Taiko drumming is an artform that transcends borders, genre, and time – now cherished and admired around the world thanks to the work of Japan’s Kodo Taiko Performing Arts Ensemble. Currently celebrating its 35th anniversary, Kodo will bring its DADAN 2017 tour to Boston’s Symphony Hall this month. Whether you’ve seen this inspirational troupe in a previous Celebrity Series season or you’re brand new to the world of taiko, we have a feeling there are still a few things you don’t know about Kodo.
1. The Kodo lingo: Kodo in Japanese translates to “heartbeat” or “children of the drum,” and the troupe focuses on a style of percussion called taiko While the true origin of the instruments is unknown, it’s believed they appeared in Japan as early as the 6th century and since then, have been used in everything from communication, military actions, and social movements to religious ceremonies and festival performances. In addition to drums, members perform on traditional Japanese instruments such as the fue, or “flute,” and the three-stringed shamisen. DADAN, the name of its current program, rather appropriately translates to “men drumming.”
2. Led by a modern master: Guest Director Tamasaburo Bando, the visionary behind Kodo’s DADAN 2017 program, is respected across many artforms. A revered Kabuki actor, he is the most popular and celebrated onnagata (an actor specializing in female roles) currently on stage.
3. It takes a village: It takes a village: Kodo’s members and staff live and work at Kodo Village, an isolated community on Japan’s Sado Island. Nestled in the rich, natural splendor of this mountain location, Kodo members work to prepare new material, train apprentices, and give back to the wider Sado community through education and the arts, including its annual Earth Celebration international festival. Despite its remote home, the troupe spends much of the year on tour, and since 1981 has logged more than 5,800 performances in 49 different countries!
4. Not just anyone can join Kodo: Each year, Kodo selects roughly 12 people to join its exclusive apprenticeship program, a rigorous 2-year training experience at Kodo Village. These apprentices lead an extraordinary but isolated daily life, which includes agricultural work, learning traditional Japanese performing arts, studying various musical instruments, and learning the ancient techniques of taiko drumming. Only some of these apprentices are selected to continue their training as junior members in hopes of ultimately taking the Kodo stage.
5. Check your pulse: Kodo members play with an intensity unlike any other in the world of drumming, so perhaps it’s fitting that Kodo translates to “heartbeat” – since there’s no shortage of cardio in each performance. While Kodo apprentices wake up early to physically train together each day, full-fledged Kodo members are responsible for maintaining their own fitness and physical care. We could tell you more, but in this case, a picture says a thousand words:
Kodo performs at Symphony Hall on Sunday, March 19. Tickets are still available.