Finding inspiration in nature and new music.

Fall Retreat Group Photo

A Weekend of Taiko and Fellowship with kaDON

This month, taiko players from all over the Midwest converged on Lake Beulah, Wisconsin, for a weekend retreat led by taiko greats Shoji Kameda of OnEnsemble and kaDON, and Shogo Yoshii, former member of Kodo. Performing members Heather Grove and Helena Converse traveled to the retreat, drums in tow, for the opportunity to bond with groups from surrounding states and to learn a new composition to bring back to the group.

The retreat kicked of with a campfire where we shared stories and lessons learned from taiko. The takeaway? While we have tremendous diversity in our musical backgrounds, we have all learned similar lessons from taiko: from finding new joy and empowerment through taiko, to being part of something that is bigger than ourselves. We are so grateful for the experiences!

Heather and Helena with former members Kelsey and AyaAbove: We had a mini SLOT reunion, catching up with former members Kelsey Volkmann and Aya Yoshida! Kelsey now performs with Ho Etsu Taiko, and Aya is a founding and managing member of education provider kaDON, who organized the event. Photo by Yoko Kawamura.
The retreat focused on learning a new piece called kaDON Ondo. Composed by Shogo Yoshii, the song centers around minyo, a Japanese folk music style often sung while working or playing. Leading us around a campfire, Shogo taught a series of dance steps to accompany the festive piece. It was a fun introduction to the piece, and dancing around a bonfire certainly helped us to stay warm on a frosty night!

Workshop with Shogo YoshiiAbove: Shogo teaches the rhythm sections that set the framework for kaDON Ondo. As we worked to master the patterns, he played fue and sang so we could experience the full arrangement. Photo by Jason Matsumoto.

Workshop with Shoji KamedaAbove: Shoji takes a deep dive into the chuu-daiko portion of the piece, reminding us time and again of the importance of understanding how all parts fit together to create a complete piece. It's not easy to play one rhythm on the taiko while stepping to another beat and vocalizing all at the same time! Photo by Jason Matsumoto.

After an intense day of learning, we settled again by the campfire to share more stories and to try our hands at improvisational drumming. The evening was capped by a burning ritual, called bachi kuyou, where we told tales of our broken bachi as we ceremoniously burned them in the bonfire. There was also a lot of dancing and singing; Helena and Heather introduced the song Yaisama, a piece we recently debuted in our own performances.

Bachi burning
Above: Helena places a recently broken bachi into the campfire during the bachi kuyou.

The final day of the retreat began with a frosty walk to Lake Beulah, led by our workshop leaders, to reflect on the weekend's experiences. Finally, we gathered a final time for a recital where Shogo and Shoji performed a variety of pieces, concluding with the entire group performing the new song we had learned.

Shogo and ShojiLeft: Shogo plays a melody on the kokyū while Shoji accompanies with taiko and bells on his feet! It was both humbling and inspiring to watch these talented musicians, and we're excited to bring renewed energy and some new music back to the group!


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Song Profile: Yaisama

Traditional arr. SLOT

Yaisama was introduced to the team by Yoko Fujimoto of KODO. It is sung in Ainu, the language of the indigenous peoples of northern Japan. The language has been mostly lost due to oppression and assimilation, and the meaning of the lyrics remains unclear to us.

We know that music played an important role in the Ainu culture; it was found in many forms, ranging from everyday songs to epic songs and ballads. "Yaisama" is one genre of Ainu music, and is a kind of spontaneous oral poetry or song used to express certain emotions, such as love, or as a means of self introduction in a group. Lyrics and melody are improvised. While the lyrics are unclear today, there has been renewed interest in the Ainu language and culture in recent years. We're hopeful to one day learn more about the meaning of the music and to learn additional songs from this culture. For now, we consider the genre as we sing and use it as a way of expressing our feelings of love and gratitude to our members and our audiences. 

Our version of Yaisama is brief; we perform it as an interlude during drum transitions. The structure is simple and easily adapts for a variety of vocalists, and sometimes includes drums and fue. We debuted our arrangement at the Japanese Festivals in St. Louis and Springfield earlier this fall, and it is the first vocal piece to come out of our team’s song club. We had a great time learning the song this year, exploring the possible meanings as we learned more about the Ainu culture.

*Photo by Kevin Dingman

Upcoming Performances

Sounds of Japan
Saturday, November 10, 2018
Taiko Workshop: 11:30 AM
Pre-Concert Celebration: 6:00 PM
Concert: 7:00 PM
Missouri Theater
203 South 9th Street
Columbia, MO
Join us for a day filled with Japanese-themed music and activities as the Columbia Chorale, in partnership with MU Asian Affairs Center, opens its 40th season!  We'll be participating with workshops during the day, and an evening taiko performance that will include a special collaboration with the chorale. Tickets are available online or at the door - you don't want to miss it!

SLAM Winter Celebrations
Sunday, December 9, 2018
Event Time: 1:00-4:00 PM
Performance: 2:15 PM
Saint Louis Art Museum - Farrell Auditorium
One Fine Arts Drive, St. Louis, MO
Free Performance

Dave Hanson's Gateway Karate Black Belt Graduation
Saturday, December 15, 2018
Event Time: 11:00 AM
Mehlville High School - Nottelman Auditorium
3120 Lemay Ferry Road
St. Louis, MO

Learning New Styles

Shogo and Shoji play HachijouAs a special bonus during our retreat, Shogo provided an additional workshop introducing Yoko Uchi drumming style, where the drums are placed horizontally on a tall stand. Shogo demonstrated how the body is used in this unique playing style to hit with power while maintaining fluid movement. 

We don't often perform in this style, so it was quite a treat to learn more about the technique and its improvisational opportunities. After some practice under Shogo's guidance, we're ready to bring some new tips back to the group so we can show off this beautiful style to our audiences!

Photos by Jason Matsumoto
We are a non-profit group that performs the art of taiko around the St. Louis area and the world.
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