Courtesy of Yamatai

Yamatai drummers play in front of more than 1,000 attendees in Bailey Hall on April 15.

April 17, 2023

Yamatai Performs Annual PULSE Show, Entertains Large Audience with Excitement of Japanese Drumming

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Yamatai — Cornell’s only Taiko drumming group — performed for a full house at Bailey Hall for their annual showcase, PULSE, on Saturday night.

Taiko refers to the art of Japanese drumming. While Yamatai performs at different venues throughout the year, PULSE is meant to be a compilation of their most riveting pieces in a wholly-immersive experience.

Attendees recalled hearing about PULSE in a variety of ways, including through Yamatai’s extensive marketing campaign.

“It’s my mom’s birthday, and I told her she could do whatever she wanted,” said Lilly Svitavsky, a student at the State University of New York at Oswego who traveled to Cornell for the performance. “And this is what she picked.”

Yamatai Musical Director Yuri Sugihara ’23 explained the process behind the organization’s publicity strategy. 

“Publicity for PULSE is probably one of the most notorious things [about us],” Sugihara said. “[The publicity team] designs the posters and the quarter cards. They assign chalking times to everyone. It’s a lot of work.”

Aljosa Trmcic, an extension associate at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Dairy Foods Extension, heard about PULSE through advertisements and posters and decided to finally attend after missing it in years prior.

“I’m here really to be amazed,” Trmcic said. “I don’t know what to expect from this. But I feel like it’s going to be really nice.” 

Zach Lee ’24 recalled being approached by a Yamatai member advertising PULSE outside of Morrison Dining.

“One of the members actually ran up to me and said, ‘Hey, you should come check out the show,’” Lee said. “I figured that I was going to come check out the show, because I love live music.”

A recent transfer from Tompkins Cortland Community College, Lee said he was looking forward to the concert as one of his first Cornell events.

Yamatai uses the profit raised from the ticket sales for future PULSE concerts and to travel for shows. This semester, the troupe has traveled for performances at Syracuse University and for the opening of a new Uniqlo store in Jersey City, New Jersey.

“Those funds directly go into performing at other places and holding PULSE again the next year,” Sugihara said.

Ushers offered earplugs to attendees as they filtered into Bailey Hall, as the volume of the music tends to be loud. The two-hour-long concert began at 7 p.m., opening with a Buddhist-inspired piece titled ‘Echo’ and a dozen drummers. 

The ensemble was also joined on stage by members of Yamatai’s parent group, BONTEN, a professional drumming troupe based in Japan. BONTEN’s leader Masataka Kobayashi, referred to honorifically as Kobayashi-sensei, helped start Yamatai at Cornell in the fall of 2006. 

“[Kobayashi] helped us get our first drums [and he] basically found the group,” Sugihara said. “And now we’re going 17 years strong. … We’re really grateful to him.” 

Sugihara added that Kobayashi has not attended PULSE since before the COVID-19 pandemic, so the group was especially excited to see him at Saturday’s show.

“In the past, [Kobayashi] used to come pretty frequently to every PULSE,” Sugihara said. “But ever since the pandemic, he hasn’t come to perform with us for about five years now. So, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen him.”

Of the 13 pieces performed, some were composed by Kobayashi, while others were composed by Yamatai members themselves. The musicians utilized a range of Japanese instruments, including the fue, kane and chappa, as well as gongs, a keyboard and a vast assortment of drums.

Sugihara said that most Yamatai members come to the University with no experience in Taiko drumming, instead learning the art under the guidance of their fellow students.

During the two-hour performance, Yamatai’s emcees Elisha Wang ’24 and Max Ma ’25 entertained audiences between pieces, with members also performing skits, pantomimes and a tap dance routine.

“I think the transitions in PULSE are also really important… they make the whole concert just so enjoyable to watch,” Sugihara said. “They allow the members to fully use their creative freedom.”

After the show, attendees expressed enjoyment and awe at the performance. 

“From the very beginning, it was such a powerful show. You could feel every beat and it was so moving and impactful. It was really something special,” said Chris Cambry ’26. “It was so dynamic — the movement. It wasn’t just watching people play drums. It was an experience.”

Iskander Khan ’26 is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].