Showing posts with label News. Show all posts
Showing posts with label News. Show all posts

Imagining a Future for Taiko

The first North American Taiko Conference was held in Los Angeles in 1997. At the time, I was a member of Seattle Kokon Taiko. I remember the excitement of performing in the Taiko Jam, as well as taking workshops from Kenny Endo (Tradition as the Basis of Innovation), Seiichi Tanaka (Masterclass) and Roy Hirabayashi (Creating New Songs).

I began studying taiko a few years earlier with Northwest Taiko, because I was a composition and ethnomusicology major, plus Northwest Taiko rehearsed in the Japanese language school a few blocks from where I lived. Little did I know that almost 20 years later, I would dedicate a significant amount of my energy and thought as a professional musician to taiko.

Portland Taiko welcomes RTG participants
Teaching the Composition Track at the 2012 Regional Taiko Gathering (RTG) hosted by Portland Taiko and Portland State University, I reflect on the 1997 conference as well as subsequent gatherings, conferences and summer taiko institutes. When Portland Taiko hosted the 2006 RTG, they lost more than $20,000. Along with being financially depleted, the amount of work coordinating drums and out-of-town guests proved exhausting. Portland Taiko's newly hired co-artistic director Michelle Fujii inherited a model that was unsustainable.

Even though 2011-2012, has been a challenging time for Portland Taiko (they have had a complete staff overhaul), Michelle wanted to try a new approach for RTG. Consulting with Stan Shikuma – long-time leader of Seattle Kokon Taiko and Kaze Daiko – Michelle proposed having four workshop tracks that lasted eight hours each, rather than having more than a dozen workshop leaders with concurrent sessions that lasted less than three hours. Stan said sure, let's try this.

The four taiko tracks were:
  • Foundation
  • Technique
  • Movement
  • Composition 
Along with these eight-hour taiko tracks, RTG 2012 included a low-key show-and-tell from seven groups, lunchtime discussion sessions with topics chosen by participants and an end-of-gathering happyokai sharing session.

Behind the scenes, Keiko Araki and a crew of volunteers gathered drums and equipment for the taiko tracks and sharing sessions. As a workshop leader, I was delighted to have drums for each of the composition participants. Teaching at previous conferences, I have had only one or two drums. I also remember when Toru Watanabe was scheduled to teach an afternoon workshop outside in Los Angeles. The organizers used a car stereo to play the music for his movement workshop. By having four taiko tracks at RTG 2012, equipment needs were more easily met and drum moving during the weekend was minimized.

After RTG 2012, Michelle and I laughed about past conference debacles. Out of curiosity, we dug out the 1997 booklet and read the Taiko Conference Goals:
  • Provide opportunities for networking
  • Document the History of Taiko in the United States and Canada
  • Deepen understanding of the connection of taiko in the United States and Canada with taiko in Japan and with Japanese cultural traditions
  • Encourage the continued growth and development of taiko groups in the United States and Canada 
  • Imagine a Future for Taiko in the United States and Canada
This last bullet point caused Michelle to gasp. "Imagine a future for taiko…" she exclaimed.

15 years later, taiko has made an impact around the world in venues that range from public schools to Australia's Got Talent. While amateur and professional taiko players have increased since 1997 – and the number of community groups has expanded exponentially – non-profit ensembles with paid artistic staff that have been formed can be counted on one hand. With this in mind, how can we imagine a future for taiko?

During one of her characteristic late-night creative outpourings, Michelle came up with the mission for RTG 2012:
  • Discover new taiko perspectives
  • Build meaningful relationships
  • Promote discussion, insight and innovation
  • Maintain an affordable and economically self-sustaining RTG
  • Foster the celebration of the art form of taiko 
Notice how the core values of the initial taiko conference are stream-lined. Idealism is tempered with pragmatism. When Portland State University's fire alarm resounded throughout the music building before the Sunday morning workshop, Michelle and Toru gathered RTG participants on the lawn outside for morning stretches. Breathing together in this impromptu exercise helped ground everyone. Similarly, as part of Eien Hunter-Ishikawa's Technique Track happyokai presentation, over two dozen taiko players from various groups played a super slow Don together. The quiet intensity that charged the musicians and open-eared audience reminded me how taiko has the potential to connect simply and directly.
Happyokai Presentation from the Composition Track
Innovation comes from sustainability. As a practicing artist in America, I applaud the courage of the RTG 2012 experiment where the "imagined future for taiko" happened and will continue resonating within individual taiko players and groups for years to come. Here's to continuing to imagine a future for taiko.

Disappearing email

I am sad to report that my email address disappeared yesterday - September 19, 2010. I have lost four years of archived messages and business contacts.

Apologies in advance if messages to go unanswered. I have worked with Microsoft Office Live tech support to resolve this issue, but the account was canceled without my knowledge and information was permanently deleted.

This is perhaps a warning? Or perhaps this signals a new beginning?

I wish I could reach each one of you in person to let you know, but without email that is impossible (!) If you need to contact me, consider visiting my garden where I will be picking tomatoes, taking care of the chickens and composing music

Thanks for your understanding.

Perry So to music direct Stuck Elevator

Conductor Perry So will be music director for Stuck Elevator as part of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas/Yale Institute for Music Theatre workshop showings this June.

So is Assistant Conductor of the Hong Kong Philharmonic and holds honors that include First Prize at the 2008 International Prokofiev Conducting Competition in St. Petersburg and a Dudamel Conducting Fellowship with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Stuck Elevator is a far cry from his usual work with symphony orchestras. In fact, So's engagement with Stuck Elevator this summer is sandwiched between performances with the State Symphony Orchestra of Russia and the Noord Nederlands Orkest. Wow (!)

It will be amazing to have his expertise on this solo-comic-scrap-metal-opera where one singer + a handful of instruments tell the story of an undocumented Chinese immigrant trapped in an elevator. Thanks to producer Beth Morrison and artistic director Mark Brokaw for finding Conductor So.

My Big Gay Ears

Journalist and former record executive Joseph Dalton has a blog called My Big Gay Ears. It's a funny title and super resource. He was kind enough to mention my upcoming projects in a recent post.
Talk about bringing music to the people! Composer/performer Byron Au Yong is putting opera in bottles (no deposit required)....

Like a musical Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the Seattle-based composer created a series of 64 musical miniatures, each for a singer and a percussionist....

Read more at My Big Gay Ears (!)

Stuck Elevator at Yale

Stuck Elevator was selected as one of two original music theatre shows to receive workshops at the Yale Institute for Music Theatre in New Haven from June 13-27, 2010. The institute, produced by Beth Morrison with artistic director Mark Brokaw, is in the process of selecting the cast and musicians.

Here is how the YIMT describes the work:
Stuck Elevator is a surprising, engrossing, and hallucinogenic roller-coaster ride through the swirling and claustrophobic mind of an illegal immigrant Chinese food delivery man.

Stuck Elevator workshops in NYC

Back from New York with good news:

Aaron Jafferis and I will be Artists-in-Residence at the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU. Aaron and I have been working on Stuck Elevator, an operatic solo performance about the Chinese delivery man who was trapped in a Bronx elevator for three days. I am excited to workshop this super-heroic stationary journey with A/P/A.

In New York, A/P/A greats Laura and Alex took me to the Chen Dance Center and Museum of Chinese in America. At CDC, H.T. wowed us with his performing carp and intimate venue.  The black box theatre was surprisingly quiet given that it was in New York's Chinatown. I look forward to interacting with the audience during our workshop performances about an undocumented Chinese immigrant from New York.

Cynthia and Beatrice at MoCA discussed programming possibilities in the new Museum designed by Maya Lin. Touring the space under construction was phenomenal. Surrounded by glass, concrete, steel, and wood is a central courtyard with natural light. The walls of the courtyard are the original brick from the former garment worker's building. Lin has created a place in New York's Chinatown that reinterprets the meaning of the Chinese home in a city known for immigrants.

Aaron and I begin Stuck Elevator workshops this September.


Kidnapping Water: Bottled Operas was a 2009 Richard Rodgers Award Finalist.

Amazing knowing that the Bottled Operas are a set of 64 musical miniatures for any number of performers to be performed in any order, outdoors in water - a far cry from The Sound of Music.

Thanks to the American Academy of Arts and Letters for the encouraging nod of approval.

Thoughts from Xi'an

At the end of August, I had the opportunity to be a delegate for the Dragon 100 in Hong Kong and China. It was amazing to be with so many Chinese leaders from around the world. Thanks to the Wing Luke Asian Museum, Dragon Foundation, and Washington State Arts Commission for their support.

Dragon 100

In the photo above, you can see half my face fifth from the left in the top row to the right of the really tall guy. Below are some of my informal impressions from the experience.
What I eat in a day
could feed 100 people.

What I see in one hour
could inspire 100 lives.

How did I become so lucky
to be descended from a dragon,
to be fed and clothed
with a wooden comb for my black hair?

How can I lift this fork and feel blessed
when children come to my hotel window
hungry ghosts all waiting to be fed?

When my bones are brittle and my breath is cold
acid raindrops from the dark grey sky
beat the drum tower down to red splinters.

I crawl towards a tiny bird
to warm the blood in my veins
with fire from her flapping wings.
11th photo op
of an old man with cigarette
who stares at the camera
while the tea pot bleeds.

His ashes surround two cups --
cracked blue and white porcelain.

Above a Mao jacket
his eyes declaim:
Good morning, Young Dragons.
Zhao an, Xiao Long.
[photo of boy]
Black mat floors
puddle from the water of
pipes hidden above the ceiling
in the archaeology exhibition.

Unable to see
the boy paws
the Plexiglas.

His fumbling prints leave
an indecipherable hieroglyphic.
[photo of luggage]
In the Xi'an airport at midnight
unattended baggage waits
in the empty load/unload zone.

A body becomes the testing ground
for paperwork between countries.
[photo of museum]
Pigs stare quietly
from the holding pen
of the truck.

On the bus
tourists chatter noisily
until one passes out
from the air-con mixed with
the stale taste of pork fat
from breakfast.
[photo of museum pool]
Concrete encased flowers
learn not to cry out.

Just bloom
a pretty purple
fed by sugar water.
[photo of polluted China]
An anthem of love
echoes throughout
the hollow auditorium.

Hands raise a salute
of the mimed cigarette lighters
with sputtering flames.
[photo of terra cotta warriors]
He had one of those faces
I'd only seen in clay.

The clay from 2,000 years ago
dug up from the tomb
of a decomposed emperor.

I reach to touch this face
three seats away
indented to the bone.

Moving closer
I notice that
the smoothness
is pockmarked.

I close my eyes
to decipher this coded braille
pockets of space and time
in the pores of past and present.

Confused like the clay
dug up from a grave.

Confused like the face
struggling to stay alive.

Confused like this boy
with many futures to choose.

Fingers trace the topography of being Chinese
the outer shell of a soul where
eyebrows catch the perspiration,
the flooded field before the flood,
rivulets through the hills
of oil and dust.
[photo of bride]
Red flower
I go towards you
and see curled leaves
above rotted roots.
[photo of cardboard by bride]

I hope you've enjoyed the photos and poetry. The final photos are from the Xi'an Drum Tower. This was my favorite place despite the pollution hovering outside and the odd context of the drums.

[photo of drum and pollution]

[photo of drums]
The "No Smoking" sign tacked to the drum stand is my favorite touch
Here's a close-up

Au Yong Shu (1904-2005)

Commemorating one year after the passing of my grandfather...

Au Yong Shu

June 21st marks the one year commemoration of my paternal grandfather's passing. My cousin Gary Wu and I were in charge of putting together a slideshow. Here are a few of my favorite photos.
[photo of grandmother with teachers]
Both my grandparents were teachers. My grandmother is seated in the center surrounded by two of her colleagues. Notice her big feet. She was the youngest daughter in her family and screamed so loudly when they bound her feet that her mother told the servants, "Fine, let her have big feet."

Good thing. My refugee grandmother would never have survived running through the mountains of Mindanao without big feet.
[photo of grads]
This photo was taken in 1969, and while it looks like my grandparents' children are all graduating at the same time, it's really a costume show. My father, the first child to leave the family for the United States in 1966, returned home because the business had burned down.

They took his homecoming as a photo op, but instead of posing in front of a charred building, they decided to wear caps and gowns. It makes for a more respectable family history.

My dad is second from the right.
[photo of grandfather at piano]
Here is my grandfather playing the piano. I thought that he was making a racket, but he seemed to enjoy himself so my uncle took this photo. I wish now that I had listened more carefully to my grandfather's music.

The dining room set in the background is at my cousin's home. We are Chinese, so we cover everything in plastic. This is so guests think we always have new furniture even if the fabric underneath the plastic is faded from the sun.
[photo from anniversary]
My grandparents were married for over 75 years.

Look, they're still smiling.
[photo of incense]
My grandmother burns incense for her late husband every morning. My relatives and the shaman say that this incense burning down in a circle shows that he is watching over the family in unique ways.

Next week I travel to China for the first time with my 97-year-old grandmother who hasn't been back in over 60 years.
Visit YIJU: Songs of Dislocation for more about my grandparents.

For more Au Yong/O'Young/Au Yeung/Au Young/AuYong/AuYang/Ou Yang family photos and info, visit this website created by cousin Eldy Wan-Kenobi:
[o-young family image]

February News

Jennifer Shainin and Randy Walker of ForeignAmerican Pictures have chosen to set my music to a new video. They will premiere the work during the Washington Composers Forum's Guitar Gulag concert co-sponsored with DoubleSharp, Jack Straw Productions, and Consolidated Works.

Shainin and Walker relocated to the Northwest from Los Angeles to pursue a filmmaking style that combines video, fiction, photography, graphic design, and animation. Shainin worked on the main titles for films such as Seven, Twister, and Mission Impossible. Both received their MA at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.
23 February 2006, 7:30PM
Consolidated Works
500 Boren Ave N
Seattle WA 98109

API/2 Award The Asian and Pacific Islander Artist Presenting Initiative launched by the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center in Los Angeles has awarded me an API/2 Award.

Happy New Year

Year of the Fire (Hot) Dog Forecast
Gregorian Year 2006 | Chinese Year 4703

Increased protests, confrontations, and revolts from environmental and humanitarian activists who rally to alleviate and prevent suffering. Decreased materialism as individuals re-evaluate their values and lifestyles. The Dog's attentive focus ensures that honesty and fairness prevail. The virtuous and loyal succeed at their endeavors.

Previous Year of the Fire Dog History
Gregorian Year 1946 | Chinese Year 4643

During the previous Fire Dog Year:

  • Women in Japan, Belgium, Romania, Yugoslavia, Argentina, and Quebec were allowed to vote

  • The Philippines, Jordan, Syria, and Indonesia gained independence

  • Ho Chi Minh was elected president of North Vietnam

  • The UN Security Council held its first session

  • The first digital computer was dedicated

  • The Cannes Film Festival debuted

  • World War II officially ended

  • Civil war in China intensified

  • UNICEF was founded

Highlights of 2005

Along with receiving an MFA in musical theatre writing from the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, I performed Two Breaths about the Tsunami with Edisa at Joe's Pub and Makor in New York, drove cross country with Frank stopping along the way to visit cousins Eldy & Pricilla at the Mall of America and Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis and friends Haruno & Savak at their goat farm in Montana.

During the second half of 2005, I relocated back to Seattle to help my dad at StoneWorld LLC. I also reconnected with friends like Michelle, began work with choreographers Archana and Ying, and continued work with groups like the On Ensemble in Los Angeles, as well as individuals like performers Betsy, Marc, and Erica on projects that ranged from After-Effect about illusions to Erosion about addiction and abuse. I also touched base with long-time collaborator Eugenie on the opera Snakewoman.

Playing music with Kim, Karen, and James for the upcoming production of Archana and Ying's Becoming has reminded me of Seattle's unique vibe. Back on the West Coast, I have time to focus my energy on classical music, inquisitive writing, and acoustic ecology.

2005 Fun Fact

WNYU Radio
Caroline Murphy and I DJ'd 10 radio shows devoted to global music theatre
See the playlists
Dedicated to intercultural collaboration, Byron Au Yong composes songs of dislocation, music for a changing world. He teaches in Performing Arts & Social Justice at the University of San Francisco.

Byron Au Yong & Christopher Yohmei Blasdel: BreathPlay

Byron Au Yong: Kidnapping Water: Bottled Operas
Kidnapping Water:
Bottled Operas
Byron Au Yong: Yiju