Taiko Drumming interview with Alasdair Denvil

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00:00:00 - Permission to Record

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Partial Transcript: I: Alright (mumbled). Uh, this interview will be recorded. Is that okay with you?

S: Yeah, that’s fine.

Segment Synopsis: The interviewer requests permission to record the interview. The subject agrees.

Keywords: fine; interview; okay; recorded

Subjects: Interview.

00:00:04 - Denvil's Interest In/Study Of/Performance of Taiko

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Partial Transcript: I: Alright. Um, how did you come about your interest in, study of, and performance of taiko?

S: Uh, well, I was in a comparative religion and culture program after, uh, I was an undergraduate at VCU, and we went to Japan, and we were in, um, Kyoto for about ten weeks. And a friend of mine, in the group, she found out about a taiko group, and so I went with her to one of the lessons, um, and enjoyed it a lot. I went to another lesson, which was great, but we were only in that for ten weeks, um, uh, so I didn’t do taiko for a while after that until I wound up in New York City. Um, and, uh…th-there are not a lot of taiko groups i-in North America, but there are quite a few in New York City, and I wound up with one up there, and well actually with a couple up there, and I wound up performing and sometimes teaching a little bit…

I: Cool.

S: …with [taikoza?] and, uh, [otachi taiko?], and Manhattan Taiko.

Segment Synopsis: Denvil describes his overall experience with taiko, from first exposure to teaching experience. He also talks about what he finds appealing about taiko.

Keywords: Japan; New York City; performance; taiko

Subjects: Japan.; New York (City); Performance.; Taiko (Drum ensemble)

00:02:07 - Denvil's Teaching of Taiko

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Partial Transcript: I: So, um, would you say that your teaching of taiko is more geared to performance prep and technique, or education about the different practices of taiko, or education about taiko’s roots?

S: It’s more—it’s definitely more geared towards performance. We’re an ensemble, and, uh, the—as a matter of the just sort of the class and credit structure, the—the students are expected to perform, so there’s a lot of, um, pressure on that, um, on that front, which, I mean, I think is—I think is, uh, appropriate, though sometimes, you know, I have to do a little bit too much, um, getting ready for performances as opposed to exploring other things. Um, but all in all, I think, uh—people, uh, in the class get a good hands on experience, and I give them a little bit of, uh, history in-between about, um, where the songs come from, about how how taiko is developed. Its’s not really an academic history course, um, but I do like to throw that in, particularly because when I started out playing taiko, I had a lot of misconceptions about, like, where the songs came from. I thought all the songs were old (laughs). I though every song we were playing was like a thousand years old, and they're not. A lot—a lot of them are much, uh, more recent more recent than that, so I do try to, uh, you know, pass along what I know in those terms to the students.

Segment Synopsis: Denvil discusses which parts of taiko he focuses on when teaching at UR. He notes that his teaching is primarily focused on performance preparation and technique.

Keywords: credit structure; ensemble; history; performance; roots; taiko; technique

Subjects: History.; Music ensembles.; Performance.; Taiko (Drum ensemble); Technique

00:03:29 - Discussion of Sacrifices Related with Academic Institutions

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Partial Transcript: I: Um, along the same vein, some of the stuff that you were talking about, um, do you think anything about, uh, taiko as an experience, or as a field, is sacrificed when it is experienced through an academic institution like UR?

S: Um. Good question. I don’t know if that happens simply because it’s in an academic ins—it’s simply because it’s part of an academic institution. I think there are always gonna be sacrifices, um, whenever you’re teaching at anything, um, ‘cause you can’t, you know, first of all, the teacher doesn’t know everything about it, and second of all, even if they did know everything about it, there’s not—they don't have every opportunity to teach everything they know about it. Um, there prob—probably are, uh, because it’s done within the context of an ac—academic institution’s…some pressures for certain things to be taught as opposed to some—not other things. At least, at least in this context, again, it’s, uh, performance, um, requirement. And, so a lot of the teaching is geared towards that, so there’s not as much understanding of some of the history, and, um—and, since there’s only so many songs you can teach people, uh. There’s only, you know, certain—a certain number of techniques that, uh, you can teach them as well. So, there—there are some, uh, constraints that wind up applying, but I think that’s gonna happen pretty much no matter what you do. Uh, that’s a good question. I’ll have to think more about it [too].

Segment Synopsis: Denvil discusses sacrifices that could potentially be made when experience taiko through an academic institution like the University of Richmond.

Keywords: academic institution; constraints; opportunity; teach

Subjects: Institutions.; Taiko (Drum ensemble); University of Richmond.

00:05:11 - Denvil Discusses the Role/Importance of Strength in Taiko

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Partial Transcript: I: So, I was curious, uh, what you think the role or importance of strength and power is in taiko.

S: Um. Well, I—strength can, you know, mean different things. Strength can just, um, you know, like physical strength, like weightlifting strength. But, uh, it can also just mean, sorta, more along the lines of endurance or even flexibility, or just the ability to do something that’s, um, that, uh, to put together—to be part of a performance that, um, that runs af—that runs over, you know—for a professional group, like Koto, an hour or something like that. Um, I think taiko is definitely good exercise, and one of the things that I liked about is, um, I wanted—one of the reasons I started, uh, looking for a group in New York City is ‘cause I wasn’t getting enough exercise, but I’m not the kind of person that can go to a gym. I just don’t, sort of, do repetitive exercise that way. Um, I—I’m not mentally (chuckles) satisfied by that. But with taiko, what you’re doing is you’re playing something, and you have to play the song all the way through. You can’t quit in the middle of a song, ‘cause then you—that’s sort of, you know, a failing (laughs) of the song, and, uh, a failure of the rest of the group. So, it’s kind of a, um, it—in—it becomes, uh, something that’s physically challenge—challenging in a way that, uh, where you're trying to keep going, not to do a certain number of reps, but to make sure the song is completed, s—to make sure the song is played well, and to make sure that you're helping out the other people in the ensemble, so. Um, it is physically challenging and so, in that sense, there is a lot of strength involved in it. Um, but it’s not necessarily, um, sort of the muscular strength. Wh-when you get to sort of physical strength, a lot of the strength that—of, of taiko players comes not so much from, um, um, you know, sort of, uh—weightlifting strength, but it’s a lot more endurance.

Segment Synopsis: Denvil discusses the role that strength plays in taiko, both in terms of physicality and in terms of mentality.

Keywords: New York City; endurance; exercise; mentality; movement; power; strength; taiko

Subjects: Endurance, Physical; Taiko (Drumming ensemble)

00:09:20 - Important of Taiko for Socially Diminished Communities

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Partial Transcript: I: Um, let’s see. Um, there is, uh, some academic literature that I’ve come across that has spoken to the importance of, um, taiko for certain, uh, socially diminished communities and how it allows them to, quote, “make a claim on sonic and social space.” So, I’m—in that light, I’m curious as to what you think an individual’s gender, um, like, how that influences his/her/their experience of taiko.

S: Yeah, I haven’t—I haven’t given a lot of thought to that. I, um, I—I do know that, um, that their are some groups that have a real political philosophy that affects they’re membership, where they say, “we’re only gonna have women” or “we’re only gonna have, um, uh, Asian-Americans. Um, some of the—some of the professional groups out of Japan insist that you learn Japanese, and that’s, I mean, that’s partly a functional thing, but it is—I think it is partly a cultural thing, where they wanna, um, they—they feel if you speak Japanese, you have a better understanding of the culture that taiko is part of. Um, for the groups that I’ve worked with, we’ve never—we’ve never had anything like that, and I understand that it is a big thing for a lot of other people, um, where taiko is a way for them to express something sort of frequently brash (laughs) and powerful, like you were talking about. Um, for people who, um, socially have—there’s been a—an expectation that they not be brash, and loud, and powerful. Um, I don’t have a lot of first hand experience with that, except that, um, except to say that for, uh, when I was a kid, I was involved in theater, but I was always a backstage person; I was never onstage. But, once I started playing taiko, I almost without, like, realizing it, wound of onstage, and it did provide an opportunity or medium for me, uh, to want to be an onstage person, when I never thought of myself as, you know, and onstage personality. And now I teach it, as well, which I—I wouldn’t have planned on, so I imagine, I mean, I’m, you know, uh, extrapolating a lot from my own personal experience, but I imagine that the same goes for a lot of other people that, uh, they might feel that, uh, there are certain expectations about [the] way they're going to be viewed by society, and taiko challenges that, and it’s, uh, becomes something where they learn to play taiko, they get good at it, they feel confident at it, and that confidence allows them to take on, you know, some sort of role that, uh, or some sort of, uh, uh, um, a role or a—a persona that they thought they sh—that other people wouldn’t expect of them. So I think that that, that does happen. For what I’ve seen of our group, uh, the ensemble at University of Richmond and the group that I run, is we seem to be pretty typical in gender breakdown, where it’s mostly women and, like, I don’t know, say, sixty percent, seventy percent women and the rest male. Um, and from what I’ve gathered, that’s pretty typical of most groups in North America, which is interesting given that taiko in, in Japan originally would have been [a] much more solidly male affair. So.

Segment Synopsis: Denvil discusses how taiko could potentially serve as a means for socially diminished peoples to be "brash, and loud, and powerful."

Keywords: Japan; Japanese; brash; communities; cultural; gender; loud; philosphy; political

Subjects: Culture.; Gender.; Japan.; Japanese.; Political philosophy; Taiko (Drumming ensemble)

00:12:53 - Conclusion and Parting Words

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Partial Transcript: I: Hm. Alright. Well, that’s about all I have for you…

S: Okay.

I: …so I really appreciate…

S: No problem.

I: …you helping me out!

S: I hope—I hope, hope I delivered.

Segment Synopsis: Niceties at the end of the interview.

Keywords: N/A

Subjects: N/A