Thursday, May 20, 2010
Wadaiko Newark pt. 3
As winter turned into spring in 2004, we continued to work out our performance routine. We had five or six confirmed bookings for the spring and summer months, and were duly excited and inspired. There was an electricity in our rehearsals. It was refreshing, as I was used to the petty ego trips and forced nonchalance of the musicians I'd spent the last several years around. Here was a group of people, doing something that they loved, simply for the love of doing it.
The hard work paid off. Our performances were inspired and well received. The group felt tight, physically and emotionally. I was especially happy with Ka Ga Ra; Marie and I seemed to play it with more precision every time. We were clicking.
For me, the most interesting gigs occurred at Buddhist temples in towns such as Turlock, Morgan Hill, and Fremont. I felt as though I was being given a privileged insider's look into a somewhat reclusive aspect of California culture. Primarily run by Japanese-descended Americans, these outwardly austere buildings contained many riches, aesthetically and spiritually. The Morgan Hill temple experience was particularly moving, as there was mention (I believe it was a plaque) of the WWII era internment policy imposed upon the Japanese American population of California. I thought of Herbie Lewis, a music professor at New College of California, who had had friends in his Los Angeles neighborhood shipped off to Manzanar, and remained affected by it fifty years later.
At some point in late summer, Dr. Clark dropped a bombshell on the group. After one of our Saturday practice sessions, he informed us that he would be selling his house in Newark and moving to Alabama. He also told us that he would begin distancing himself from Wadaiko Newark, gradually handing the reigns of the group to us. As he explained that his plan involved using the proceeds from his home sale to buy property Alabama for use as a taiko drum manufacturing shop, my emotions went quickly from feelings of abandonment to acceptance. He would net a huge profit from the sale. It just made a lot of sense for him to make the move when he did. With six years' hindsight, I also realize the Dr. Clark, with all of his natural intelligence and astuteness, could probably see the writing on the wall, as far as California's immediate future was looking. He cashed out at the right time!
As I drove home from that practice, I wondered about the future of the group. Dr. Clark was the unquestioned leader. Bands of any sort require a leader, and we would be losing ours. I wondered who would step up and fulfill the role. It gave me pause for concern.
Along with being concerned about Dr. Clark's immanent departure, I was beginning to question my own dedication to taiko drumming. There is a slogan, "Eat, Sleep, Taiko", and it sums up the way most taiko drumming practitioners feel about the pursuit. Most Saturdays, the members of Wadaiko Newark would stay at the dojo after practice, buildings drums. Although I was in some ways interested in that, I had other irons in the fire. Ovipositor was starting to build up its own peculiar head of steam, and I was in the early stages of my relationship with my wife Melissa. My job at the time was also very stressful. By Saturdays, I was generally burnt out and tired. These factors made it hard for me to feel compelled to stay on after morning practice. I suspect that other members of the group were a bit alienated by my lack of desire to put in more than the minimum amount of time at Wadaiko Newark's dojo. I never had a conversation with any of the group about the issue, so probably will never know for sure. I do know that I began to see some of the same dynamics within the taiko drumming world that I saw in other areas of music production: weird ego clashes, long-running political grudges, spirit-draining star systems, etc. Seeing these all-too familiar types of dynamics was a bit disheartening to me, and they effected my outlook on the pursuit pretty profoundly. It was clear that I would have to decide: commit or be done.