addition to Ruth, many other former Nen Daiko members came to the performance, including founder Beth Fujishige, Elsa Tung, Kevin Shin, Gerald Nagatani and Chad Kawamura.
Satori started with the opening verse of the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist chant Shoshinge. We chose to include the piece to reflect the Buddhist part of Buddhist taiko.
We received numerous comments from audience members who praised our fue (bamboo flute) players during Shiawase Ondo. Having four fue players so in tune with each other takes a lot of practice! Others were taken by the lyrical movements of the drummers.
Yuichiro Funabashi from Kodo then wowed the audience with a tremendous odaiko solo. We got to see peeks of it from backstage. His movements were so powerful, he used his whole body to form each strike. He owned that giant drum.
The transition into and out of Yuichiro's solo was actually a very special part of our set. We were initially very nervous and weren't sure how a professional artist would fit into the middle of our community group's songs. Yuichiro felt strongly about putting in the effort to create a seamless transition into and out of his solo so both Nen Daiko songs and his solo were part of the same set. He really honed in on the fact that we were in this together. We were very touched and motivated by his openness, which led to a very special moment for all of us.
Who knew that Nen Daiko could sing? Many folks said that Wanderlust touched their hearts.
The song Wanderlust expresses the bittersweet emotions between leaving the comforts of home and the excitement of new experiences and challenges when going on a journey.
It's part of life that Nen Daiko members depart from our ranks as they continue on their adventures. Taiko Jam offered a special opportunity to welcome back Nen Daiko member Dee who traveled from Hawaii to perform with us. She had practiced with us via Skype all year. It was also on our minds that Nen Daiko member Victoria will leave us in October for a work assignment. The song Wanderlust reminds us of all the friendships we make as part of Nen Daiko.
The song that pushes us to practice many extra hours, the song that reminds us we are not getting any younger, the song that takes away all our stress because it takes all your brain to play - Rouga. It felt like composer Ryo Shimamoto was playing right there beside us.
When the performances were done, Nen Daiko breathed a big sigh of relief and joy! We were met outside the theater by our families and friends. Soh Daiko gave us this beautiful Asano mini-drum!
Thank you to everyone who supported Nen Daiko on this journey! We learned so much about ourselves and the global taiko community. We hope it helps more people to become aware of Ekoji Buddhist Temple and Buddhist Taiko. We were grateful to be a representative of the North American Taiko community!