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December Taiko Talk – kaDON retreat

Blog by: Sara Sherman     Photography byJason Matsumoto


                  I remember the exact moment I learned about kaDON’s Midwest retreat. KaDON, an online resource for learning taiko, sent out a “save the date” email to all of their subscribing members. From the moment I read that email I was excited, and if I’m honest I don’t think I’ve stopped being excited.

There are large communities of taiko groups out on the west and east coasts, and while there are different groups scattered throughout the US, it is easy to forget that fact when the closest taiko group is either hours away or over a state border. So, when I heard that kaDON was going to have a Midwest taiko retreat my first thought was “YES! I’m so there” and my second thought was, “Wait? In the Midwest? Really?!”.

Luckily other members of Fort Wayne Taiko had the same first thought that I did. And so, on October 19th, a group of us drove to Wisconsin for an amazing weekend of taiko learning lead by Shoji Kameda of On Ensemble and kaDON, and Shogo Yoshii a former member of Kodo. It was a short weekend that started on Friday evening and ended on Sunday afternoon. The majority of the time was spent learning a new piece called kaDON Ondo which incorporated taiko rhythms, shime backup, singing, kakegoe (enthusiastic shouting that is part of traditional Japanese arts such as kabuki, kendo, taiko, or folk music), minyo dancing, shinobue (bamboo flute) and an atarigane (a small metal gong like instrument).

We jumped right in on Friday night, learning the dance and kakegoe part around a campfire. While the campfire was fun it was hard to see Shogo’s dancing illuminated only by the fire light. Luckily Shogo, who composed the piece specifically for the purpose of teaching it at this retreat, was kind enough to show it to us again during daylight hours.

Saturday was a blur of more learning and hiking/other outdoors activities. We had workshops for the taiko rhythms, shime back up and the shinobue melody. Then in the evening, for a change of pace, Shogo taught us a different style of drumming called yoko uchi which we were then encouraged to improvise with.

On the last day of the retreat we had a mini recital. Shogo and Shoji played various songs, then we put everything we had learned over the weekend to the test and performed kaDON Ondo. Were all the rhythms perfect? No, they weren’t, but that hardly mattered. The spirit of the piece was there, and the joy of learning together with other Midwest taiko players was palpable. In less than two days we had created a sense of community that felt more profound than I thought would have been possible in that short amount of time. I’m still rather dazed by the whole experience, and I get excited every time I remember the weekend. I’m looking forward to teaching the members who weren’t able to attend this amazing retreat the new song. I know that kaDON Ondo will soon be among the favorite songs that Fort Wayne Taiko plays.