By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
The groundbreaking, long-running Kodō ensemble, one of Japan’s finest taiko drumming groups, brings its 40th anniversary show to Seattle later this month. Despite the group’s globetrotting, at least one member will see our city for the first time.
“Kodo performed in Seattle last in 2017, but for me, it would be my first time in the city,” explained Yuki Hirata, about the group’s upcoming shows on Jan. 27 and 28. “I heard about a lot of gray weather in the city, but we hope to bring lots of sunshine to everyone’s hearts who come and see us perform!”
Hirata isn’t a native of Sado Island, which Kodō has always called home, but he arrived on Sado at age 20, having grown up in Makurazaki City, Kagoshima Prefecture.
His love of taiko goes all the way back to childhood, and he recalls a particular affection for the “Dyu-ha” piece—which just happens to be Kodō’s leadoff piece for its new presentation.
Of course we would like you to feel the atmosphere of the performance, because it is about our home. But we would also be very happy if you could try and feel our thoughts, messages, and energy as we live and travel in this time and place, beating the taiko drums.”
— Yuki Hirata
He joined the ensemble as a junior member in 2017, after the last time the troupe played this city. For his apprentice audition, he recalled trying “my hand at guitar playing for the first time, as part of my 3-minute freestyle time.”
Now a full-fledged group member, Hirata’s onstage responsibilities include the taiko drums, naturally, but also metal percussion instruments and bamboo flutes.
He confessed it isn’t easy to stand out.
“There are currently 34 performing members in the ensemble. Each member has his or her own specialty and personality.
“Some members are challenging themselves not only in performance but also in composition, artistic direction, and more recently in recording/mixing music, filming/editing videos, social media management, and other areas of advertising.”
Kodō’s gone around the world, bringing taiko to all kinds of audiences in all kinds of performing spaces. The best part of international touring, recalled Hirata, was “seeing children dancing, during our performance for refugees. I felt at peace in that space.
“It was that moment that made me realize the potential of taiko and music. We may not be able to stop a war directly with the power of taiko, but we may be able to at least ‘create’ peace in the space where we perform.”
International tours, he said, don’t bother him except for the jet lag. As for touring America, Hirata enthused, “The U.S. is just so big! The climate and atmosphere of the cities are different everywhere we go, and we feel the size and diversity of the country first-hand.
“The reactions of the audience during the performances also vary, and I feel that it makes us more flexible in our thinking as performers.”
To celebrate its 40th anniversary, the troupe put together its current program called “One Earth Tour: Tsuzumi,” which gathers selected highlights from its history.
“The program features a variety of performances from different eras of Kodo’s history,” said Hirata, “from standard numbers that we have performed for many years, to newer pieces created by the current members. The pieces brought back from the group’s earlier days have also been reinterpreted by the current members.”
Asked what he hoped Seattle audiences would take with them from the show, Hirata referred to the sounds and soul of Sado Island.
“Of course we would like you to feel the atmosphere of the performance, because it is about our home.
“But we would also be very happy if you could try and feel our thoughts, messages, and energy as we live and travel in this time and place, beating the taiko drums.”
Kodō performs its “One Earth Tour: Tsuzumi” show on Jan. 27 and 28 at the University of Washington’s Meany Center for the Performing Arts. For more information, visit https://meanycenter.org/tickets/2023-01/production/kodo.
Andrew can be reached at email@example.com.