Weekender

Japan’s Yamato drummers to bring world tour to Penn State

Yamato: The Drummers of Japan will bring its world tour to Penn State on Tuesday.
Yamato: The Drummers of Japan will bring its world tour to Penn State on Tuesday. Photo provided

Yamato: The Drummers of Japan is marking the 25th anniversary of the company’s founding and will bring that celebration to Eisenhower Auditorium on Tuesday.

Artistic Director Masa Ogawa promises the “loudest noise for this anniversary day.” He says the group strives to create a new show every two years and, in this cycle of creation, tries to find new drumming techniques to add to their Taiko music, a form of Japanese percussion.

Far from a traditional Taiko troupe, Yamato performs all-original songs, created by Ogawa, who also designs the show’s production elements, such as lighting and sound.

“After creating a new program,” he said, “we (show) it to the audience and get their feeling. ... This is most important ... because that feeling influence(s) our (growth).”

That audience-influenced growth has been substantial. Yamato started in 1993 with only four members and has grown to include 20 members and perform in more than 50 countries around the world. In those early days, the group did not even own their own Taiko drum, but rather rented one Taiko from the group’s hometown shrine. After years of performing, evolving the music style to make it their own and enhancing their skill, the group owns many Taiko instruments and has performed thousands of times for millions of spectators.

However, Ogawa doesn’t take all the credit for the group’s evolution. Rather, he said that “all of the changing and developing of Yamato has been done by the energy of the audience. Yamato members are trying to reach (the) audience’s heart. They are trying to put all the energy into the sound of Taiko. After reaching Taiko sound to the audience, Yamato can get their energy.”

It’s this experience that Ogawa finds most rewarding through the 25 years of performances.

“Our heartbeat synchronized to the heartbeat of the audience — that moment is the most rewarding point for Yamato,” he said.

Our heartbeat synchronized to the heartbeat of the audience — that moment is the most rewarding point for Yamato.

Masa Ogawa, artistic director

The latest iteration of the group’s performance is called “Chosensha — The Challengers,” which, in a way, challenges the possibilities of Taiko drumming and was created to reflect the challenges of both the members of Yamato and the audience. “The Challengers” incorporates 40 different Taiko throughout the course of the show.

Preparation for the show was also a challenge for the musicians. The group of men and women, sometimes referred to as musician-athletes, run more than six miles each morning, training like, as Ogawa says, “a boxer.” Then, they go on to train musically for more than 10 hours every day. The long hours of prep show in their performance — they start the evening by using their entire bodies to strike a half-ton drum, created from a single piece of wood from a 400-year-old tree.

Beyond the physical demand of the show, the motto of Yamato, “We want to be creative,” requires a significant level of dedication. Creativity extends to every aspect of the performances, with members creating everything by themselves — the musical compositions, theatre productions, settings, lighting design, choreography, costumes, makeup, props and more.

This is only one of the ways that Yamato is challenging the typical idea of Taiko drumming. Yamato also most notably broke away from the patriarchy of the tradition, by including female drummers in the troupe.

Ahead of Tuesday’s show, the public is invited to a free Taiko drum workshop at Eisenhower Auditorium at 1 p.m. Sunday, presented in partnership with the Penn State Taiko club. No registration or prior musical experience is required.

IF YOU GO

  • What: Yamato: The Drummers of Japan
  • When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
  • Where: Eisenhower Auditorium, University Park
  • Info: www.cpa.psu.edu
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