In a previous life I was I was a taiko drummer. A founding member of Katari Taiko, Canada’s first taiko group. I composed and performed with the group until 1988 when I, along with two other former members of Katari Taiko, formed Uzume Taiko, Canada’s first professional taiko group. I am currently assistant instructor with Chibi Taiko, Canada’s first children’s taiko group.
That’s a lot of firsts!
Oh, and before I got into the drumming business I was a printer and bookbinder for many years.
I know, I know, this is graphic design website. But music has been a huge part of my life since the day my mother brought home a cheap student guitar one summer. And hey, it’s MY website.
1978 – 1982
I was guitar player and songwriter for Kokuho Rose, an Asian Canadian folk-blues band. The band was my introduction to the Japanese Canadian community. Oddly, though, our repertoire was made up mostly of American and British folk and blues – The Grateful Dead, Ralph McTell, etc. And my songs too. These photos are from our reunion concert at the Powell Street Festival in August 2007. That’s Rick Shiomi, Linda Uyehara Hoffman, Joyce Chong, myself, and Sean Gunn. I’m the tall one. My fingers still hurt.
1979 – 1989
In the fall of 1979 I was a founding member of Katari Taiko, Canada’s first Canadian taiko group. I composed a number of pieces for the group, all of which are still being performed to this day. This is the group at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival circa 1982. The photo is by Tamio Wakayama. Again, I’m the tall one. Those were good times.
1988 – 2001
In 1988, Eileen Kage, Leslie Komori and I left Katari Taiko and founded Uzume Taiko, Canada’s first professional taiko group. Our first gig was touring with Kokoro Dance, first around the province, than the country, then Europe, in a production of Rage – a dance and taiko piece about the wartime relocation of the Japanese Canadian community. It was a good taste of what it meant to be a professional artist: no money, little glory, and lots of hard work. As Kokoro’s co-director Barbara Bourget liked to tell us, if it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger. Well, I’m still alive . . .
Following a restructuring in 1990, I became artistic director of Uzume Taiko, a position I held until retiring from taiko performing in 2001. This photo is of my alter-ego, Susano-o, the Storm God, a character from Japanese mythology. I made a lot of school kids cry with this mask. I used to jump out into the audience at concerts and pull someone up on stage to play the drum with me. At this year’s Powell Street Festival, a Japanese Canadian man came up to me and told me that his son became a drummer because of me. It seems that years ago we were performing in William’s Lake and I pulled some kid up on stage to play with me. The kid was his son, ten years old or so. And he never looked back – he’s a professional drummer now. There are lots more stories like that.
In my 20-plus years as a taiko player I have composed numerous works for taiko and toured the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Canada and the United States with Uzume Taiko and Kokoro Dance. The most memorable gigs? Touring the Channel Islands in a tiny 12-person airplane. Performing in a 900-year-old cathedral in the Orkney Islands in Northern Scotland. In Ireland we played in several amazing venues: Glendalough, a town in County Wicklow founded in the 6th Century; a little pub in Leap (pronounced Lepp) built into the side of a cliff – they had to take the door off its hinges to get our biggest drum in – apparently they’re still talking about it; Dún Laoghaire is featured in James Joyce’s Ulysses – they went crazy for taiko too. Oh yes, and the island of Terschelling in Northern Holland . . .
The bad memories? Well, there’s the time I was bitten by a dog while being billeted in New Aiyansh and then not being able to breathe that same night because of all the cat hair. And then there were the so-called sandwiches that a venue in England (that shall remain nameless) fed us in the guise of a pre-show meal. One of the funniest memories was when we were in Tucson, Arizona at a booking conference. The whole group was in the gift shop at the convention centre about an hour before we were due to showcase when we overheard a woman say to her friend, “Let’s get out of here before those taiko drummers start playing.” We got the last laugh, though. Nobody was interested in booking the group until a somewhat disipated-looking English bloke strolled by our booth and expressed an interest in taking us to the UK. He became our UK agent for the next few years (see bad sandwiches above).
The low-points simply make the good memories all the sweeter. In retrospect anyway. Like the time we played in front of 12 old ladies in a converted church in the south of Ireland. Or later on that same tour when our van was hit by a rock while driving through Belfast because we had British plates on our rented van.
Here’s a limerick I wrote on tour in the UK with piper Michael O’Neill
There once was a piper name Michael
Who one day went out for a cycle
He ran into a guru
Who said, “How do you do?
I would like to become your disciple”
Boyd took this photo of me in the graveyard in Glendalough, Ireland. In the background is the tower that the monks would scurry into whenever the next invaders would show up. Apparently this is one of Van Morrison’s favourite places. I can see why. This photo was taken with a film camera. Weird, huh?
My compositions have been featured in film scores:
Linda Ohama The Last Harvest 1991
Michael Fukushima Minoru: Memory of Exile 1992
Mini Onodera Skin Deep 1994
Kokoro Dance Rage 1988
and on numerous CDs:
Chirashi: a Mixed Menu of Asian Canadian Music 1988
In Your Dreams 1994
Every Part of the Animal 1998
Matsuri: a collection of works by Japanese Canadian Musicians and Composers
Itadakimasu: a Feast of Vancouver Taiko).
2006 – present
I am currently associate instructor with Chibi Taiko, Canada’s first youth taiko group. My two daughters, Emiko & Kaya, both play with Chibi Taiko. Here are a couple of photos. They’re several years old. When I started playing taiko, I never gave a moment’s thought to leaving any kind of legacy behind. I never pushed my daughters into taking up taiko, it was something they wanted to do. And I’m really proud of them. They swear, however, that they will never, ever, become graphic designers. My son Taiyo, however, is studying Graphic design at Malaspina College in Nanaimo – so there you go!
I also perform on occasion with Toki Doki Taiko. Here we are playing in an airplane hanger in Richmond.