My recent Japan trip went very well. Funded by a grant from Regional Arts & Cultural Council and kind sponsorship from Asano Taiko US, my main purpose was to study Edo Matsuri Bayashi (festival music of old Tokyo) with my longtime teacher Kyosuke Suzuki of Wakayama Shachu. I first met Suzuki sensei in 2005 during a Kenny Endo Taiko Ensemble concert tour. Since then, I have taken private lessons, assisted and translated his workshops, coordinated his workshop tour in August 2015, and performed with him on numerous occasions. You can see my previous blog post about Suzuki sensei and find more photos and videos on this page.
Traditionally appearing during festivals, the Edo Bayashi ensemble consists of five players performing on two shimedaiko, one odaiko, one atarigane, and one shinobue. Over the years I have performed all five parts, but I continue to study in order to deepen my own understanding and to strengthen my ability to teach this traditional music. Fortunately, anyone who is interested can begin their research and practice by acquiring the sheet music, CDs, and instruments at the Asano Taiko US online store. I'm always happy to assist so please get in touch with me if you are interested in learning more.
One of the topics I presented in our lessons was the idea of creating an Edo Bayashi ensemble in North America as a way to spread awareness and appreciation for this music. I have written many times about the value of studying a traditional art in order to gain crucial insight into contemporary forms, where understanding their roots provide the context to move forward with purpose. As the well-known saying goes, "you have to learn the rules before you can break them." My goals for this ensemble include: 1. Raise the performance level of festival music outside of Japan, 2. Increase audience awareness of this music, 3. Make this music more accessible for anyone wanting to study it, 4. Create more opportunities for Suzuki sensei and Wakayama Shachu to teach and perform outside of Japan. If you are interested in joining the Edo Bayashi ensemble, please contact me.
I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to see Wakayama Shachu perform Sato Kagura on this trip. This Shinto theater is performed on a special stage at the shrine and dates back to the Edo period. Watching this performance helped me understand Wakayama Shachu's history and aesthetic, especially as it applies to their approach to Matsuri Bayashi and Edo Kotobuki Jishi (good-luck lion dance of Edo). Put simply, the troupe brings their profound training and dedication of Noh-influenced Kagura dance and music to their interpretation of the festival music of the common people. The result is a transformation where Edo Matsuri Bayashi becomes a higher art form worthy of presenting on a stage in front of an audience, which is quite different from its traditional role of accompanying the mikoshi (portable shrine) through the streets during festival time.