Over 7,000 miles away among the stunning scenery of Aso-Kuju National Park in Kyushu, Japan, members of the taiko drumming act, Tao: The Art of the Drum (say "dow") have been training for their upcoming United States tour at a facility they call Grandioso.
Located on beautiful, mountainous terrain, this complex is the home base for an elite cadre of performers who will bring their modernized interpretation of an ancient art form to Bend on Tuesday, Feb. 7. These performers embrace a life of isolation to bring audiences a moving and energizing experience. To learn more about the Tao culture and the troupe's traveling performance, we overcame a Pacific Ocean's worth of communication barriers to bring you this verbatim Q&A:
The Source Weekly: Tell us about taiko and what we can expect from your performance.
Tao: It's the eternal conundrum: How do we translate for our audiences the raw sound of the wood and hide that form the Japanese taiko? Our theme for creating new stage is "Japanese using Japanese traditional musical instruments and creating new Japanese music art." We did quite intense research on Japanese taiko history and found out that most of Japanese musical instruments and songs came from China and Korea with those religion and cultures. Therefore audiences can grasp these traditional aspects of Japanese music from our performance.
What influences your performances?
In the process of creating our music and show, we blend rhythms from classical music, jazz, rock, pop and soul as well as incorporating influences as far flung as djembe drumming from Africa and the gymnastic showmanship of Canadian entertainment company Cirque du Soleil. We travel around the world quite often, not only to perform, but also to see and learn other entertainment for our inspirations.
What do you hope our Bend audience will experience if they go?
We hope that the audience feels like they saw something they've never seen before and experienced something they have never done before. Because our show is so unique and different, if you witness our show, we can change your life! Our stage will give the audience a lot of energy and you will be moved for sure.
How do performers become part of Drum Tao?
You have to pass our audition. Out of a pool of 200 applicants each year, only about 15 are picked for the auditions. There are years where none have made it through to becoming a trainee drummer. To become a drummer takes one year of severe training, but that is because they have to be ready to go on stage.
You train at a large complex that looks very majestic. How does preparing in such a place translate to your live performances?
To build rapport among Drum Tao members, we stay together at our base called Grandioso, which is situated at the Aso-Kuju National Park in Kyushu, Japan. The view of the mountains and the very nature from our facility is stunning. Our music and shows come from our daily life and its circumstances. The great nature gives us fresh inspirations for our production and peace in our life through the communication with fresh air. It is definitely different from the life in crowded, big cities. Sometime it makes us isolated from the society, however, it bring us together. And it leads our music synchronized.
What kind of training regiment do performers go through to keep up with such a physically demanding show?
Each morning the drummers rise about 5 or 6 a.m. to run for 10 to 20 kilometers, followed by a bout of vigorous strengthening exercises. Then they rehearse, beating drumsticks and vocalizing rhythms. They have at least three hours of training before a breakfast.
What sets you apart from other taiko groups?
The director, Fujitaka, was fascinated with the deep spiritual nature and resonating beats of the Japanese taiko. He had seen many taiko stage shows by the time he began directing TAO. Of course all these shows were wonderful in their own way but they were often long performance and tiresome with most of the audience being older. This bothered him greatly. He pondered how we could use the taiko, but bring it to a younger audience in a more contemporary manner. In a search of answers, he traveled to other cultures that embraced drumming: Korea, China, Indonesia and mecca of performance art, London, New York Broadway and Las Vegas. He soon realized that it was useless to just play song after song to the audience. We needed to challenge audiences and draw them into the music with a story. The audience who expect a traditional Japanese drumming will be surprised by our performance.
Tao: The Art of the Drum
7:30pm, Tuesday, Feb. 7
Tower Theatre, 835 NW Wall St.