Showing posts with label Taiko. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Taiko. Show all posts


On Ensemble performs Two by Four, photo by Mark Eby
Byron Au Yong has worked with the leading taiko performers in Japan and North America. His compositions have been performed by Kaho Tosha (Forbidden Circles) and are recorded by On Ensemble (Dust and Sand) and Portland Taiko (Rhythms of Change). Additionally, Au Yong has served as music consultant for TAIKOPROJECT as well as workshop leader for North American Taiko Conferences and Regional Taiko Gatherings in Los Angeles, Palo Alto, Portland, and Seattle.

“When we were looking to commission work from composers whom we felt would push our art form in new directions, Byron was an obvious choice. The work he composed for us, Two by Four has become a central part of our repertoire. I recommend Byron in the strongest language possible.” – Shoji Kameda, On Ensemble 
“Eternal appreciation for the work you did with Portland Taiko. You provided us with the much-needed encouragement, reflection, and thoughtfulness to get us through this important milestone. It is always great to work with you.” – Michelle Fujii, Unit Souzou 
“Musical consultant Byron Au Yong returns to LA for a brief visit to go over musical development of the show. Thank you Byron, for taking the time to jump on out for a quick weekend and your input and creativity! We miss you in LA (don... kadon... kadokodon don...)” – Bryan Yamami, TAIKOPROJECT
Awards from the American Composers Forum, Creative Capital and Meet the Composer acknowledge the unique and effective ways Byron composes work. He brings training in Western classical and Asian traditional music to help discover ways for taiko groups to develop existing and new repertoire.
Byron provides the outside ears necessary for artistic directors and musicians. He offers feedback from multiple perspectives informed by his experience as a performer, teacher and composer. 
Teaching Rhythmic Fundamentals and Listening to Music in the Dance Department at Cornish College of the Arts has allowed Byron to refine his workshop methods for musicians who move as well as dancers who play drums.
North American Taiko Conference
Taught Seven Ways to Develop Material, Stanford (2011)
Taught Seven Ways to Develop New Material, Los Angeles (2009)
Regional Taiko Gathering
Composition Track, Portland (2012)
Taught Chinese Drumming Patterns, Seattle (2010)
Taught Composing for Taiko, Portland (2006)
Co-coordinated the Pacific Northwest conference, Seattle (1998)
Portland Taiko
Composed Fifteen, for violin and taiko (2010)
Composer/Consultant for Rhythms of Change CD (2009)
Composer-in-Residence (2007)
Consultant for touring show The Way Home (2007)
Composed News, for paper, bamboo and taiko (2007)
Composed Ji Mo 寂寞: The Stillness of Solitude, for quartet (2007)
Seattle Betsuin
Co-composed Seattle Omoide Ondo (2007) 
On Ensemble
Composed After-Effect, for taiko and turntable (2005)
Two by Four released on Dust and Sand CD (2005)
Composed Two by Four, for nagauta voice, taiko and gongs (2003)
Composed Crazy Eights, for taiko ensemble (2003)
Co-composed Home, for taiko ensemble, with Michelle Fujii (2003)
Music Consultant for (re)generation (2002-2003)
Uzume Taiko Ensemble
Performances in Canada (1999)
Performed at Taiko Jam in Los Angeles (1999)
Performed at Vancouver Folk Music Festival (1999)
Performed at Vancouver Playhouse (1999)
Managed Belgium Tour (1999)
Seattle Kokon Taiko
Performances in Oregon, Washington (1996-1998)
Performed at Taiko Jam in Los Angeles (1997)
Okinawan Taiko
Studied with Wataru Shinjo (1995-96)
Northwest Taiko
Performed in Montana, Oregon, Washington (1993-1996)
Media & Writing
Au Yong, Byron. Imagining a Future for Taiko. September 2012.
Au Yong, Byron and Chad Williams. New Music for Taiko. Video, August 2011.
Au Yong, Byron. The Eight Biennial North American Taiko Conference. NewMusicBox, August 2011.

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.

NewMusicBox Taiko

Kenny Endo Taiko Ensemble
NewMusicBox has published an article I wrote about the 2011 North American Taiko Conference at Stanford University. Along with a conference overview and a brief history of kumi-daiko, I focus on new music created for taiko.

Here's an excerpt:
Two quotes that continue to resonate with me are “innovation is tradition” spoken by numerous people throughout the conference, and “work is both a verb and a noun” spoken by Stephen Sano, professor and chair of the department of music at Stanford University. Considering work as both a process and a product, as a way for new music to continually rearrange for multiple performance contexts, provides a sustainable approach that the taiko community, even though nascent, offers to musical groups in America and beyond.
Check out the article at NewMusicBox.

New Music for Taiko Video

Thinking about new music for taiko, Chad Williams and I made this brief informational video while we were at the 2011 North American Taiko Conference at Stanford University from August 18-21. Included are thoughts from:
  • Kenny Endo (Taiko Center of the Pacific, Hawai’i)
  • George Abe (founding member of Kinnara Taiko, Los Angeles)
  • Roy and PJ Hirabayashi (directors emeritus of San Jose Taiko)
  • Yoshihiko Miyamoto (president of Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten, Tokyo) 
  • Masato Baba (artistic director of TAIKOPROJECT, member of On Ensemble, Los Angeles)
  • Michelle Fujii (artistic director of Portland Taiko)
Chad and I interviewed many folks we were not able to include in this short video. There are many other taiko musicians who create new work. Perhaps we can make more videos?

What would you like to hear about generating new work for taiko?

Portland Musicians help Japan

Last Monday, when I met with artistic director Michelle Fujii of Portland Taiko, she said that she would speak with PT's community group about how they would like to respond to the recent devastation in Japan. I am excited to announce that in a few days musicians and concerned citizens throughout Portlandia have pulled together to present a Benefit Concert for Japan.

Portland Taiko + Portland State University's Department of Music host this benefit concert for the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Performers include:

  • Portland Taiko
  • Takohachi
  • Mexica Tiahui
  • Mike Barber
  • Natya Leela Academy
  • Carla Mann and Jim McGinn
  • Hanzaburo Araki

Portland Taiko & SF Taiko Dojo

In 1997, I visited San Francisco for a lesson with Tanaka Sensei. For those who don't know, Tanaka Sensei is considered the Grand Master of taiko in North America. He started SF Taiko Dojo in 1968.

I had heard that Tanaka Sensei was a strict teacher. I arrived early and watched a class taught by the performing members. Sitting on the floor, I was surprised by all the egg cartons that lined the concrete walls of the dojo. I sat politely trying to watch the class and not think of eggs.

During my lesson, Tanaka Sensei sized me up. Upon realizing that I was Chinese American rather than Japanese, he told me that I must explore Chinese philosophy. He revealed his fascination with Qi Gong and acknowledged the influence of Chinese aesthetics on taiko. I left the lesson empowered, not realizing how significant taiko and the incorporation of Chinese thought would become on my music.

This weekend, Portland Taiko hosts joint performances with SF Taiko Dojo. Michelle Fujii, Kelsey Furuta and Toru Watanabe of Portland Taiko perform my composition News, for bamboo/paper/taiko. The work combines instruments common to both China and Japan within a structure that allows the trio to think about and explore sounds and movements that are both contemporary and classical. The performers use their bachi as writing utensils. The paper floats then flickers. Drum patterns morph from set rhythms into poetic ambiguity.

Both Tanaka Sensei and Portland Taiko have taught me the importance of having a unique contribution within a community.

25 Taiko Groups in Seattle

The Regional Taiko Gathering happens August 13-15, 2010, at the University of Washington. Members of 25 groups + additional musicians from Alberta, British Columbia, Idaho, Oregon and Washington will take part in workshops. Some will be part of two performances. Thanks to Stan Shikuma, Barbara Yasui and the other RTG committee members for organizing and hosting this gathering.

Instructors include:
  • Michelle Fujii
  • Kelsey Furuta
  • Eien Hunter-Ishikawa
  • Eileen Kage
  • Eduardo Mendonça
  • Ringtaro Tateishi
  • Linda Uyehara Hoffman
  • Toru Watanabe
On August 14, I teach a workshop called Chinese Drumming Patterns.

Exclusivity, Constraint, Liberate

Rebecca Ragain wrote a comprehensive preview article of Ten Tiny Taiko Dances in Just Out. Ragain explains both Ten Tiny Dances and taiko. She also provides a context for the collaboration with quotes from curator/creators Mike Barber and Michelle Fujii.

Keywords from the article that resonate with me include exclusivity, constraint and liberate.

Photographs in this post are by Joni Shimabukuro. The one on the left features Keiko Araki and Kelsey Furuta performing my work Fifteen for violin and taiko. The photo below features Fujii with Portland Taiko playing uchiwa (fan drums).

Portland Taiko presents Ten Tiny Taiko Dances from June 19-20, at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts.

Fifteen: from abstract to personal

On Tuesday, I attended my first rehearsal of Fifteen for violin and taiko. Choreographer Michelle Fujii, violinist Keiko Araki, and taiko player Kelsey Furuta have been working from a score I sent a few weeks ago. The score is in fifteen sections to be performed in any order. This was the first chance for me to experience their discoveries live and offer insights.

Here are more thoughts about Fifteen along with photos from the rehearsal.
Last year, Portland Taiko celebrated their 15th Anniversary. Thinking about the number 15, I started a series of sketches for violin and taiko. I played with the number 15: 9+6, 3x5, Lo Shu magic squares, the word fifteen having seven letters, and so on. 15 in the abstract was versatile, but refused to grow into a musical composition. When artistic director Fujii mentioned Ten Tiny Taiko Dances, my thoughts shifted.

I remembered an article I had read about child sex trafficking in South Africa. One of the main characters in the article was Elizabeth, a 15-year-old girl. Her best friend had tuberculosis, full-blown AIDS, and was three months pregnant.

In Composition in Retrospect, John Cage wrote, "Music never stops. It is we who turn away." The World Cup happens in South Africa in June 2010. How can millions watch when next to the stadium, children are raped? Along with being a number, 15 is a transformative, magical age, yet some 15-year-old lives are truncated.

I realized that Fifteen refused to grow from number games, because music is transformative and magical. Taking the idea of truncation to the extreme, Fifteen contains 15 sections performed in any order as offerings and sacrifices. Moreover, while the violinist and taiko player rehearse sections together, they perform the sections apart. Elizabeth's best friend died. For Ten Tiny Taiko Dances, Fifteen struggles to live fully within confines where an eternity can take place within 15 seconds.
Fujii, Araki, and Furuta have found ways to merge the abstract and concrete with strikingly simple gestures. Notice the already limiting 4' x 4' stage further cut-in-half by the drum as well as the score tossed and crumpled about the stage.

Fifteen overflows with possibilities yet is contained. The performers talked about sections having clear narratives that they developed. At times, Araki plays the violin while lying down, at another time, they exchange bow with bachi (drum stick). The sounds they have discovered from the score and while moving are both strong and delicate. Fifteen comes alive within the joy and sorrow of multiple silences. Please attend the premiere.

Portland Taiko presents
Ten Tiny Taiko Dances
19 June 2010, 3pm
19 June 2010, 8pm
20 June 2010, 2pm

The First Steps

available at

Bob Hicks, a writer for Art Scatter, posted a blog entry about an initial meeting for Portland Taiko's upcoming Ten Tiny Taiko Dances. He wrote:
Byron Au Yong, the Seattle composer who’s worked with Portland Taiko before, arrives with a score already in hand. He passes copies around the circle: it’s elegant, intricate notation.
I'm excited about Fifteen for violin and taiko to be premiered June 19-20, at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts. The work is in 15 sections; each section should last for an eternity. Practically, each section lasts from 15 seconds to 5 sets of 15 seconds.

Previously, Hicks attended a recording session for Portland Taiko's CD Rhythms of Change. His in-depth writing included a section about my conducting Michelle Fujii's work for violin and taiko called Slipping Through My Fingers:
The drummers are following the violinist, but they can’t hear her. They’re looking for compensating visual cues, and they’re a flick late. So Fujii asks Byron Au Yong, a Seattle-based composer who works internationally and has collaborated with several taiko groups, to stand out in the auditorium where everyone can see him. From a few rows up, he patiently motions entrances and keeps the beat: It’s all in the timing.
I'm excited to hear how Fujii and violinist Keiko Araki will interpret Fifteen, where the music is timeless, yet nonetheless timing is important.

Ten Tiny Taiko Dances

Ten Tiny Taiko Dances posterFifteen, for violin and taiko, will be premiered by Keiko Araki and Michelle Fujii, along with works by:
  • Mike Barber
  • Christine Calfas
  • Michelle Fujii
  • Subashini Ganesan
  • Carla Mann
  • Heather Perkins
  • Artur Sultanov/OBT
  • tEEth
  • Toru Watanabe
Ten Tiny Taiko Dances event happens in one of my favorite spaces at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts:

Winningstad Theatre
1111 SW Broadway
Portland OR USA

June 19, 2010, 3pm + 8pm
June 20, 2010, 2pm

Way Back Home

Portland Taiko performs The Way Back Home this Saturday. The show was developed as their national touring performance in 2007. This is the first time it will be performed in Portland.

27 March 2010, 2 & 8pm
Winningstad Theatre
1111 SW Broadway
Portland OR 97205

Video Interview

It includes two of my favorite instruments: paper & bamboo. You can hear these materials along with taiko in the work I composed for them called News, as well as throughout the program.

Ten Tiny Taiko Dances Preview

Bob Hicks visited a collaborator meeting with Portland Taiko for new works to premiere this June. Here are some of his thoughts in an article called Ten Tiny Taiko Dances: The First Steps.
Byron Au Yong, the Seattle composer who’s worked with Portland Taiko before, arrives with a score already in hand. He passes copies around the circle: it’s elegant, intricate notation.
Au Yong is working with the number 15, because this is Portland Taiko’s fifteenth season. The number contains mathematical and musical possibilities, various rhythmic and structural components. As he was thinking about the number, he read a Newsweek report about 21st century slavery, about girls being sold in South Africa, where the World Cup will be played in June, when this performance will take place. “So that began to put a human face on the number 15. If your body is taken away from you, how do you survive?” For all that, he adds, “musically, I want this to be a very quiet work.”
Read the entire preview article at ArtScatter

30 Days to Better Shime

Kris Bergstrom of On Ensemble has released version two of 30 Days to Better Shime. I highly recommend this self-training program for any stick drummer, especially taiko and Chinese drummers.

On Ensemble offers the workbook and audio files for free on their website. You can also order the comprehensive guide and CD for $30. That's only $1/day to become the best small-drum player in the world.

The Way of Taiko

by Byron Au Yong

originally published in the International Examiner (PDF) on page 13

"Taiko is more than a loud drum," says Masato Baba.

We speak about Heidi Varian's book The Way of Taiko, published by Stone Bridge Press. Varian is a disciple of Seiichi Tanaka, who founded San Francisco Taiko Dojo in 1968. She was a runway model from Iceland who started studying at Taiko Dojo in the 1980s. Her book is influenced by Tanaka's austere form of training.

Inside the book cover is an ad for The Spirit of Taiko DVD, which features three generations of North American taiko performers: Tanaka, Kenny Endo and Baba.

Baba sits shotgun while Shoji Kameda drives. Kristofer Bergstrom sleeps in back.

"We had a late start," Baba laughs.

They are on I-5 heading north from Los Angeles to the Bay Area to rehearse with Kelvin Underwood in preparation for a show by their quartet On Ensemble at The Triple Door in Seattle.

Speaking with them by telephone, I thumb through The Way of Taiko looking for photos of On Ensemble, but find none.

"The book should be called A Way of Taiko rather than The Way of Taiko," says Kameda. "Tanaka-sensei's training is old school in the best possible way. He felt pressure to represent a rigid mindset."

Varian continues this mindset by tracing the path of taiko as an "ancient sacred practice in Japan" to her martial arts style training at Taiko Dojo. Her appealing, glossy, square-shaped book fits easily between my palms.

As I read, the book’s construction starts to come apart at the seams. Pages fall out and I worry that I will lose the correct order of taiko immersion that Varian describes.

Baba interrupts my fumbling, "The path of my parents (drummer Jeanne Aiko Mercer and saxophone musician Russel Baba) was very different than what they learned from Tanaka-sensei."

"Jeanne and Russel took taiko and made it their own way back in the day." Kameda explains.

After studying with Tanaka, Mercer and Baba moved to Mt Shasta in the 1970s. Along with raising their son, they started Shasta Taiko. Kameda, Baba's next-door neighbor, started playing taiko with them at age eight.

"When I first started taiko, I was not into fusion at all. I thought taiko was a fixed tradition that had been around for thousands of years." Kameda says.

Bergstrom, now awake, adds, “I had this naive Karate Kid image of taiko. When I went to Japan, there was no 'wax on, wax off' training.”

On Ensemble's sound is an ongoing re-imagining of taiko music with their personal mix of indie rock, electronica, jazz, hip-hop, and other influences.

"This is the way identity and culture really work." Kameda comments. "When reinvention stops happening the art becomes stagnant."

Baba continues, "I want to make the best music I can. At school shows we ask the kids 'What does taiko mean?' Before, they'd answer ‘drums’. Now, they say 'music'."

Taiko, Trap Set, Turntable, Throat Singing!?

On EnsembleIt's with great excitement that I announce On Ensemble's Seattle debut at The Triple Door. I've known the members for over 10 years. They've premiered three of my compositions and even included one on their CD Dust and Sand. They are superstars. Check them out.

May 20, 6:30-8PM
CD/DVD Release Party
KOBO at Higo's

May 22, 7:30PM
On Ensemble Live
The Triple Door

Los-Angeles based On Ensemble (pronounced "ohn") features four musicians who have studied and performed with renowned masters of traditional and contemporary music in the United States and Japan. Their sound ranges from centuries-old Kabuki music to contemporary indie rock and from free jazz to hip-hop electronica.

Members include Masato Baba musical director of the award-winning TAIKOPROJECT, Kristofer Bergstrom soloist at the Kennedy Center, Shoji Kameda called "a bit like progressive rocker Beck" by the Rafu Shimpo, and Kelvin Underwood former touring member of Ondekoza.

On Ensemble instruments include hand-made drums by Miyamoto Unosuke Shouten - instrument maker to the Emperor of Japan. Their Triple Door set features these taiko with turntable, trap set, bamboo flute, koto (Japanese zither), and Tuvan overtone singing.

On Community and Culture

I have always been suspicious of the words community and culture because I find myself on the outskirts no matter how hard I try to fit in. I smile when everyone is serious or cry when everyone laughs. Perhaps this is why I travel. The definition of a foreigner is someone who is out of place.

I just returned from London, Aldeburgh, New York, New Haven, and Portland. Next year, I will be in China and hopefully England again. The paradox of travel is that to get from here to there, you have to sit still. Travel has become going from empty seat to empty seat on the bus, taxi, airplane, or train.

In August, over 500 people attended the North American Taiko Conference held in Seattle. The participants came from places like Winnipeg, Utah and Vermont. Since I was home for the weekend and I was invited to teach, I joined the conference.

My composition workshop went well, but I especially enjoyed all the non-workshop moments such as looking for a breakfast burrito with New York Teddy and learning how to make boba-straw panpipes with Los Angeles George.

I became part of this taiko social network without logging on. I didn't post my photos on a Facebook or beats in a MySpace. Rather, by hanging out and smiling, I met Teddy, George and a bunch of other folks who have contributed to my definition of a taiko community and culture. I treasure these moments and think:

Communities and cultures develop slowly over time through the experience, dedication, support, and presence of unsuspecting individuals.

Less than 40 years ago kumi-daiko (group drumming) was introduced to North America. Since then, hundreds of taiko groups have popped up as if we were on a taiko-rabbit farm. I never thought that when I started playing over a dozen years ago, I'd be hopping around as a workshop leader working with groups around the world.

While people have always traveled and exchanged ideas, the mechanisms for connecting continually expand. You may be meeting me for the first time through this writing on the Internet, so... hello. Yet I hesitate to say that our up-to-now, one-sided interaction has anything to do with community or culture.

Then again, I'm here (or was here) and you're here (or will be here) at the computer, iPhone, or PDA. We're travelers warming previously empty seats and while you might want to yell at me, I definitely want to yell at you. Travel, on an airplane or through cyberspace, makes me weary.

I am still suspicious of the words community and culture. To me, they signal a closed mathematical set. How do I find an artistic home in a country that values conformity over anarchy? I suggest adding the word "changing" to the equation.

Changing community and changing culture makes where I live and work dynamic. With flux in the mix, a cultural community such as one made up of North American taiko players thrives at all levels from large drums to boba-straw panpipes.
* * *

A version of this was published in August 2007, as the first of 4Culture's My Point of View Column in their eNewsletter.

Creating a Community Song

Here's an obon song, I helped create for the 75th Anniversary of Seattle's Bon Odori. My taiko player friend Karen asked me to help out. In less than four meetings, we created and rehearsed this tribute to Seattle's past as well as a new dance song for future generations.

2015 Seattle Obon Video

Seattle Omoide Ondo
Ji-chan, ba-chan, odori ni koi.
To-san, ka-san, kodomo mo koi.
Shinseki kamawazu minna de koi.

The summer time would be strange without song or dance.
Bon Odori makes me feel alive;
Se-a-to-ru romance.

Ev'ryone ( ) kachi kachi ( ) all in sync.
Colorful kimono fill the streets.
Taiko keeps the beat.

Ji-chan, ba-chan, odori ni koi.
To-san, ka-san, kodomo mo koi.
Shinseki kamawazu minna de koi.

Together young and old gather on Main Street.
Queens and Pirates circle round and round,
dancing in the heat.

I eat somen and yaki onigiri.
Ev'ry year my fingers get sticky
from eating kori.

Ji-chan, ba-chan, odori ni koi.
To-san, ka-san, kodomo mo koi.
Shinseki kamawazu minna de koi.

I nod to friends and to those who have passed away.
Sensei Kiki dances next to me
on this happy day.

The sun goes down on the lanterns; they sway and yawn.
I watch children as they learn new songs.
The future carries on.

Ji-chan, ba-chan, odori ni koi.
To-san, ka-san, kodomo mo koi.
Shinseki kamawazu minna de koi.
Thanks to Karen Akada Sakata, Dennis Yamashita and Yukie Fujiwara for their great voices, Esther Sugai for her awesome fue music, and Marcia Takamura for her enthusiastic kagegoes and shimisen playing that kept us all in line. I was in the UK when this was first performed in 2007, but heard that dance instructors Gwen and Suzanne made a super up-beat dance with kachi kachi.

2011 White River Buddhist Temple Bon Odori Video

Composer info for Bamboo Migrations

Some ideas for working with Portland Taiko in 2007...

"Bamboo Migrations" Project Summary

For the creation of their new national touring production Bamboo Migrations, to be premiered in September 2007, Portland Taiko will commission a composer to engage with Portland Taiko's community, inspire performers, generate musical transitions, and advise on the overall musical content.

Portland Taiko and their collaborators -- poet Lawson Inada, visual artist Valerie Otani, and composer Byron Au Yong -- will hold community sessions where local immigrants and their children will share stories about moving from their Asian homelands to the United States. These community "talk story" forums will provide narrative threads, which Portland Taiko will weave together to create Bamboo Migrations.

Creative Team Bio

Dedicated to intercultural, multidisciplinary, community-based collaboration, composer Byron Au Yong has worked with amateur musicians and professional groups in projects that have been performed in venues that range from abandoned train tracks to concert halls to haunted theatres.

He has been active in the North American taiko community for over a dozen years collaborating with On Ensemble and Taikoproject, and teaching Composing for Taiko Workshops at the Regional Taiko Gathering hosted by Portland Taiko.

As a composer, Au Yong has created over 50 works that have been performed in Canada, China, Germany, Japan, South Korea, and the United States. In 2006, he received an Award for Innovation from 4Culture for the initial development of the opera Stuck Elevator, about the Chinese restaurant deliveryman who was trapped in a New York elevator for three days.

In addition, Au Yong produced the compact disc compilation A Bridge Home: Music in the Lives of Asian Pacific Americans for the Wing Luke Asian Museum in Seattle and curated Asian American Music Now for the Music, Performance, and Racial Imaginations Conference at New York University.


On Ensemble and I are in the midst of creating After-Effect, a new work for taiko, snare drum, and turntable.

Percussionist David Schotzko prompted After-Effect. When I visited David's studio, I noticed an old army snare that once belonged to his uncle. Thinking more about percussion music and the military, I came across the idea of the motion after-effect.
[photo of the On Ensemble workshopping After-Effect]Doing further research on the after-effect, I found that Marcel Duchamp created 12 rotoreliefs where he spun various spirals atop phonographs. I have wanted to write a work for taiko and turntable where the ancient beats of the taiko met the electronic technology of the phonograph. The roto reliefs connected the musical instruments with the after-effect and helped solidify this as a work propelled by violence.

If you watch a spiral spin in one direction for at least 30 seconds and the spiral suddenly stops, the neurons in your mind will spin the spiral in the opposite direction. This uncontrollable going back reminded me of the ringing sensation in the ears caused by a mass of sound followed by a sudden silence. This is the aural equivalent to the visual after-effect, as well as a post-traumatic symptom caused by war.

On Ensemble, with Kelvin on snare and chu, Shoj on shime and chu, and Kris on turntable, presented After-Effect as part of their sold-out Works-In-Progress Concert at Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica on December 18, 2005. We will develop a complete version to present in Spring 2006.

Thanks to API/2 for supporting part of my residency with On Ensemble.

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