Chicago Shimpo
Kodo Receives Standing Ovations for Its Evolution

• Kodo, a renowned taiko drumming group from Sado Island, Japan, gave a concert with astonishing taiko sounds at the Chicago Symphony Center Orchestra Hall on February 28. Kodo’s performance was a part of its North America tour “One Earth Tour 2019: Evolution”, which has been showcased in 30 cities. Kodo’s Chicago appearance was the first time since 2017.

• This year’s program “Evolution” was premiered in Tokyo in 2016 to celebrate Kodo’s 35th anniversary. It aimed to show Kodo’s creative evolution toward the future since Tamasaburo Bando, who is a kabuki actor and designated Japanese living national treasure, had joined Kodo as Artistic Director in 2012. At the same time Kodo looked back on its variety of works that have been accumulated over the years and brought refined pieces on the stage.

• Evolution started with “Kei Kei” composed by Yuta Sumiyoshi. The 16 members marched on the stage with Katsugi-daiko (portable taiko) drums, and brisk drumming sounds gradually boosted the enthusiastic atmosphere.
• The stage of Evolution was crafted by Director Bando to showcase large-scale works of taiko, such as the massive 660-pound o-daiko, ko-daiko, timpani and other western percussion instruments. The taiko sound was accompanied by dance, song, and bamboo flute.
• A regular piece was “Monochrome” composed in 1977 by Maki Ishii, and Kodo had performed the piece every past concert in Chicago. Six drummers played a ko-daiko (small taiko) in a perfectly unified way. When they made the taiko sound from pianissimo to fortissimo, a big heave billowed to the audience. The vibration of the taiko sound penetrated a space in the hall as if the sound shook down a skyful of stars. It was really a moving performance.

• The second part started with a comical piece of “Color” composed by Tamasaburo Bando and Masayuki Sakamoto followed by “Ake no Myojo (the morning star)” composed by Yosuke Oda. Three female performers joined the piece, sang a song, and danced elegantly and swiftly. It created mysterious atmosphere on the stage.
• The next piece was “Yuyami (shadows of dusk)” composed by Yuta Sumiyoshi. It featured shinobue (bamboo flute) duo. “Ayaori”, also Yuta’s composition, premiered in North America on this tour.
• The climax was also the North America premiere “Rasen (Spiral)” composed by Tamasaburo Bando. Eight players played a set of drums, which was consisted of different kind of drums including western instruments. The piece was a drum ensemble where each player performed each part with impeccable precision. They created an astonishing taiko music and dynamic with stunning visual effects. It was literally Kodo’s evolution for its future performance. Kodo was rewarded by generous standing ovations.

• Kodo made its world debut at the Berlin Festival in 1981. Since then Kodo has given more than 6,000 concerts in 50 countries on five continents. In addition, the taiko group has participated in a variety of worldwide events and music activities. All the members and staff are living in Kodo Village, a 33-acre section of the Ogi Peninsula on Sdo Island in the Sea of Japan.

• Yuta Sumiyoshi, who had visited Chicago in late 2016 on his vacation and collaborated with local group of Ho Etsu Taiko at a Japan fair in Whitney Young Magnet High School, talked about how Kodo’s member were selected. He said, “There were dozens of applicants and 12 passed the exam when I took it. After the first year, seven were allowed to advance to the second year. In the third year, four were accepted to become junior members of Kodo. Currently, there is only one member other than myself from my year of entry.”

• All the members of Kodo were stringently selected. That would be a reason why they were able to produce such high quality performances.
• Yui Kamiya, a staff member of Kodo, said, “Since we’ve been touring in North America biennially in the recent years, we hope to be back in Chicago again in another two years!”

Interview with Yuta Sumiyoshi

• Chicago Shimpo was able to conduct an interview with Yuta Sumiyoshi through email with help from Kodo’s Public Relations.

Q: How does Kodo make it possible to play with impeccable precision?

Yuta: The program (Evolution) was created three years ago, and Kodo made tours with it in Japan, Europe, so this North America tour is the third one. I feel that the program has been refined during repeated performances in the tours.

Of course making unified sound requires a lot of practices, but we put emphasis on the process of making sounds. For instance, we pay a special attention to a rest just before making a sound or a space between sounds. We always engage our minds to the space where a taiko drum doesn’t make any sound. When you beat a drum, you have a take back. Every player must have a precise timing to have a take back; otherwise, plural sounds never become unified.

Once you make a sound, it becomes a past matter. After you listen to a sound and try to unify yours with others’, it’s too late. So we always try to listen to other players’ sound before they make them. It is a critical moment, but subtle because timing differentiates with your physical state or instrument condition. Thus, we always care each other in our daily lives before going to a stage.

When we are in wing, we watch the players on the stage and keep the same feeling with them. When drumming stops, we hold our breath. All of us are thinking of others and creating an atmosphere on the stage. This is a Kodo’s secret technique to our impeccable sound.

Q: You are called “Sound Maker”. You have composed many pieces. How do you do that?

Yuta: I always address composing. All the time, I’m looking for ideas to write a new piece.
You cannot make a good piece when you want to do it at your desk. If you don’t get sequential inspirations, you’ll end up with writing a piece out of desperation.

I have kept phrases or fragments of music when they emerge in a moment and use them to create a piece by connecting and mixing them. For me, composing is a part of my daily life. It’s like writing a diary. It’s a kind of task to output things that have been accumulated in my mind. So imputing is really important. I’m always trying to watch, hear, and feel things, so I can refresh myself and am able to face creating music.

Q: Thank you very much.

Kodo’s North America premiere “Rasen (Spiral)” composed by Tamasaburo Bando
(Photo Credit: Takashi Okamoto)

Kodo’s performance “Monochrome” with impeccable precision. (Photo Credit: Takashi Okamoto)

A scene from Ake no Myojo, the morning star (Photo Credit: Takashi Okamoto)

Yuta Sumiyoshi (C) and other Kodo members perform Yuyami, shadows of dusk, (Photo Credit: Takashi Okamoto)