The rhythmic pounding of a 4,000-year-old Japanese drumming tradition will pulse through Minnesota in the coming weeks as the St. Paul-based Mu Daiko drumming ensemble embarks on its 15th anniversary tour.
Minnesota Sounds and Voices reporter Dan Olson spent some time with the troupe and its artistic director, Iris Shiraishi, during rehearsals. She says the ensemble's big drum is made from recycled California wine barrels, and its modern sound can be traced to a Japanese soldier and jazz drummer who picked up taiko after World War II.
The tradition migrated to Minnesota in 1997 when Rick Shiomi created Mu Daiko. Hawaiian native Shiraishi, who played French horn in high school, then studied music at the University of Iowa and University of Minnesota, started studying taiko with Mu Daiko that same year.
Shiomi says some taiko music is written down but a lot is learned by vocalization or mouth music. The rudiments -- the drumming and some of the movements -- can be learned in about two years. The masters, he says, have studied more than 20, and the best players have the sense of rhythm and body movement one also finds in martial arts masters.
Shiraishi says one traditional move has players slowly raising their sticks, or bachi, skyward in unison to call on Mu Daiko's spirit and namesake.
"We are following this Mu, this shaman, artist, warrior that connects the heavens and earth through the tree of life, which happens to be the artist at that point," she says, "sending that sound out to the audience and then many times feeling that audience energy come back to us."
To feel the rhythm, click on the audio link, above, or watch the video by multimedia journalist Nikki Tundel, below. And here's where you can see Mu Daiko live:
Feb. 16-18, McKnight Theatre at the Ordway Center, St. Paul, 7 p.m.
Feb. 19, McKnight Theatre at the Ordway Center, St. Paul, 2:30 p.m.
Feb. 25: Sheldon Theatre, Red Wing
March 3: The Reif Center, Grand Rapids