Road to Kumano

With our upcoming show “Road to Kumano” premiering in just a few weeks, I thought I would take a look back at our on-going partnership with East West Players, the nation’s pre-eminent Asian American theatre company.

I first got involved with EWP 18 years ago in 1998, right after I graduated from USC and was working full-time for the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (JACCC).  EWP was making their historic move from their small black box 99-seat theatre space to their current 240-seat theatre in Little Tokyo.  The opening production was “Pacific Overtures,” and featured an amazing all-star cast of actors, singers, and dancers.  It was a two-month performance run and watching the performers shine every night was inspiring.  Not only were they amazingly talented, they also had so much fun with each other--it was really one of the most fun shows I’ve ever done. 

Pacific Overtures (1998)

Pacific Overtures (1998)

 

That same year, EWP produced a holiday show directed by Deb Nishimura, and there was a short taiko drumming/dance number that I was asked to develop with the cast.  In 1999, I filled in for David Cheung for a few performances of “Carry the Tiger to the Mountain,” featuring Beulah Quo and Reggie Lee.

Dance & Sing for the Holidays (1998)

Dance & Sing for the Holidays (1998)

In 2005, we were asked to return to EWP to provide a musical soundscape for “Equus,” featuring the inimitable George Takei.  This was a bigger creative challenge for us—trying to create the right music and sounds to augment and support the actors onstage and to advance the story.

Equus (2005)

Equus (2005)

In 2012, we were honored to receive the Visionary Award from EWP at their annual gala dinner due to our representation of Asian American artistry in mainstream shows such as The Voice, The X-Factor, the 2011 Grammy Awards, the 2009 Academy Awards, and other various music videos and appearances.  This still stands as one of the few times our group has actually gotten dressed up (see below).

EWP Visionary Awards (2012)

EWP Visionary Awards (2012)

Finally, that brings us to 2016 and our co-presentation with East West Players on “Road to Kumano.”  We are honored to be a part of EWP’s 51st Anniversary season and to join such a long and storied list of productions.  As the first show at EWP to feature taiko drumming as its central focus, we are excited to show the musical and emotional range of our instrument.  It will truly be unlike any show we have done before.  Not only that, but we get to share the stage with one of the foremost taiko artists in the world, Chieko Kojima of KODO.  If you haven’t seen her perform live, then you haven’t seen how amazing taiko can be.  Her blend of power and grace is unparalleled.

So, there you have it.  Almost twenty years of collaboration between TAIKOPROJECT and East West Players, culminating in “Road to Kumano” next month.  My experiences performing for EWP’s productions over the years have helped shape our direction as a taiko ensemble—not just in creating music, but in finding visually creative ways to stage shows and to use story and narrative to heighten emotive impact.  Thank you to Tim Dang, Snehal Desai, and East West Players for this opportunity, and we hope to see you all at the show!

Road to Kumano (2016)

Road to Kumano (2016)

Road to Kumano runs Sept. 15-25, 2016 at the David Henry Hwang Theatre at East West Players.  Tickets and info: http://www.eastwestplayers.org/on-the-stage/road-to-kumano/

Vine Elementary School

On 4/29 our ArtsTeach adventures took Jen and the Boys (Bryan, Maz, David, Doug) out to Vine Elementary School in West Covina. Just to keep things interesting and on our toes that day, we tried to mix up the instrumentation a little in our set. New challenges are always fun, right? Can anyone spot the difference?

As always, we had a great time sharing and interacting with the kids. Thanks for being so great, Vine Elementary! Hope to visit you again soon.

-Jen

NPUSA National Conference

Last weekend, Courtney, Jen, Yumi, Doug, Jenny, and I had the opportunity to perform for the NPUSA National Conference that was held at the Wyndham Hotel in Anaheim. It was a fun set with a special twist - for our final number (Here We Go Now!), we were joined by Benjamin Ritter, the National Director of Sales! Benjamin has a background in drum line, so it was a fun little surprise for him to join us on stage before delivering his opening speech to the conference goers. Thanks for joining us, Benjamin!

After the performance, we loaded up our equipment and some of us took a special lunch trip to Earl of Sandwich in Downtown Disney. My favorite thing about Earl of Sandwich is that it can be Thanksgiving year-round! I love that holiday sandwich. I'm drooling just thinking about it. Yummmmm. (Also, it turns out Downtown Disney is GREAT for Pokemon Go. Just...you know...FYI).

After lunch, most of us went our separate ways--but Jen, Jenny, and I were all free for a few more hours, so Jenny swiped Jen and I into California Adventures for FREE! Those sure are some nice work perks, Jenny! Thanks for taking me to the happiest place on Earth!


The three of us searched the park high and low on a quest to be the very best and caught some awesome Pokemon! Overall, I'd call it a pretty great day.

'Til next time, TP fans!

Kelvin

John Lin Golf Tournament

On Wednesday, June 15, we performed at the John Lin Golf Tournament at the Coyote Hills Golf Course. Maz, David, and I had a blast performing for this event. We performed to kickoff the tournament. It was a nice day so it was great performing outside and a perfect day to have a golf tournament. Everyone was really nice and gracious at the event.

Thank you to everyone involved! We really enjoyed performing!

-Keiko

Stone Creek Elementary

Summer is now in full swing which means school is out and there will be many summer festivals to be attended.  On June 3rd, TAIKOPROJECT had the honor to make a repeat performance at Stone Creek Elementary School in Irvine for an outdoor evening performance.  The outdoor event had different booths and activities for the students and their families, one of which was an Italian Ice vendor and it looked amazing on such a warm day!  I don't often get to report from the audience perspective, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to watch my friends perform and take some performance photos for the blog!

Maz, Courtney, Yumi, Liz and David all braved the Friday traffic to make it to Irvine and when I arrived all the drums were set up and the team was going over their set near by in the shade.  After surprising the team with a quick hello, I made my way into the audience and tried to find a shaded place to stand. Being an outdoor performance with a festival sort of atmosphere, the team kicked off the performance with a very energetic Midare Uchi. Once David played the first beat of the song, I could tell it sparked the interest of all the kids playing in the soccer field and the crowd began to form really quick. The set included classics like Expanding and Many Sides, and some newer works like Illustrate Flying, overall it was a complete set covering our varied repertoire and I think the families enjoyed the performance.

Like most school shows, the part we enjoy the most is when students get the opportunity to play the taiko drums.  The excitement and the smiles on their faces always reminds me of how important it is to keep spreading the word about taiko and the joy it gave me when I first learned how to play. Great job to the TP5 putting on an awesome performance and thank you Stone Creek Elementary for inviting us to perform again! Hope you have a great summer break and we hope to visit your school again soon!

ArtsTeach Showcase

For the past three years, TAIKOPROJECT has been involved with the ArtsTeach program through the Segerstrom Center of the Arts located in Costa Mesa. Our educational program, Big Rhythms Big Drums, has brought taiko drumming to numerous schools in the greater LA and OC counties.  Teaching about the history of taiko in Japan, how taiko traveled to the US, and learning about the different drums that we play, students get a full musical and educational assembly packed with high energy bringing taiko into the modern age.

Maz, David and I had the opportunity to perform at the ArtsTeach showcase to promote our Big Rhythms Big Drums program in hopes to bring taiko drumming to even more schools this year. We are thankful to be a part of the ArtsTeach program and having the opportunity to share our love of taiko drumming and music to the next generation of musicians.

Carden Conejo School

Hello TP blog readers!  Thank you for following us through our busy and exciting 2016 thus far, and let me tell you there is so much more to come!  This summer on July 8th, we will be collaborating with Quetzal, the LA based Grammy Award-winning Chicano Rock band, at the Ford Amphitheater in Hollywood, Ca. We will be showcasing some of our work reimagined and perfectly blended with musical flavors from each group.  If you are interested in this concert, reserve your ticket for Concrete Saplings today by following this link http://fordtheatres.org/en/events/details/id/1021. Hope to see you there!

In other news, on May 20th, Maz, David, Jen, Blaine and I made our way to Carden Canejo School in Westlake Village for an ArtsTeach educational program. As we were unpacking our equipment and loading the drums into the multipurpose room, we got a little preview of what the music classes have been learning this year.  They were studying notes on the scale and determining if the note is a sharp, flat, or natural. We all had a good laugh when the kids all shouted, “It’s a B normal!” and the teacher shouted back “No, it’s a B NATURAL!”.

The kids were very attentive and they seemed to enjoy the performance, during some of the pieces I could see the students patting their laps along with the music.  The audience participation section of our program is probably the most exciting for us because we allow the students come up and try playing the taiko drums. We had two groups this time and both groups sounded like one big taiko drum playing oroshi together. It was very impressive! Thank you for having us Carden Conejo and we hope you enjoyed learning about taiko drumming!

Longfellow Elementary School

On May 4th, Drowsy David and SaruMaz the Color blind drove the van down to Long Beach for a school show at Longfellow Elementary School.  There, we met up with Bearded Bryan, Leapin' Liz, and Mr. Doug.  We loaded in, changed into costume, talked about our set, and stretched.

The kids filled the school auditorium and when the clock struck 10:10 am, we started off with Expanding, a TAIKOPROJECT favorite.  Our school show is geared to be high energy while we educate the kids about taiko.  My favorite is the student participation section where we teach the kids "oroshi", a drum roll from slow to fast.  It's exciting to see the kids play taiko for the very first time.

After the performance, we loaded up and headed our separate ways.  It's a good feeling to educate the world out there about the beauty of taiko.

-Maz

Amada Miyachi Grand Opening

Hola, Blaine here,

On April 28th, TP visited the Amada Miyachi corporation's grand opening for their new location in Monrovia. Amada Miyachi has been around since the 40's, providing  some super high quality resistance welding for anything from dental equipment to electric vehicles.  They thought it would be fitting to invite TP to play for their grand opening, and I think it went really well.

That's all for now.  Don't forget to fill out the Taiko Census this week!

Serrano Intermediate School

Back in March, we had the privilege to perform twice at the Serrano Intermediate School in Lake Forest as part of our ArtsTeach Program. The cast for that day was Maz, Liz, Brian, Jen, and myself. We arrived at the school bright and early got straight to work. We unloaded all of the equipment into a large, beautiful gym and prepped everything we needed for the shows.

We ended the shows with audience participation with both the students and teachers getting the opportunity to play some taiko! It was refreshing to be on stage, sharing our culture and musical backgrounds to the students. It was also a great morning work out! :)

-Tomomi

Ponderosa Elementary

On March 15th Maz, David, Doug, Jen and Liz had the pleasure of visiting Ponderosa Elementary School in Anaheim, CA. We got to perform for the students in three separate assemblies on a beautiful outdoor stage. As the sun came up, we all warmed up, woke up, and had a wonderful day.

The scholars at this school were so excited to be out in the sun participating in Taiko. They were, as a whole, extremely polite and very friendly. There was a huge group of kids that voluntarily skipped recess to hang out with us and talk to us about all things Taiko. They wanted to know how to join the team, how to get our cool shoes, and when our birthdays were. They were really sweet!

                                The TP Cast (left to right) David, Liz, Doug, Jen and Maz!

                                The TP Cast (left to right) David, Liz, Doug, Jen and Maz!

All things considered, the experience was a fulfilling one. It was enriching for the mind, body and soul, and it was one I won't soon forget. Thank you, Ponderosa Elementary!

- Liz

MPK Cherry Blossom Festival

Hello TP blog readers! Welcome to our blog! Here you will get to read (or watch when we have video blogs or vlogs) all about what TAIKOPROJECT has been working on so far in 2016.  Whether it is collaborating with various artists or getting a glimpse of life on tour, this is the place to read all about it.  Be sure to check back again soon so you don’t miss a moment of the action!

On Saturday April 16, TAIKOPROJECT and our classes at the TAIKOPROJECT Academy made our way to Barnes Park for a performance at the annual Monterey Park Cherry Blossom Festival.  This performance is always a lot of fun because we get to perform alongside our students to showcase all of their hard work and dedication that they put into their taiko education. We had performances by the Intermediate Youth Class, Kitsune Performing Ensemble, Intermediate Adult Class and Bombu Taiko. Everyone did a wonderful job and we hope that you had just as much fun as we did.  If you are interested in taking taiko classes with TAIKOPROJECT please check out our new website at www.taikoprojectacademy.com for more information. Thank you for having us again at the Monterey Park Cherry Blossom Festival, it is always enjoyable with such a great crowd (and great food too!).

In current events, TAIKOPROJECT is about to hit the road to take our Surrounding Suns program to St. Paul, Minnesota (Saturday April 23rd at the Ordway Center of the Performing Arts) and Logan, Utah (Tuesday April 26th at the Cache Valley Center of the Arts).  If you are in the area, we would love to see you there! Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@TAIKOPROJECT) to see the cast backstage and traveling across the country.  Thanks for reading and we hope you drop by again soon!

-Doug

Rinban Ito's 40th Anniversary

Last Sunday, April 10, we performed along with our sister group Bombu Taiko, for Rinban Ito's 40th Anniversary celebration at the Japanese American National Museum.  Rinban Ito has been one of our biggest supporters over the years and we owe much to him and Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple for providing a home for us for so many years (14 to date)  It all started way back in 2002 when Higashi was one of the few temples remaining that didn't have a taiko group, and I was still in the early stages of developing TAIKOPROJECT.  In exchange for starting up taiko classes for kids and adults, Rinban Ito let us rehearse at Higashi, and over the years, the relationship formalized and we became more successful, allowing us to give back to the temple more.  We also became more engrained in the temple community and life--many of our Bombu members became very active at the temple, and every Obon, members of TP make about 15 gallons of teriyaki sauce for the Beef Box and Chicken Teriyaki Dinner booths!

Alan Miyatake

Alan Miyatake

All in all, we are grateful to be a part of the Higashi family and look forward to many more years at the temple.  Thank you Rinban Ito and Janet for all your support, and congratulations on your 40 years of service to the temple! 

Alan Miyatake

Alan Miyatake

- Bryan

Las Palmas Elementary

Another Friday, another school show!  On March 4th, Drowsy David and Mazatron headed out in the early morning down the 5 in the "fixed van" (see Courtney's blog from the week before) and picked up Bearded Bryan, Jen Jen, and Mr. Doug at Mr. Doug's in Irvine and headed down to Las Palmas Elementary in San Clemente.  We stopped for a McBreakfast since we had three school shows.  Needed some nourishment to power through!

It has been a while since we've had a three assembly school program, so we had to dig deep to make sure every show was high energy.  The kids' excitement helped us power through the whole day.  Thanks for having us Las Palmas Elementary!

-Maz

Country Hills Elementary

TP goes Under Da Sea!   . . .  I mean Country Hills Elementary.  On Friday February 26, we headed to Jen's hometown of Chino Hills to perform at the blue ribbon awarded school which recognizes and honors schools for their academic excellence.  And excellent they were!  The students filed in the most organized and quiet entrance and were attentive, engaged and actively participating.  What more could we ask for!  We played two shows on a stage with an underwater theme. =D

David, Jen, Courtney, Maz and Bryan getting ready to perform at Country Hills Elementary!

David, Jen, Courtney, Maz and Bryan getting ready to perform at Country Hills Elementary!

In fact, we loved this school SO much that we didn't want to leave.  in fact, we couldn't leave as we discovered our van wouldn't start.  But, worry not, we got the van going thanks to AAA and were soon on our way.  

Until next time!

Courtney

High Altitude Taiko at ShastaYama

Not too long ago, during the balmy days of August, we traveled to Mount Shasta to perform at the annual ShastaYama concert.  TAIKOPROJECT has been invited as a guest performer in previous ShastaYama concerts, but this was my first time visiting Mount Shasta so I was excited to take in the new surroundings.  I also learned that the many stories I've heard in the past were all true: the area is breathtaking, the mountain epic, and Maz IS the Prince of Mount Shasta.

We drove up to Mount Shasta from LA on Friday in order to make it in time for our tech rehearsal.  The next morning, some of the cast felt adventurous so we decided to take on the legendary mountain.  Mount Shasta proved to be a formidable opponent and we could not conquer her.  However, we went far enough to see some of the surviving snow on her rocky surface.  On our way back to prepare for the show, we stopped by Maz's high school to feel the power of the Prince.

Along with Shasta Taiko, we had the opportunity to perform with Unit Souzou, Tadaima, and our youth ensemble Kitsune Taiko.  It was a wonderful experience and a great show by all.  Thank you to Shasta Taiko for your hospitality and for inviting us to perform at such a great event!

-Brian

The Year in Review

2015 was filled with numerous projects, accomplishments, and experiences that were truly unforgettable.  I'm grateful to our Artistic Director, Maz, for leading the team on many of the year's projects, as well as our performers and our many friends and family for all their support, not only in this year, but for the 15 years we have been in existence. 

We started off the year in the recording studio to produce our sophomore album, "Our Many Sides," with engineer Glenn Suravech.  Then we made a quick trip up to Central California for our second engagement with Fresno Lively Arts at the Tower Theatre.  In Spring, Maz served as head judge for the first-ever Uniqlo College Taiko Battle in Santa Monica, with the top prize going to UCR Senryu Taiko!  We also headed out to the United Arab Emirates for the first time since 2005 to perform for a championship spectacular at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium and appeared on KCBS in-studio news feature with meteorologist Amber Lee. 

In the summer, we produced our Rhythmic Relations concert with Bombu Taiko and Kitsune Taiko at UCLA's Freud Playhouse and performed in a two-month return engagement at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.  We coordinated our first-ever Summer Intensive and reached full capacity, making new friends from all over the world who traveled to LA to train with us.  We also drove up the 5 freeway to perform at the ShastaYama Festival, produced by taiko legends Russel Baba and Jeanne Mercer, and flew out to Kansas City, Missouri, to perform in a juried showcase for the Arts Midwest Conference. 

In August, we were invited to tour to Argentina, Paraguay, and Northern Brazil as part of The Japan Foundation's South American arts exchange program.  They only had the funds to take three players, so we did what I never really thought we'd be able to do--full concerts with only three performers.  It was a truly amazing and eye-opening experience to visit and meet taiko players throughout these three countries and despite language and cultural barriers, we were able to find common ground in our shared passion for taiko.

In the fall, we presented our initial collaborative work with the Grammy-winning Chicano rock/folk band Quetzal, and continued to plan for future collaborations with Kodo's Chieko Kojima, taiko/chappa master Ryutaro Kaneko, and Kabuki expert David Furumoto.  Working collaboratively with these artists has been fantastic, and we can't wait to share our joint creative efforts with all of you.

Now, as we come to the close of the year, we've had a moment to reflect on all the people that have helped us thrive in 2015.  Thank you to all of you for your on-going support of our work and passion.  We can't wait to show you what we've got in store for 2016!