Jam!-ming out with chu

Stanford Taiko

32nd Annual Spring Concert – Jam!

Welcome!

And now, a note from the writer:

Personally, I had a rough winter quarter. Like many winter quarter frosh, I had never been more academically and mentally challenged in my life. As my personal life became more turbulent and what once brought me joy brought me stress, my feelings towards taiko fluctuated in tandem. There were many instances in which I felt frustrated and disappointed with myself for not being able to pick up skills faster, for letting down the group, for not being more present, and I questioned my resolve on more than one occasion. Wanting to enjoy my time in taiko and at Stanford, I reached out to ask for help, allowing myself to rely on the power of our ensemble to get support with re-teaching myself skills and daring to learn new ones, and before I knew it, I found myself laughing more during practices and being able to genuinely smile and keep playing with the same fervor even when I mess up.

Taiko has been, above all, a source of joy for me; not only does it give me a creative outlet that challenges me in ways I haven’t been before, but also a close-knit group of friends I have relied on when the going gets tough. I hope that the joy that my peers and I feel for this art form and make evident in our performances is something you are able to experience.

— Program —

“Aces Full” (affectionately dubbed Nanamaces)

We began winter quarter learning the rest of our core rep, the four songs that each member is required to know for on and off campus performances. While the first years learned the main parts on the chu, the medium sized drums, second years learned the backline, the pattern that keeps time and ensures the performers play together as a cohesive ensemble. They spun their knowledge of the chu part into something new, just as this particular arrangement of “Aces Full” was on naname, slanted stands, as opposed to beta, stands that allow the drum’s face to be roughly parallel to the ground. Upperclassmen taught the song, standardizing certain parts along the way. While the song itself was not new, having been a part of core rep soon after its composition in 2010, this year’s arrangement added something new.

Transition — “Frogs”

“Frogs” was full of firsts — the first transition piece in recorded Stanford Taiko history to use shakuhachi, the only transition this year to make use of performers off stage in the audience and the only one solely performed and composed by first years. Spotlights focused on the shakuhachi player as two other players hopped around in the shadows cast by drums illuminated by dark blue light and the sound of croaking frogs filled the circular concert hall. The piece itself is the intersection of newly learned taiko knowledge and previous musical experience with a little bit of whimsy for good measure. “Frogs” was the end product of us first years taking all the skills we had learned so far and putting our own creative spin on them. Like the frogs, we first years are lying in wait in the shadows, waiting for our time to shine…

“Unburden”

An original composition by our longest performing member who revisited it this year, “Unburden” tells the tale of a young musician returning to their dreams in the midst of stress through the expert weaving together of graceful movement, melodic piano, and rhythmic chu. “Unburden” gives a voice to feelings many performers have experienced, a sense of frustration and stress giving way to a sense of peace through dreaming about past melodies and letting one’s imagination run wild to create new ones. These melodies are then channeled to create emotive, innovative pieces of art. It reminds us, performers and audience alike, that such feelings are normal and okay and that all consuming pressure and despair can be turned into something beautiful.

“Come About”

Imagine being on a boat with your best friends on a nice sunny day with the salty ocean breeze in your hair and the open ocean as far as the eye can see, and you’re “coming about,” changing course to sail into the wind. That image? That’s “Come About.” This piece rearranged by our member who’s been in the group for the second longest amount of time with all the first years was one of the pieces I felt most like an ensemble; instead of solos as is common with many songs, performers duetted the person across from them, and the fact that there were a lot of chu playing the same core melody in unison really contributed to this sense of being part of something bigger than yourself. The joy in playing together was evident in the smiles we exchanged with each other as we played and in the energetic ki-ais (the interjections that serve to share energy among performers), and the audience felt it too; the applause following the song was enthusiastic.

Transition — Third-Year Shasta

Taken from Shasta Taiko, Russel Baba and Jeanne Mercer, shastas are improvisational pieces created from performers listening to each other and responding with sound of their own. Sometimes we’ll do shastas as drills to practice taking and making space within a song and reacting to each other’s creative input; to make them more fun, we’ll involve themes! While the third years didn’t have a theme, they were restricted to the equipment not being used or being actively moved during the transition, and yet they were able to create a cool new song each time we ran the transition! Shastas really speak to the ensemble cohesion that we strive for in terms of playing together and responding to each other on the fly as is the case with live performance.

“Scifunk”

This arrangement of “Scifunk” tells the story of the village elder calling together the village children to dance and celebrate together; it’s an incredibly joyful piece that had the audience clapping along by the end as they too were moved by the beat. Stage presence is taken to the next level with this song as performers turn their bodies to face soloists, grooving along with the beat; make dramatic facial expressions as they play during mini “skits” and amp up the playful energy of the song; and make contact with each other and the audience. This arrangement of “Scifunk” combines technical abilities with performativity to tell a story and draw the audience in, something we as performers strive to do. 

We’ll be back after a brief fifteen-minute intermission; be back on time to catch our special tribute to our graduating members!

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