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LA Trip: Unit One/Miyake Taiko

Taiko Trip to Los Angeles! I was excited to have company on this trip: my good friends Lisa and Eric. We have been performing together since the Calgary Zoo Orchestra days (2011?), and I’ve been performing with each of them for many years before. Eric and I are Edmonton Youth Orchestra alumni, going back to the mid 90’s. We have played in orchestras and chamber groups together (flute, oboe, and clarinet), and this year we began performing taiko together.

The taiko intentions of this trip were to attend the Unit One/Miyake Taiko concert, and participate in the Miyake taiko workshops at the Los Angeles Taiko Institute. We had a few days prior to the taiko stuff to be tourists, and enjoyed the California sun. We had beautiful weather for exploring different areas of LA: late night tempura/udon bar, Daiso, Little Osaka, Little Tokyo, Daiso, Hollywood … Daiso. We visited my Aunt Natsuko, who lives in the hills above Hollywood, so after walking around the stars, we wound our way up the mountain in the dark for a nice visit.

Of course, we had to visit the ocean. I love the ocean, especially because I grew up in a small prairie town with no large water bodies around. We visited the pier and promenade at Santa Monica, and walked on the beach. It was a beautiful sunny day, and little did we know that this would be the last time we saw the California sun for the rest of the trip! Reluctantly leaving the sand behind, we got in the car and drove to Torrance to have a lesson with Kris Bergstrom at the Los Angeles Taiko Institute. We had a great time chatting, learning a new piece, and talking about ways to create/practice improvisation. It was, as always, very uplifting and fun, to study with Kris.

And then: The Rain. It absolutely poured rain.

The taiko concert was close to our hotel, and there were a few familiar faces in the crowd. Unit One performed in the first half of the concert, and the three of us sat and absorbed every moment. I loved how one piece flowed into the next, with nearly seamless transitions. This was exciting for me; it was exactly what I had envisioned for performances with Midnight Taiko, but to see it actually work together so well, was very exciting for me. There were a few familiar pieces on the program, and some new ones. I loved the variety of the styles and tempos. I think the highlights for me, was the dramatic lighting on Masa’s odaiko solo that led into Omiyage, and Yuta’s hachijo solo that closed the first half. The first half flew by, and it left me wishing for more.

The second half of the concert was Miyake Taiko, and I was immediately blown away by their strength, power, and technique, and also their personal connection and dedication to their artform. Their presence, itself, demanded a quiet attention from the audience, and we sat and watched them perform their piece. As I watched them slice their way with such a low and athletic stnace, the thought crossed my mind: how are my hips going to feel after the workshops??

Miyake workshops were the whole next day. Ouch. We began with a two-hour beginner level workshop, where they introduced the basic rhythm and strikes. We worked on what the flow was, and how to play the rhythms and switch in and out of the ji, and the melody. After a lunch break, it was into the Intermediate-level workshop, which went into considerable more detail of harnessing more power in the strike, especially the left arm for me. We played the pattern repeatedly while switching among all the drums and the members of Miyake Taiko directing us. We learned the kagura, and we also worked on the kiyari, or chanting, which was a struggle for the classical musician inside of me. 

I was very glad that I attended, and was able to study the artform with Miyake Taiko. It was very different than the style of taiko that I usually play, and although it was very challenging for me and went against my usual approach, I quite enjoyed the experience. 

Immediately following the workshop, my body felt fine. We went out for dinner with our friend Yuta Kato, and I was secretly stretching my hips and legs under the table, while we ate and chatted. Despite how hard I worked during the workshop, I had a hard time eating, I don’t know if my body really wanted food. It wasn’t until about 24 hours later that I started to stiffen up and have difficulty walking up stairs! 

The next day we arrived at the airport after a required stop at Trader Joe’s for the infamous nut-free sunflower seed butter. The girls said goodbye to Eric, whose WestJet flight left an hour after our Air Canada flight, and Lisa joked that he would make it back to Calgary before we did.

Little did she know.

Usually I do not check any baggage, but because I had stocked up on Trader Joe’s beforehand, I had planned on checking my suitcase to take the liquids on board. The checkin lineup was so long, it filled the entire terminal, and we were directed outdoors to join the end of the line-up. We never did find the end of the line, but a relatively calm Air Canada employee informed us that Air Canada was down. The whole system: passengers could not check in with baggage, flights on the ground could not take off, flights in the air could land but not disembark. Basically, they could do nothing.

After a phonecall to WestJet to see if we could get onto Eric’s flight, (which was too expensive for me) I dumped the liquids out of my bag (so sad!) and Lisa and I went through security into the terminal. After hours of sitting and waiting, being told to change gates about every hour, we were herded onto a bus around suppertime. A bus? Yes, a bus.

The bus took us to the remote terminal where an Air Canada plane was waiting for us. We boarded the plane, when the captain announced that we needed to be seated ASAP because we needed to push off within 10 minutes. President Trump was due to land, and if we didn’t take off before he arrived, we would be grounded for several more hours. I’ve never seen a plane board and stow luggage so quickly.

We made it home safely and all was good. Another fantastic taiko trip to LATI and I am so grateful that I was able to share the experience with great friends.

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