Thoughts on the Art of Taiko

Yoshiaki Takagi

In 1982, I was strongly inspired by a performance given by Yu Imafuku, who at the time was a leader in the Ondekoza taiko group. In the program was a composition about singing on the seashore called "Hachijo-daiko." Watching his performance, I was captivated by the beauty of trailing patterns left by the bachi as they struck the drums.

At first, when I came to Misono to play taiko, my whole body was in pain from the hard physical training -- especially from the push-ups. During that time of intense discipline, it seemed as if I was caught up in a tough battle with myself. However, during the last few years, taiko has become a part of me and I feel truly myself when beating the drum.

For me, our group has marked its development by many memorable events. There was our concert at Alti Hall in Kyoto, where the Shumei Taiko Ensemble gave its first public performance. We were all very nervous. Besides it being our first concert outside of Misono, one of our artists was ill. Tosha Sensei, who is our Music Director, asked us to pray facing in the direction of Misono. We chanted the Amatsunorito. After that, everything turned around. Our nervousness faded. "Yes, okay, we can do this!" we told ourselves. And we did.

Another unforgettable memory I have is one of pure sound -- the reverberation of our drums while playing the composition "Kaiko" at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. The Cathedral is about 100 meters from entrance to alter. Other performances set benchmarks for us as well, such as the concert we gave for world religious leaders at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. Our performance at "Dewa Sanzan," which means "three mountains," by the Mogami River in northern Japan was a mystical moment for me. I remember feeling so happy to play taiko.

I want to continue playing taiko. I know if I pursue it long enough, it will lead to something good and noble, an art worthy of our founder Meishusama's love. I have come to realize that great taiko is never played to draw attention to a particular artist. It is not an egocentric art form. This can be achieved only when one gives oneself up to the spirit. In the case of our Ensemble, it happens when we allow Meishusama's great spirit to work through us. I do not think that the music we create is about us as individual artists. It is about something bigger. The important thing for me is to be an instrument easily used by the spirit of Meishusama. Every time I play taiko, I have a feeling of gratefulness and humility.

I also love the flute. When playing it, sometimes I am satisfied, sometimes tired, and sometimes I feel healed. There are peaks and valleys. I find that there is a difference between the way I played flute a year ago and the way I play it now. A year ago, I thought that I would come to a level of playing that I could never surpass. Today, I know that no matter what level I achieve, there will still be another, higher level to reach. This change in my way of thinking is a really big one for me. I don't think anyone knows what a turning point like this is without actually going through it. It is like overcoming one threshold that you think is the limit of your abilities and finding yet another waiting for you. I am grateful to be able to play the flute want it to mirror what is inside me. And, I want to help our younger players so that they can achieve the same.

Besides music, I am also involved in spreading Shumei's philosophy through the Propagation Department at Misono. It is very hard work too. But, I believe both endeavors are meaningful.