Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A message from the universe

Last Friday at the end of the work day, feeling a little melancholic...

Thinking of how some ordinary people have simply extraordinary lives...

Thinking of Chris Hatfield and his version of Major Tom in the Space Station while sorting things in my cubicle, left over from the past 7 years, moving to a very different space now...

Then I leave and take the metro and there's a musician singing....
Though I’m past one hundred thousand miles
I’m feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell my wife I love her very much (she knows!)
Ground Control to Major Tom
Your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear....
Talk about the universe sending me a message!

But, really, it were me, I would have picked the following verse..
This is Ground Control to Major Tom
You’ve really made the grade
And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear
Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare
Because maybe, this time, my answer really needs to be this:
“This is Major Tom to Ground Control
I’m stepping through the door
And I’m floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today


Wow, it's been a crazy two-year stretch.

First there was Kasa Mix, where I got to see the world, experience Kodo, meet and be touched by the apprentices and so many other people. Then there was Arashi, with whom I've been learning and growng. There was the forced separation from my two best friends when they became apprentices and I didn't. There was coming back to Montreal and feeling abolutely lost in my life. Hint: it gets better.

There were shows with Komachi, some of which went well and some less well. Hint: you learn.

There was trips to Toronto to see Nagata Shachu (falling in love with taiko all over again). A few taiko shows with Inazuma, East Coast Taiko Conference, practices with Ignatius.

For a few months last year I had Monday evenings off. Oh and sometimes Sunday evenings too.

Then there was the second trip to Japan. To close the chapter, to revisit the places that touched me and meet the people who transformed me, again. I had no expectations so it probably ended up being the best trip of my life. It was a taiko trip. It wasn't about taiko any more than Kasa Mix was.

Then there was Wa, working backstage and planning for the Arashi concert in the Fall. There was a trip to New York at the Kaoru Watanabe Taiko Center for a weekend intensive with Kenny Endo, who, unexpectedly, is the one instructor I've met in my taiko experience so far I'd follow and study with extensively, by choice.

Then there was Taiko Baka, which for me was a very frustrating experience, and which I'm probably still digesting, months later. And then another East Coast Taiko Conference, where my highlight was learning Ei Ja Nai Ka; putting together the second Wa, then doing the show at Botanical Gardens, and then meeting all the people and performing at Percussions Festival, more shows with Komachi, more shows with Inazuma... Chieko Kojima intensive at LATI, World Taiko Gathering in LA, Matsuri...

And now what? I have projects, plans, ideas... possibilities... dreams. Which one should I follow? (Hint: these things are only clear when you've already walked the path and look behind you...)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Where do I stand?

Travelling to other parts of the world to taiko events and classes really opens up one's perspective.

At home, I'm only a student. Motivated and dedicated, maybe. But still just a student, the lowest level, under apprentice, under member. Not really a taiko player; more like a grade school kid ;-)

I go to Japan, and suddenly I'm a wold traveller who has total legitimacy in being interested in what the legendary teachers we meet there have to teach. I'm suddenly a taiko player. No matter where I am in my development, I am, in their eyes, a taiko player.

In our group, only the performing members have access to real drums. They pay for them, they take care of them, they own them; it's only right that they're the ones using them. The students play on practice drums that have real skins on a PVC body. When I went to ECTC, I remember that some people were extremely surprised by the fact that we don't have access to real instruments on a regular basis.

Most of the people we meet at events like ECTC are members of a group. We're the exception in that we're not members, "just students". Yet, I often find myself among the top tier of players who attend these workshops - every time, I feel surprised, first, because I'm not that good, and also because this is so different from what I experience at home.

Some of those people who are members of groups are far less advanced than even our student group is; yet most of them perform on stage, and often even get paid for their performances. Sometimes, it makes us feel lucky that we have such great teachers to make us grow. It also makes us feel like we could be trusted a bit more to perform and hold our own on stage (yes, our teachers have very high standards - I happen to think it's a good thing).

This reflection isn't meant as a critique of the way things work in my group. I keep telling people how important it is to travel, to see other perspectives, because it refocuses your understanding of your group and taiko as a whole, and it shapes your development. I don't know if being "just a students" makes people work less hard because they feel like they'll always be "just a student"; or if it motivates people to work harder because it makes them conscious of the fact that they still have a ton of things to learn.

Me? Well.... the only thing I'm certain of, is that I'm a taiko player ;-)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Technique vs heart

Our taiko instructors said something that struck me, this weekend.

A few of the students had stayed after our annual Shinnenkai celebration, and we were encouraged to hit odaiko. Most of us have never had much practice in the style, some of us have close to no technical knowledge of it either.

At some point, our instructor said something that I can summarize as: "Technique is not important, you need to hit from the heart, to give everything."

I didn't answer. I let him teach what he was trying to teach at that moment. But my gut reaction was to think: "I disagree."

To me, technique is an enabler, for two very important reasons.

First, it allows you to push without hurting yourself. Hitting hard without proper technique is the surest and safest way to end up with an injury. And anyone who's played taiko for any length of time knows how frustrating injuries are and how long they take to heal. Take care of your body. Learn and apply the technique. (I'm not there yet.)

Second, proper technique allows you to expand less energy for the same result, and get better sound at the same time. Proper technique ensures you hit the right way, with the proper force, with the right angle, at the right spot on the drum. And then, when your technique is good enough, you get that snap and speed that allows you to get the sound you want - and to sustain it for a longer time. (Guess what? I'm not there yet!)

So, technique vs heart? I think you need both. Technique without heart is cold and mechanical. Heart without technique is dangerous and messy.

They go hand in hand, and they make each other shine.