I meant to blog about this last week, but never quite found the time. Last Saturday, Mark and I went to see a performance by Fugaku Taiko, a taiko drum group from the area around Mt. Fuji. Mark already blogged a bit about the performance, mostly about the way taiko combines both visual and auditory elements, unlike, say, a Western symphony performance. Our appreciation of the visual aspects where somewhat hampered, as he noted, by the fact that we were a little late and ended up with seats behind the videographer. However, one of the nice things about that Saturday night performance was that the auditorium was small enough that what you could see of the stage, you could see really well.
The main thing that makes Fugaku Taiko different from a lot of other taiko groups people are likely to have seen is that it is actually run by therapists. Last Wednesday, I got to go to a second performance, ostensibly to help my coworker who has been coordinating all the group’s performances to direct seating for all the student groups coming to this performance as a field trip. At this one, there was a lot more explanation of what each piece was intended to invoke, and who all the performers were, so I got to find out more about the group that we had really heard at the Saturday show. This time, rather than just introduce each performer by name, we were told that the leader of the group is the head of a school for students with special needs in Japan, and that each of the other lead performers were also therapists. They had brought 5 of the troupe’s 15 members with special needs on the US tour. The explanation mentioned that many of these troupe members and students at the school have “mental disabilities,” and though they weren’t specified, it was clear that at least two of the ones on tour had Down’s Syndrome, and I know from my coworker that they also work with students with autism.
During the final piece, all 10 members of the touring troupe were on stage together, each with multiple drums, and each person got to do their own solo. At the smaller Saturday night performance, because I could see the stage so clearly, it was a lot of fun to see each of the performers with special needs start grinning hugely in the middle of each of their solos.
As well they should have; they were all amazing. It’s quite clear why they are part of the touring group, and why this group is the premier tour group of their taiko federation in Japan, which they said has more than 400 groups associated with it. They were excellent shows, and I’m so glad I got to see them.
(You can see some pictures from their other performances in Japan and around the world on the album part of the group’s Japanese site.)