Tanka and Taiko – Helena Simmonds writes:

Kaminari drummers at Friargate Theatre

On Saturday 16th March, a small group of YTI members gathered in York for an evening of Japanese entertainment. After a nice meal at Prezzo, conveniently located close to Friargate Theatre, we walked over to the theatre in plenty of time to collect our tickets and find some seats. This venue is small and the seats are not numbered, but we managed to stake our claim on the very front row. You might think that being seated directly in front of several large taiko drums would be deafening, but being so close that we could feel the vibrations of the drums and see the sweat on the faces of the drummers was an intense experience, and our eardrums survived intact. The performance began with a single performer playing a piece on the koto (a thirteen-stringed zither), and it was mesmerizing to watch his hands as he plucked and strummed the strings to create hypnotic sounds. The hypnotic mood was then swept away by the deep, thunderous boom of the odaiko (big drum) and, as the smaller drums joined in, we were soon caught up in the sheer energy of the drumming performance. The group, Kaminari, which includes YTI member, Mary Murata, compose and perform many of their own original pieces. After the drumming had built to a crescendo, it died away to a gentle, throbbing beat, allowing the two poets standing on either side of the stage to read their tanka poems before the sound of the drums gradually built up again. Tanka is a traditional Japanese poetic form with 5 lines in each poem, slightly longer than a haiku. At certain points in the performance other instruments were brought in including the Western flute and the Japanese flute, and there was a wonderful duet featuring a taiko drum and a shamisen (a form of fretless banjo). The movements of the performers were also an important part of the show, from the careful, restrained motions of the koto/shamisen player to the exuberant, exaggerated actions of the taiko drummers. The finale involved the whole audience clapping along as the beat got faster and faster, giving us a real sense of the exhilarating speed at which these expert performers can play.