It is certainly no simple task to think of an instrumental ensemble that incites as much blood-pumping adrenaline in its audience as that of Taiko. Cornell’s Yamatai, famous around campus for the sheer rousing physicality and power of their performances, serve as fitting ambassadors for showcasing the art of the traditional Japanese drum, with its primal, martial power, to the Cornell community. And for good reason, for the art of Taiko is a window into Japan’s ten thousand year history and a product of its culture. “It’s been used everywhere — in war to signal faraway, and also in Japanese ceremonies and festivals,” explains Karen Chang ‘15, a member of Yamatai.
But this weekend’s concert, Yamatai’s annual PULSE, is anything but staid and traditional, according to Yamatai members. The group aims to bring Taiko to a new level by having both traditional Taiko performances as well as original compositions, featuring collaborations with guest talents such as the world renowned violinist Ryu Goto, as well as including dance troupes such as the Cornell Bhangra. “We have a lot of different genres of music, some that are really happy and high energy, but with other pieces that are more traditional, such as our piece Miyake,” says Carol Chiu ‘12. Some of Yamatai’s pieces are adapted from works by Bonten, a Taiko group based in Japan that counts Cornell and Yamatai co-founder Eva Kestner ‘09 as one of its past members, but the more current compositions are the products of current Yamatai members.
In particular, the group is performing a new piece titled “Vesuvius,” which was composed by Cornell alum Ben Pastel ’11. “It’s about people in a festival being happy, but then a volcano erupts,” says Chang. “That’s when we do a solo on our 5-foot diameter drum. It builds up; it’s very suspenseful”.
Also in the lineup for Saturday’s performance is an original piece composed by the professional Taiko artist Kaoru Watanabe who, with funding from the Cornell Council for the Arts, conducted a two-day workshop with Yamatai in February. “It is a beautiful tune in 11 with improvisation by each performer,” says Alice Grgas ’12, Publicity Chair for Yamatai, on the piece.
Yamatai’s Saturday performance is shaping up to be an as intense, unique visual-aural experience as any you’re likely to have this spring, and according to members, Yamatai’s particular music is shaped to some extent by the close-knitted nature of the group as well as the sheer enthusiasm and raw power that they put into their performances. “You can feel the rhythm pounding in your chest. Every note has heart and soul put in it and you can tell the players pour everything they can into the performance. Taiko is all about sharing the spirit of drumming with others,” according to Grace Liu ’14, the alumni relations chair for Yamatai. With a group as focused on the singular goal of putting their all into every performance, you know you’re likely in for a treat.
Yamatai PULSE 2012 will be playing at Bailey Hall this Saturday, April 21, at 7:00 p.m.