Published April 19, 2013
The Sounds of Japan at RIT
Members of Taikoza, Japanese taiko drum group, perform during CAB Late Night and Global Union presents: Taikoza: Sounds of Japan on April 6 in Ingle auditorium.
Max Hautaniemi

Three large drums are set at a dramatic 45 degree angle on Ingle Auditorium’s stage. Three more, one large and two far, smaller drums stand further back onstage. The lights dim and vibrations rock the auditorium.

Six individuals stalk onto the stage holding long, slink-like rattles over their heads. The sound of rain reaches the audience, casting a spell of calm. The hypnosis is rudely broken by the deafening strike of a drum. The rattles are dropped and the performers each pick up a pair of wooden bachi to strike a drum. Arms arc and point the bachi in a practiced pose before each decisive strike. A stark, heavy beat slowly accelerates into a gargantuan thunderstorm then ends distinctively. Time slows and a maiko dancer glides in wearing traditional Japanese dress, slowly turning and extending her arms in time with the sultry fue, or flute, and soft drumbeats. She exits and a fue soloist takes her place. The sound swells up, slows to near silence, and then shudders back to life again. The pace visibly changes when the performers re-enter the stage playing kane cymbals. The night is swept into emphatic drum beats intermixed with lively fue harmonies and dances.

Suddenly a trickster appears wearing a comical mask, signaling a desire to play the drums too. Each performer rejects the request with the final performer going so far as to kick the clown offstage. The trickster refuses to comply and continually returns to the stage until the performers haul him to sit amongst the audience. Of course, the clown jumps on stage again and this time is allowed to play the drum (although he comically fails to strike with their technique). Delighted, the clown runs back into the audience and pulls a student up to play a drum with him.

Soon the performers have picked up their kane and walk among the audience, playing with them. The performers return to the stage and play their final song with even more emphatic gusto. Finally, they lower their bachi, step away from the taiko, and invite students onstage for a chance to strike the traditional drums.

Taikoza is a New York City based group that showcases the Japanese taiko (meaning big drum) made famous by Shinto summer festivals. The group performs throughout the country and actively reaches out to colleges. Aksa Asgher, third year New Media Marketing major and Vice President of Global Union, worked with College Activities Board Event Managers third year Biochemistry major Taylor Gosselin and first year Industrial Design major Hannah Abele to bring Taikoza to RIT.

Gosselin saw the flyer for Taikoza and was intrigued. “I know Japanese culture has a stronghold at RIT so I knew it would have a strong response,” said Gosselin. “I researched the group and found out they were doing a sort of college tour. That’s perfect because we try to invite groups who are tailored to a college atmosphere.”

“In house collaboration is great, but it’s good to bring in a different performance to raise awareness” said Asgher.

Amy Monaghan, a third year Fine Arts Photography student, went to gather inspiration for her photo project on Japan. Before the performance she said, “It’s exciting to see that they’re bringing a professional group on campus. I can’t wait to see what visualizations they have in store for us.”

Olivia Ottinger, a third year Fine Arts Photography student, came for her passion “I just love Japanese culture!” said Ottinger.

Marco Lienhard, music director of Taikoza, loves to educate. “Universities are where people are more accepting and experience things outside of their major and spark their interests. I don’t always explain every aspect of the music in order to give people freedom to interpret the sounds in their minds. We want to share the love of the drum and the history and culture of the drum. The sound touches people even when they don’t know the background of the drum. The public is part of the atmosphere so it becomes one large heartbeat. So we understand, see, and feel other cultures.”

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