Taiko and choir: a brand new avenue for taiko in Calgary.
Artio "specializes in choral music that is distinct, demanding, diverse and innovative. They explore a variety of genres from early music through to innovative creations being crafted by today’s composers. They re-imagine and re-invent music of the past and embrace the avant-garde music of tomorrow while continually seek to push the boundaries of choral music and performance."
When the director of Artio, Jean-Louis Bleau approached me to work with Artio for their final year-end production, I quickly became excited to work with the group. My role would be two-fold: as a taiko artist to accompany the choir for several pieces during the production, and also as an instructor to take a group of choir members and teach them taiko. Working with JL and choreographer Mark Ikeda was a great experience.
Amazing to consider what these young people accomplished:From zero experience to Dokokara, in only ten weeks!
I knew that I needed to make the experience vibrant, and exciting, to capture the youthfulness of the choir members. Although I knew it would be challenging, I selected Dokokara as the piece for Artio Taiko to perform. Dokokara is not a Beginner piece, but it seemed appropriate based on what I learned about the group's artistic vision and the age, musical, and movement background of the members. I love to challenge young taiko students, and I can say whole-heartedly that Artio Taiko delivered.
In ten short weeks, I worked with nine of the choir members on basic beta taiko skills, and we took a dive into Dokokara. At the end of the 10-week session, we took a video to send to the composer, Yuta Kato, who was impressed at their hard work and progress.
During tech week, Artio Taiko revealed their newfound talent to the remainder of the choir. What an experience for all of them! The director and choregrapher Mark Ikeda worked with the rest of the choir members to add some movement behind the taiko, and we added transition within the production and lighting effects. It was very exciting to see the finished production. (Click images to enlarge!)
One of the choir pieces, O'Saya, was written for choir and taiko for the film Slumdog Millionaire. Two of my MRU Taiko Ensemble students joined me to perform the taiko parts (2 chudaiko and 1 shimedaiko) for this piece. Having authentic taiko and trained taiko artists playing the drums really added an awesome touch.
The finale of the production was a piece entitled We Can Mend the Sky, by Jake Runestad. The lyrics were based on a poem written by 14-yr-old Warda Mohamed and two Somali proverbs. "We Can Mend the Sky" is a musical depiction of one's journey as an immigrant and an affirmation of hope as we all embrace the diversity around us. For the opening of the piece, I played odaiko followed by a djembe groove to end the production. As the soloists sang, and the group, followed by red pieces showering them to close, it was a moving and dramatic finish.
With each performance, I sat back and enjoyed the sound of their voices, but I admit that I was a bit distracted, thinking about the journey of taiko through the arts community in Calgary. How amazing to think about how these people had never played taiko before, and now here they are, performing Dokokara as part of Sounds of the Hollow. I look forward to more taiko collaborations and teaching in the future!