When did you start Taiko drumming?
What influenced your decision to start?
Interested in combing musics and martial arts together.
What influenced your decision to keep playing?
* i enjoyed the strong and deep sound it makes
* the various body movement i have to do in playing. (the movement and form are called "kata") Form is really imporant in taiko (performing art)
* it can not be play alone. I like how taiko is a cooperating instrument.
Have you participated in other musical groups or have you played other musical instruments? If so, how would you compare Taiko drumming to those other experiences?
sorry, i actually have never participate in any other musical groups. However I did played piano before. Totally different experience. Taiko is "stronger" than piano.
What does Taiko drumming mean to you? (You can get as specific as you want)
It means dicipline, strength, endorance, and colaboration.
How would you describe the community involved in Taiko drumming? In the US? In Japan?
I actually haven't meet any taiko group outside of brown. However, i think taiko groups in the US are less tradition than the ones in Japan. Japan still has the best best taiko group "kodo" in my opinion.
This interview was held with Luke Tedesco, co-director of Brown Gendo
First, what’s your history with taiko drumming? How did you start? How did you become interested?
Um, I had no idea what it was before I came to Brown. But once we were at the activities fair my freshman year, uh, there was just a group of taiko with the drums set up and they were asking random people, ‘hey do you want to try hitting a giant drum?’ and I was just like, yeah, that sounds like fun. And so I was looking for something musical to do in my extracurriculars, um, because I play guitar, and drums back home, uuum, and I was also looking for something athletic. And taiko in my mind was sort of the best of both worlds because it blended them together.
Nice. Are you involved in any other musical groups on campus other than Taiko?
And how long had you been drumming before then?
Um I had a teacher in fourth grade for about three months. And then I quit. But it overlapped with Christmas so I had convinced my parents that I loved drumming and was going to do it for the rest of my life so they got me a drum kit for Christmas. Like a dinky little starter kit. Um but then my senior year rock band came out and I liked playing the drums and I was good and it and I realized, hey I have a drum kit in my attic. So I played for about a year, um, in high school, but no lessons, just dabbling over songs, so I wouldn’t exactly call that an extensive year of playing.
How did you feel it (Taiko) was different or similar to some of your previous drumming?
Absolutely different. It’s not even close to similar. Um, drum kit is all about keeping rhythm for the rest of the song and really not part of the melody at all. Whereas Taiko, you’re not only keeping rhythm but also the melody. So the beats have to be different than just the standard four beat 1-2-3-4 1-2-3-4 1-2-3-4 . so everything was changed. The skills translate, like it’s useful to have drumming experience because then you can keep time.
Did you find that it was difficult to learn?
Um personally not really. It can be pretty difficult for some people. But I have pretty good body awareness because of my sports in high school. And then I have rhythm awareness from drumming and guitar and stuff. But people learn at different speeds. So personally I didn’t find it too hard, it’s just, the hardest part is just memorizing the beats and what sort of goes together.
How long have you been a director of the group?
Um, I’ve been a director for a year now. And I’m going to be a director again next year as well.
How did you get picked to be the director?
We had elections. So at the end of last year, we, three people ran and typically we have 2 directors per year. So we each gave a little spiel, I would be a good director because… and then we had a little Q and A, where you see the group going, what are you goals for next year, stuff like that. So, after that we all vote and then Jen and I were elected.
So how has it been different for you as an experience since you became director of the group?
Um, it’s, you… you don’t spend your time learning anything. I know the entire repertoire so it’s my job to teach it to the next generation of Taiko players. Um so because of that you don’t get to play as much. So this year I haven’t gotten to play, maybe, except…really 10 or so practices I’ve really gotten to play. Most of the time you’re just demonstrating stuff. So that’s different. But most of the time, you, you sort of, you can go in outside of practice time to play on your own. So I’ve done that a couple times to keep it.
Do you miss the actual playing?
I do, I do. But it’s nice to teach. And it’s sort of responsibility I have now as the director. But I like teaching, it’s fun.
So do you have the same repertoire every year or do you introduce new pieces in?
So we basically have…do you want me to use actual song names and stuff?
Sure go for it!
Ok so when gendo was started, the only three songs we had in our repertoire were miyake, which is the one where we’re really low and playing on a horizontal drum. We had yatay, which is the one where we’re sitting down and it’s all ab workout. And we had a song achido, which is a song where the drums are elevated up on bigger stands, sort of at shoulder height, and you play on horizontal, again. Um, and then, so that was all we played for four years, and we got really good at those 3 songs. And then john, who was a director my freshman year, he was a senior, he has since graduated brown 2 years ago. He had friends in California who played, and they introduced him to this whole other style of Taiko playing which is naname, which is the slant style which we have a few songs on. And they introduced us to benta style, which is when the drum is flat on the ground and you’re standing up hitting like this. After he learned a couple songs called open pieces, which means they are open to the entire community, he brought those back and that became part of our Taiko style.
So what does that mean? Open to the community?
Open to the community so that means…so when you write a taiko song, it’s either, you can choose to give it to the entire community which means that any taiko player anywhere in any country can learn your song and perform it. Whereas if you don’t choose to do that, there is a lot of um, politics behind taiko songs. So there is a famous group called Kodo that played a song called itadori. One of our members had permission to perform that piece so when he was in gendo, they performed it. But once he graduated we couldn’t perform it anymore. It’s not inherently a copyright violation or anything like that, but it’s disrespectful to the artists who wrote the piece, to the people who performed it. So once we learned those styles, a few of our members, John wrote a song, JD wrote a song, and Larry has finished writing a song. So now, for the most part, those are integrated into our repertoire. Then the only way we really learn songs is if, we don’t really take any more open source songs, because we have a pretty full repertoire, but if I were to write a song over the summer, say, which I’m planning on doing, I would want that to be integrated into the repertoire.
Have you ever written a piece before?
I’ve dabbled. I’ve come up with beats, I’ve come up with themes, but I’ve never actually pulled it all together.
How would you go about writing a song for taiko?
It depends. A lot of people get a lot of different inspiration from a lot of different places. Um, John, his song, he’s very involved in martial arts, so he wanted his song to be reflective of martial arts things. So his piece is very heavy on what we call kata, which is the movements that we do. Whereas Larry’s song, Larry is a music major, um, or music minor or double…whatever. His song was written in 5 times.
Was it hard for people to learn?
It was really hard for people to learn. Really hard. I can’t tell you, I can’t count on the beats while I play it. I have to rely on muscle memory to play it. But it’s a very musically complex song, and less heavy on things like kata. So people get inspiration from a lot of different places. Me, when I write my song over the summer, I’m gonna plan on doing it unlike anything gendo has ever done before. So there’s something called kuy daiko, which all of our songs are, which is when most of the people are playing the same thing. And you have the shime, which is the higher pitched one, that’s just playing one thing the entire song. And so I, I play shime a lot since I’m the director and I have to keep time while I teach, I want my song to be less of that and more of like a professional group might have a song be arranged.
Which would be how…
Which would be, for example, many songs by kodo, which is one of the most famous taiko groups, or Tao, they have like, drum kits assembled. So ike four different drums that one guy might play like a drum kit. That plus somebody on nodaiko which is the really big one in the back. Plus one of our members is trying to learn the Fuye, which is the Japanese flute, this summer, so I want a piece to be like, musical, in terms of have a melody.