Time Flies, Indeed …..

SO much has happened since the last time I updated this blog. Wow. I’m playing with a new taiko group now, I’m attending a new Temple now, I’m playing a new instrument now (shakuhachi), and I am now ordained.

Time to bring this up to date, but alas I don’t have time to tell all of my stories tonight. Little by little, I’ll start posting them here.

I do have time for one quick plug: if you’re going to be in the Chicago area in mid-August, stop by the Midwest Buddhist Temple for their Ginza Festival August 11th-13th. MBT Taiko and Ho Etsu Taiko will be putting on some wonderful performances then.

Obligatory Ginza Festival link: http://ginzaholiday.com/.

More to come. And I promise I won’t wait six years before posting again. 😉

 

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Sukematsu Breakthrough

I had a bit of a breakthrough this weekend.  One particular taiko song, Sukematsu, has been the bane of my existence lately.  The song’s full name is Oedo Sukeroku Matsuri Taiko.  It’s a very dynamic song, played with the taiko on sukeroku stands, and all of the myriad movements ended up confusing me far far more than they should have.  Taiko-sensei wants us to perform this on June 18th in Millennium Park, so she had us running through it over and over and over this weekend … and lo and behold it finally started sinking in!

Also, yesterday I decided to start cataloging the various songs on my collection of taiko performance DVDs.  Imagine my surprise when I found Sukematsu on not one but both of my Tsukasa Taiko DVDs!  I must’ve repressed that, because I honestly do not remember it being on either of those.  With DVD recordings of those two performances, I’ll certainly be ready to perform Sukematsu on the 18th.  Yay!

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North American Taiko Conference, Here I Come!

I’m psyched to finally have an opportunity to attend the North American Taiko Conference.  It’s held every other year out on the west coast.  I’ve been wanting to go ever since I first heard about it in 2005, but things got in my way every time.  Until now.

This August, it’ll be held at Stanford University.  I confirmed my registration this morning.  One of my Zen buddies from my Temple recently relocated to Oakland, so I’m going to see if I can catch up with him for a day or two whilst I’m out that way.

Now to figure out how to get out there.  Flying would be quickest, but then I don’t get to bring as many toys with me.  Driving would be a lot more fun, but it would extend an extended weekend into a week-and-a-half long psycho road trip.  As much as I don’t like the thought of driving through the Arizona desert in the middle of August, I do like the thought of visiting old friends in Omaha, Denver, and Vegas along the way.  But dying in a plane crash would be more pleasant than dying of dehydration, so I’ll probably end up flying.  Unless I can talk my taiko buddies into driving with me … which I seriously doubt.

Shamisen-sensei says we’ll actually have shamisen okeiko this weekend!  Yay!  I’m glad to start that back up again.

And yes, I renewed my street performer permit.  That’s good for another two years now.

Time to dig up the shamisen and slap out a few songs so I don’t look completely foolish tomorrow.

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Time Flies …..

Okay, so much for my originally-planned weekly updates ….. 😉

One taiko semester has come and gone … and another one just started … and with this new semester, I’m committing myself to kick-starting this blog.

You see, I’ve been promoted, in a way.

Our taiko group is divvied up into a bunch of different classes, split based on relative skill.  There’s the advanced class (the true performers), which I heard you have to audition for if you want to join it.  There’s the intermediate class, which used to be the advanced class until all of the advanced kids moved into the performing class.  And then there’s a bunch of other classes for the lower-end folks, from beginner up to intermediate.

After sticking with this for as long as I have, I considered myself an intermediate-level taikoist.  But several semesters ago, our intermediate class was disbanded.  The kids and two other guys moved to the new intermediate class, taikoing for an hour and a half each week instead of an hour.  I was shuffled into a catch-all class, still just an hour a week, alongside a few people who were desperately trying to improve themselves and a few others who sometimes seemed to have no sense of rhythm or proper form.  And, to rub it in further, my son was one of the kids who moved into the new intermediate class.

Sigh.

And then it dawned on me … if I wasn’t the best taikoist in this catch-all class, I was at least one of the best … so that became my new goal.  Instead of being pissed that I was left behind in a dead-end class with people who sometimes barely know what to do with their bachi, I channeled this energy into becoming the best taiko player I could possibly be.

It took a few semesters, but taiko-sensei finally noticed.  Towards the end of last semester, she pulled me aside, saying she needed to talk to me for a moment.  She explained that there are some things she can do with the kids for certain gigs that she can’t do with the adults … and likewise there are some things she can do with the adults for certain gigs that she can’t do with the kids … so … she decided to start up another intermediate level group, move those two guys back into it, and fill the rest of it out with a few other people … including me!

Yay!

So now I get to do two hours of taiko every week instead of one, which is something I’ve been wanting for a very long time.  I get to learn the cool songs that I’ve been watching my son learn.  I get to be pushed and challenged further beyond my comfort zone instead of sitting in a comfortable spot near the top of the heap.

Last weekend was the first class of the new semester.  I’m still aching from it, but in very good ways.

Other updates:

Shinobue-sensei has a bunch of things going on in her life right now, so we haven’t been meeting as regularly as either one of us wants to.  I’ve assigned myself a few songs as homework in the meantime.  They look relatively challenging, they sound pretty neat, and one of them is a nice duet that she and I can play together once I clean my end of it up.  Hopefully we’ll be back to regular sessions soon.

Shamisen-sensei has been holding off on classes because he wants me to restart that when another fellow (one of the two guys who bounced into the intermediate kids class, then the intermediate adults class) restarted lessons.  Looks like we’ll be picking that up again next Saturday, so I need to practice a bit between now and then.

And Temple?  Well … that’s a whole other issue … I can’t make either of the Sunday zazen services because of my son’s taiko class, and I can’t make the Wednesday night zazen service because of my wife’s physical therapy.  I know that her PT will end at some point, because either it will help heal her shoulder or it won’t (which would lead to surgery and, ironically, more PT), but I’m starting to get impatient about getting back to Temple.  Which in turn tells me it’s long past time for me to start sitting in zazen again on my own.

Finally, I need to renew my street performer permit before Friday.  Maybe I’ll do that tomorrow.

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How I Got Here

A little background first …

I was brought up with very little formal religious training.  My parents subscribed to Christian beliefs, but I only remember going to church for weddings and funerals.  We celebrated Easter and Christmas every year, but in a very secular way.  By the time I got to high school, I started searching for a belief system that matched the system that I was starting to develop for myself.

When I was in college, I took an Asian Studies class as an elective at the University of Illinois.  It covered the religions of Asia.  Since the instructor was Hindu, we spent quite a bit of the semester covering Hinduism.  Eventually we moved on to the other religions of India, including Buddhism.  I was very surprised to see that Buddhism matched a number of things that I believed, but at the same time I was disappointed that it didn’t match my beliefs exactly.  There were a number of other things that I disagreed with.  I filed all of that for future reference, deciding that I should eventually take a closer look at Buddhism.

We moved on to the religions of China.  When we started covering Taoism, I perked up.  Taoism matched a number of other things that I believed, but again I was disappointed that it didn’t match my beliefs exactly.  I remember telling my girlfriend at the time, “I wish there was some way of taking everything I liked about Buddhism and everything I liked about Taoism and meshing them together.”

We moved on to the religions of Japan.  The very next day, the instructor came into the classroom and, without saying a word, wrote on the blackboard:

BUDDHISM + TAOISM = ZEN

You could say I had a satori experience at that point, an awakening of sorts.  At that moment I realized that I had been a Zen Buddhist all of my life.  It just took me 20 years to figure it out.

In the late 1980s I stumbed across the Zen Buddhist Temple of Chicago, a wonderful venue for Zen practice.  I’ve been entrenched in Zen ever since.

Flash-forward a decade and a half …

One day, my wife traded musical interests with a friend.  Her friend liked Celtic music, but somehow had never heard of The Chieftains.  My wife liked drumming, but somehow had never heard of the taiko group Kodo.  On a whim, I figured Chicago was big enough that there should be some sort of taiko drumming classes somewhere in the Chicagoland area.  Sure enough, there was a four-week taiko workshop starting up soon.  I jumped at the chance to sign up for it.  Shortly after the four-week workshop ended, they started offering regular weekly classes.  That’s how I became a student of Tsukasa Taiko.  I’ve been entrenched in taiko ever since.

Now, my musical practice has evolved enough for me to pick up the shinobue (transverse bamboo flute) and shamisen (many call it a Japanese lute, but my son refers to it as a Japanese banjo).  The new taiko semester starts this weekend, and I’m really looking forward to getting back in the swing of things.

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