On Thursday, March 9, the world-famous Japanese drum troupe Kodo brought a stunning performance to Jorgensen Center. As a celebration of its 42-year anniversary, Kodo put on a North American premiere of TSUZUMI, showcasing their classic repertoire along with songs they shared in North America for the first time on this tour. During the event, they covered decades of traditional Japanese taiko drum songs and presented Japanese culture through a stunning exhibition of performance art.
Kodo is the world’s most famous taiko company known for its brilliant display of Japanese culture through drumming. Stretching over four generations, we see young and more senior drummers alike perform complex routines. In Japanese, the word “Kodo” has a dual meaning. In addition to being translated as “heartbeat,” the source of all rhythm, it can also be read as “children of the drum.”
The group is named after the desire to play the drums with the simple heart of a child.
Throughout its 42-year run, the group has given over 7,000 performances in 53 different countries on five continents. This alone would be enough to impress even the most well-traveled musician, but in addition to these exceptionally large performance numbers, they also take time to compose and rehearse their own music in a small village on Sado Island. However, Kodo is no stranger to the University of Connecticut, as their most recent performance was their ninth one in Storrs.
One of the most striking aspects of the performance was the drums. Coming in various sizes and diameters, some of the drums were as small as African djembes, while others were as big as backyard trampolines. This, coupled with the acoustics of the theater, meant that no microphones or devices were needed for the sound to carry. The bigger drums boomed with enough force to shake the whole room, while the smaller taiko drums and other instruments, such as the flute, reverberated through the room with clarity and precision.
While Kodo’s main performance centers around taiko drums, there are also other instruments that help bring variety to their sound. This included flutes, clackers, bells and even a vocalist for the opening song. The edges of the taiko drums, similar to a normal snare, were used for more high pitch sounds. With skill and finesse, the drummers and performers were able to create a wide range of dynamics, dictating the mood and tone of the songs. From the gentle pitter-patter of smaller instruments to the thunderous booming of large taiko drums, the variation left the audience in amazement.
When I sat down with Rodney Rock, the executive director of Jorgensen, he shed some light on what it took to plan such amazing events on campus.
“One thing that really defines a season at the Jorgensen is diversity,” Rock said. “Our programming always has been very diverse artistically and culturally, which informs most of my decisions when it comes to scheduling. Combine that with seeing what’s available, and the only thing left is to put together a season that can be appealing to a broader audience.”
Jorgensen’s dedication to diversity is apparent, with each season bringing a wide variety of cultures and performances — something that its team is very passionate about. Throughout the season schedule, Jorgensen has seen performances of all calibers cross the stage. From dancing, singing, comedy and much more, Kodo incorporates aspects of all of these.
Because the taiko drum is instrumental to the story of Japan’s culture, the group tries to source all of their drums from Japan, where they are made from various high-quality kinds of wood and flown overseas. The intricate designs and sizes are an art form in itself, with each drum having a different effect on the tone of the performance. Undoubtedly, children and adults alike probably had thoughts of playing the drums themselves on stage. The drums, along with other items such as lanterns, made up the majority of the set on stage. Within the set, we saw performers dancing, flipping and exchanging drums throughout the entire routine.
After the show, Natsumi Ikenaga, one of the group’s tour managers, was open to discussing more about the behind-the-scenes aspects.
“We have a very wide range of member ages with the youngest being 21 and the eldest being 60,” Ikenaga said. “They all come from different backgrounds, with some coming from big places like Tokyo and others coming from smaller locations. However, they all complete a two-year apprenticeship in the village on Sado Island. At the beginning of the apprenticeship, they take an exam to be accepted and at the end, they audition to become a junior member of Kodo.”
With such a strict admission process to even be considered to perform, it’s no wonder that the taiko company is well-renowned for the quality of its performances. Each year at Kodo is divided into thirds, with one of those thirds spent practicing on Sado Island. While training there, the company chooses the setlist for each performance and then departs internationally. Having to travel to so many places around the world, even if you were to miss Kodo’s performance here at UConn, there’s always the opportunity to see it elsewhere.