Hawaii trip: finally back for a visit to teach and perform


Flying in over Diamond Head

Flying in over Diamond Head

West Oahu

West Oahu

So many gifts - only in Hawaii

So many gifts - only in Hawaii

I had a fantastic week during my visit to Hawaii. It was hard to believe that I hadn't been back in over seven years, but it quickly felt like I had never left. The average tourist could easily focus on the great weather and spectacular scenery of the islands, but the things I really missed had to do with the daily-life culture there - the generosity and openness of people, along with an easygoing feeling that cultivates time to get together and talk story. Although this was mainly a work trip, these were the things that made my visit possible and so memorable.

The first workshop I taught was for Taiko Center of the Pacific. I started as a student of this taiko school when I moved to Honolulu in 2001, and then eventually became an instructor. This workshop was titled "Pulse, Ji, and Ensemble Playing" and I asked the participants to try my exercises dealing with tempo control, dynamics, following the leader, and producing a consistent sound. I was very pleased with how well everyone played together despite having a wide mix of experience levels. The second TCP workshop I taught was for the youth group. The requested topics included soloing and ensemble playing. When I asked each member what they were interested in covering, the top two answers were to be able to play tighter with the ji (accompaniment) and to create more unique and memorable solos. Everyone could already play well so it was fun working with the students and seeing them adapt to the new concepts I introduced. A huge thank you to Kenny, Chizuko, Brock, Terri, and everyone at TCP for inviting me and putting together the workshops.

Taiko Center of the Pacific workshop

Taiko Center of the Pacific workshop

TCP Youth Group workshop

TCP Youth Group workshop

Ryugen Taiko workshop

Ryugen Taiko workshop

I was happy to work for the first time with Ryugen Taiko. They requested a composition workshop and it was great to have three hours to spend discussing topics such as inspiration, form, notation, dynamics, and analysis. I enjoyed the energy of this group and look forward to seeing their original compositions in the near future. Thank you to Nolan, Greg, and everyone at Ryugen Taiko for the wonderful hospitality and interest in my workshop.

My final workshop of the week was for my good friends at Nakama, a very special group who I usually catch up with during taiko conferences. Saying they have fun is probably still an understatement, and the laughter is absolutely infectious. There was no preplanned workshop topic but we ended up working on Keith's original piece. I liked having the opportunity to learn the patterns and then find ways to make the music speak more clearly, especially for the sections where there are multiple parts happening at the same time. After the workshop, our party continued over dinner at a nearby Okinawan restaurant. Thank you so much to Dee, Keith, John, and the Nakama family for an unforgettable time.

Post-workshop dinner with Nakama folks

Post-workshop dinner with Nakama folks

Amazing view from my homestay

Amazing view from my homestay

On the morning after my arrival, I was trying to sleep in to counteract my jet lag when a text message arrived asking if I was available for a performance starting in one hour. I said yes and rushed down to the chapel at Kapiolani Community College for a lecture demonstration with Kenny Endo and the TCP ensemble, pulling in 5 minutes before downbeat, just enough time to change and hear the setlist. Everything came back to me, including how to wear the costume and the repertoire which I hadn't played in almost 8 years. While this one was a surprise, I actually knew about another performance happening on the weekend. It was a wedding gig at one of the big Waikiki hotels, something I had done many times while living in Honolulu. This one felt like a luxury, as there was a rehearsal and extra time to hang out with the ensemble members. Thank you to Kenny and Chizuko for including me in these performances.

Arriving at KCC chapel for a last-minute performance request

Arriving at KCC chapel for a last-minute performance request

Pre-performance hangout at Waikiki hotel

Pre-performance hangout at Waikiki hotel

This trip was a success because of the generosity of my friends, who provided me a place to stay, lent me their car, didn't let me pay for any meals, booked workshops, and provided an unlimited supply of helpfulness. Thank you so much to Kirstin, Dee & Keith, Kenny & Chizuko, Terri & Glenn, Brock, Nolan, Miles, Eric, Ai, and all of my friends in Hawaii. I will be back very soon!

A must visit for fresh udon

A must visit for fresh udon

Tropical shapes and colors

Tropical shapes and colors

Nico's and Uncle's on Pier 38 for great seafood

Nico's and Uncle's on Pier 38 for great seafood

Another Hawaii institution

Another Hawaii institution

Recap of performance and workshop tour in NorCal, May 2016

I had a wonderful time on the road in northern California last month. Packing the equipment skillfully into the car is always an important step, having to consider making it all fit, avoiding damage to the car and instruments, accessibility, and proper weight distribution. My equipment list included a vibraphone, four-piece drumset, cymbals, hardware bag, shimedaiko, amplifier, dry erase board, suitcase, a banker box of food, cooler, sleeping bag, and a few other smaller items. The common reaction from folks who helped me load in or out is "wow, you fit all this into that car?!"

photo credit: Tracy Cornish

photo credit: Tracy Cornish

My first engagement of the tour was an outdoor concert with Kenny Endo at the Satsuki Bazaar in Berkeley on May 22. It was a beautiful day and we had an enthusiastic audience. The other musicians included Mas Koga (shakuhachi, saxophone, shinobue), Noriko Tsuboi (koto), and Hiroshi Tanaka (taiko, percussion). For the final piece "Spirit of Rice," Kenny called up the great drummer Akira Tana to sit in with us. What a blast that was! Akira brought an infectious groove and energy, taking the music to a whole new place. Thank you to Pam and Judy for taking great care of us.

photo credit: Tracy Cornish

photo credit: Tracy Cornish


tabla at musician's mall

Next door to the Berkeley Buddhist temple is a great Indian music store called Musician’s Mall. My friend Robbie Belgrade works there and he kindly gave me an extensive tour and hands-on demonstration of all the instruments there. I have been big fan of Indian music for a long time so it was a treat to experience this in person. The bansuri (Indian flute) is especially intriguing and I couldn't resist picking one up along with a method book. By doing some preliminary self-study, I hope to gain a bit more insight into this deep musical tradition.

bansuri and method book
harmonium at musician's mall
sitar at musician's mall

jiten daiko workshop

My next stop was a workshop for Jiten Daiko in San Francisco. They requested the topics of sounds, sticks, and ji playing. Everyone had great energy and thoughtful questions, and I really enjoyed working with all of the members. As taiko players, we are always looking for a space that can accommodate loud drumming, is spacious, has storage, and is affordable. It's great that Jiten Daiko has figured this out! Thank you to Kristi, Jeremy, and Galen for your work in putting this workshop together.

 


After a few days of teaching some private lessons in the area, I headed to UC Davis for the 2016 Intercollegiate Taiko Invitational held over Memorial Weekend. It was my first time attending this annual event and I came away appreciating the scope and depth of the current collegiate taiko scene. I was asked to teach two workshops called Solo Composition, which is a subject I enjoy covering. Among the 50 total participants in my workshops, I found that many had an interest in learning how to add more visual elements to their soloing. My approach to soloing is based more on the musical side but we were still able to apply the same concepts to expression through movement. Thank you to Gloria, Lisa, Eric, and Bakuhatsu Taiko Dan for all your work in hosting this event.

intercollegiate taiko invitational 2016
eien's opening demo at intercollegiate taiko invitational
eien's workshop at intercollegiate taiko invitational

Eien concert with Robbie Belgrade, Shirley Muramoto, John Kaizan Neptune

I was unable to stay for the entire weekend of ITI because of having to leave immediately after my second workshop to play a concert with John Kaizan Neptune at Kuumbwa Jazz in Santa Cruz. Admittedly, departing Davis at 5 PM for a 7:30 PM start time in Santa Cruz is a bit risky, but I was fortunate with very light traffic and arrived 15 minutes before downbeat. This was my second time working with John but I have known his music since discovering his album Tokyosphere in the late 1980s. Compact discs were just becoming popular and the first two CDs in my collection were John Kaizan Neptune and Led Zeppelin. Also performing were Robbie Belgrade (tabla, percussion, bass clarinet), Shirley Muramoto (koto), and Kyle Abbott (shamisen). There was also a very special guest in the audience, the innovative creative genius of shakuhachi making in the US, Monty Levenson. John called up Monty to sit in for the final piece where he jammed on the "takeda," a bamboo-only instrument similar to udu and west African drums invented and built by John. I had the opportunity to play the takeda previously and John knew how much I liked it, so I felt honored when he generously gave me the one he was playing during the concert. My friend Kyle offered to host me at his place for the evening and I had a great time hanging out with him late into the night over a complex bourbon-barrel aged stout, discussing music, teaching, coffee, food, and possible future collaborations. Kyle also got up early next morning to make me a great cup of coffee before my departure. Thank you to John, Ginger, Kyle, Leslie, Monty, Kayo, and the wonderful crew at Kuumbwa Jazz.

Eien concert with John Kaizan Neptune, Monty Levenson, Kyle Abbott
Eien concert with Robbie Belgrade, John Kaizan Neptune, Kyle Abbott
Kyle Abbott capuccino
Kyle with coffee

Eien with Ichimi Daiko in San Luis Obispo

My final stop was a workshop for Ichimi Daiko in San Luis Obispo. I had met this group several years ago when I was on tour with Kenny. This was an especially enjoyable workshop because of the warm hospitality and positive atmosphere. I had fun working with this group of mixed ages and experience levels because of everyone's full engagement and willingness to try anything. There was a potluck after the workshop where everyone brought delicious food, giving us the opportunity to relax and get to know each other. Thank you to Ruth, Steve, and the whole Ichimi Daiko group for such a wonderful ending to my tour.

ShastaYama, an annual summer outdoor festival featuring taiko, music, dance

Shasta Taiko at ShastaYama 2009 (photo credit: Gary Ono)

Shasta Taiko at ShastaYama 2009 (photo credit: Gary Ono)

I am very excited to be performing at ShastaYama next month. I've been wanting to attend ever since becoming aware of this festival several years ago. Mt. Shasta is a unique place and an incredible setting for an outdoor music festival, complete with the dramatic backdrop of the mountain. The founders are Russel Baba and Jeanne Mercer, both of whom are wonderful people and great artists. I asked 5 questions to my friend and bandmate Masato Baba for a special inside look at this year’s event.

ShastaYama
July 30, 2016 at 6 PM
Shastice Park - Mount Shasta, CA


Eien Hunter-Ishikawa shastayama onensemble poster flyer ticket

1. Can you describe ShastaYama?
ShastaYama was started in the city of Mt. Shasta in the summer of 2005.  My parents, Russel Baba and Jeanne Mercer, wanted to create an outdoor taiko festival to bring people from around the area to enjoy a night of taiko and music.  They were supported by a long time friend and supporter, Mario Rubino, who acts as the co-producer of the show. 

2. What is the musical lineup this year?
This year On Ensemble are the headliners.  On Ensemble is a taiko-fusion group based in Los Angeles and features Russel Baba and Jeanne Mercer's son, Masato Baba (me), and former student, Shoji Kameda.  The two of us grew up playing taiko together and after 32 years are still going strong.  Other members include Eien Hunter-Ishikawa, Abe Lagrimas, Jr, and Sumie Kaneko.  Together, they combine taiko with bamboo flutes, vibraphone, koto (Japanese zither), shamisen (Japanese banjo), western drum set, ukulele, and voice to create a unique, fresh sound.

Tadaima (Russel and Jeanne's jazz group featuring Gary Fitzgerald), Unit Souzou (featuring Michelle Fujii and Toru Watanabe), Shasta Taiko (Russel and Jeanne's taiko group), and a special guest group featuring Isaku Kageyama, Bruce Ghent, Joe Small, Yeeman Mui, and Heidi Chan will be featured as part of the program.

3. How can everyone learn more and get tickets?
Check out the website: shastayama.org 

4. What is your favorite part of ShastaYama?
My favorite part is performing and giving back to the area I grew up in.  Mt. Shasta is an amazing, spiritual place where I feel at peace.  The land, air, and water is as pure as it gets nowadays which I definitely took for granted when I was growing up there.  It holds a special place in my heart. 

5. Do you have any upcoming events you would like to mention?
On Ensemble is also taking part of Summer Sounds at the Hollywood Bowl from July 25-29.  The website says:  "Built on the pulsating beats of taiko drumming, the traditional music and instruments of Japan are blended with styles from the West in ways that will let your imagination soar." http://www.hollywoodbowl.com/tickets/summersounds-2016

Personally, I have a big event in Los Angeles with my other group, TAIKOPROJECT.  We are performing for the re-opening of the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre on July 8.  Collaborating with Grammy Award-winning Quetzal (a Chicano rock band), we are "exploring common musical ground to create a new sound that is quintessentially Los Angeles".
-This quote was taken from the Ford website: http://fordtheatres.org/en/events/details/id/1021


Masato Baba at ShastaYama 2012 (photo credit:  Karrie Ann Snure)

Masato Baba at ShastaYama 2012 (photo credit: Karrie Ann Snure)

Masato is considered one of America's most outstanding taiko talents. He began taiko training at the age of 6 when his parents, Russel Baba and Jeanne Mercer, founded Shasta Taiko. As a member of Shasta Taiko, he gained the valuable experience performing, teaching, and touring throughout his formative years. Masato polished and refined his taiko skills for over 7 years touring world-wide with renowned American Taiko Master Kenny Endo. He also served as the Youth Director of Endo's Taiko Center of the Pacific based in Honolulu. Baba studied taiko in Japan with Nihon Taiko Dojo and fue (Japanese bamboo flute) with Kyosuke Suzuki of the Wakayama School. Masato Baba has emerged as one of the most respected taiko artists in America. He is a pivotal member of highly acclaimed ON Ensemble. Masato is an original member of TAIKOPROJECT, served as their Musical Director and is now the Artistic Director of the multimedia theater company. Maz also is the lead instructor for several Los Angeles based taiko groups. Baba was also the lead coordinator of the successful "World Taiko Gathering" held in Los Angeles in 2014. Baba was featured in the DVD "Spirit of Taiko," a history of American taiko that focuses on 3 American taiko generations represented by Grand Master Seiichi Tanaka, Kenny Endo, and Masato Baba. Masato has performed at the 2009 Acadamy Awards, on The Voice, and with Alicia Keyes on "The X Factor”. Masato Baba is influencing and inspiring the growth of taiko, performing and conducting workshops across the country and around the world. With his parents, Masato is helping to establish and develop ShastaYama's growing reputation.

See the performance of Chushingura on video

Portland State University has posted the video (in two parts) of the recent production of the kabuki play Kanadehon Chushingura (The Revenge of the 47 Loyal Samurai).  I was a geza musician in this eight-show run playing nohkan, shinobue, atarigane, and crow call.  This was a major production with a huge team of actors, musicians, make up and wardrobe crew as well as many other staff members.  Because of the rarity and scope of such a production, a lot of people established in the field of Japanese theater and literature came to town for the show.  It was great to see old friends and meet new ones. 

A very special guest was Donald Keene, the preeminent scholar, writer, historian, translator, and teacher of Japanese literature.  On March 7, he and his son Tsuruzawa Asazo presented a fascinating lecture/performance titled "A Journey through Sin, Redemption, Miracles and High Adventure: The Tale of the High Priest Kochi."  This bunraku puppetry play was originally published and staged in the 1680s, but was lost until a script was rediscovered in a British museum in 1968.  Keene's presentation included a documentary film showing the long and challenging process of remounting the play from this single script, along with Tsuruzawa's live virtuoso performance of an excerpt of the play on shamisen, chant, and song.  The story of Kochi was more mysterious and otherworldly than other Japanese plays I have seen even though it was based on a real person.

This was a very interesting project to be involved with.  Professor Larry Kominz did a wonderful job as director and gidayu chanter.  The show naturally got stronger as it progressed over the two-week run, and I enjoyed the way each performance was influenced by the energy of the various audiences.  I heard that this production was covered by more than 100 Japanese newspapers, and saw that there were several Japanese news outlets at the press conference after the final show on March 5.  I'm especially looking forward to seeing the video because my off-stage position during the performance didn't allow me to see the stage.  If you watch the video, please share any thoughts you have regarding the performance.