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2020 In Review

It's pretty safe to say that 2020 was a challenging year. One of those time periods that marks a milestone of "before 2020" and "after 2020". This post took a while to write, I kept writing and re-writing. It's easy to get sucked into a cycle of negativity, writing about this year.

Jan 2020 started out as expected: the first semester of taiko classes at MRU finished, with the mid-year recital in the TransAlta Pavilion at MRU. We also hosted a workshop with a taiko artist from Toronto, Kokichi Kusano.

After the recital, it was vacation time: my family and I escaped the cold for a trip to Hawaii, where my taiko-loving son and I dropped in to visit our friends at Puna Taiko and play Kodo's new piece Shunpuu together. I also quite enjoyed the taiko performance of Taishoji Taiko at the Waimea Cherry Blossom Festival (make sure to watch the video, they're amazing!) before returning to the cold snowing Alberta Winter.

When I got back, it was right back to business, preparing for upcoming events: a special screening of Taiko Film: Healing Beats, a concert at the Bella Concert Hall with Tyler Shaw, Michael Bernard Fitzgerald, and Amy Bishop & the Hopeless Sinners, and a fun performance at Centre Ice at the Saddledome for the Calgary Hitmen Multicultural Night. The Winter semester of taiko at MRU began as planned, and we were super excited to be hosting Kris Bergstrom and Minh on their North American tour. Rumblings of a new virus were in the media, but we didn't take it very seriously at the time.

Multicultural Night at the Saddledome was amazing. It was fun to wait in the green room and watch all the other cultures prepare for the Multicultural Parade before the National Anthem, all dressed in traditional clothing and proudly displaying their flags. We waited until Intermission for our time to shine: when we rolled our drums out to Centre Ice and performed a shortened version of Omiyage to fit our time slot. This was our third time on the ice, and there isn't really a way to describe how it feels to play taiko in that venue. Looking back, there was no way to know that this would be the final live performance for an audience, for a very long time!

Professional video:

Hours before sound check at the Bella in March, I received a call that the concert was being postponed due to the increasing situation with this new coronavirus. My son was en route home from a school band trip, and this was the day that everything came to a crashing halt. The next morning, I taught a school taiko workshop, and it was during this workshop that we got the call that the schools were closing. I spoke to Kris on the phone and it seemed unlikely that crossing the US-Canadian border would be possible or a good idea at the time.

It felt surreal. One by one, all the performances, classes, and workshops all cancelled. As an artist, I was devastated: all my work was literally washing away right before my very eyes. I barely got my equipment out of the studio as the maintenance workers were shutting down the electronic locks. The hallway was eerily silent, for a music conservatory, as I rolled my equipment out of the studio for the last time.

After initially denying the possibility of online taiko, I waffled about what what I should do. During a (virtual) meeting with other taiko leaders, someone said the words "Don't cancel. Adapt". I think this advice was sound, and it helped me to change gears and decide keep taiko going, as much as I could. It wouldn't be the same, but mentally I needed to continue. Tuesdays because "Taiko Tuesdays" where I planned a short free taiko session with anyone who wanted to join. Rehearsals and classes continued online for the rest of the semester, as well as multiple collaborative video projects and taiko community webinars. My technical video editing skills began to grow!

Shunpuu Around the World:

Shunpuu Around the World (full project):

A virtual workshop highlight was a dance workshop for Kodo's Shunpuu with Chieko Kojima from Japan. Chieko's spirit was so inspiring and positive, and the best medicine for the stress of isolation. There were people from all over the world, and we were all connected by our love of dance.

I continued to teach taiko classes, as a combination of online and outdoor (masked and distanced) classes, and we even made it to a taiko performance at the Japanese gardens in Lethbridge by our friends with Lethbridge Community Taiko Association. I also enjoyed a summer taiko intensive with San Jose Taiko, which switched my brain from teacher back to student, and was honoured to be invited to participate in the Taiko Commmunity Alliance weekend conference Vision 2020.

The Fall was busy for planning. Navigating Covid guidelines to open taiko classes independently took longer than I wanted, so studio classes began in October; later than I had wanted. I was very happy to include virtual sessions with San Jose Taiko to all my students during the Fall term. I wished that I could have had this kind of opportunity so early in my taiko journey! I was also a student again: taking a class at Los Angeles Taiko Institute virtually!

There were also more video projects on the go, including one for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society. This video was a lot of fun, to find the perfect location to highlight the fall colours and our LED bachi at the same time. We also enjoyed playing outdoors again, while the weather lasted!

I brushed off Hana Hachijo especially for Chieko-san's flower baton project. It is such a beautiful piece, and my husband and I found the perfect outdoor location during the first major snowfall of the year.

Sadly, COVID forced the closure of our studio classes, and we had to finish the term online. Everyone was so great about sanitization, masks, and distancing in the studio, but the guidelines changed and we had to (once again) go with the flow and adapt to an ever-changing situation. We celebrated the end of the year with our virtual Bonenkai, which was a lot of fun even if we couldn't be together in person.

Looking ahead, 2021 will be a transition year. It will start out just like 2020: online. Hopefully we will be able to transition back to live classes and live performances again in 2021.


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