Archive for January, 2011

Back in LA

Monday, January 24th, 2011

We arrived home this morning at about 2am. It feels good to be back, but it sure was fun to meet everyone along the road. Thank you to all the groups that hosted workshops, all the friends that housed us, all the venues that invited us to perform, and all the people came to see us along the way. It was a wonderful adventure!

Miles driven: 7465
Workshops taught: 18
Performances: 9
Taiko players met: 252
Car issues: 1 bad coil, 6 bad spark plugs, 1 bad tire and rim
Coldest temp: 6F (near Denver, before wind-chill)
Babies born: 1

Cross-country tour: Day 27

Monday, January 24th, 2011

“Idaho… it’s more than potatoes!”

After Spearfish SD, we made our way to Ketchum ID, for a residency with Sun Valley Center for the Arts. In two, jam-packed days we did three school shows, a rehearsal and collaborative performance with Footlight Dance Company, and a final concert. The word “packed” is particularly apt because all the events were in different locations, so the days involved lots of moving drums. But Kristine, Albert, Britt, and the rest of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts gang were so overwhelmingly helpful and hospitable, that our time in Idaho was some of our best on tour. Thank you to Kristine and Hilarie and everyone who came to our final show!

Kids at one of the schools we visited made us sweet thank-you cards.

Footlight Dance Company choreographed a number of dances to On Ensemble’s music and we did a joint performance at a local high-school. It was a real treat to work with Hilarie and have our music realized in movement. Congratulations to the dancers! Here is Footlight’s interpretation of Shoji’s Watashi Watashitachi.

We then made our way to Ogden UT for two workshops with Ogden Buddhist Taiko. We taught Composition Step By Step and did a Master Class, giving feedback on the structure, playing form, and timing of one of the group’s pieces. It was a fun-filled six hours of taiko. Thank you Stan and Ogden Buddhist Taiko!

Our final workshop was in Las Vegas, with the great Kaminari Taiko. We taught Composition Step By Step and were able to pull together a pretty satisfying draft of a piece in our 2.5 hours, thanks to the 3/4-time base beat suggested by one of the members. There were lots of great ideas all around. Thank you Jen and Kaminari Taiko!

Cooking on tour

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

For the last few years, I’ve travelled with the fantastic TakeruKun rice cooker and have learned it’s possible to make healthy, inexpensive, vegan meals on the road.  It takes a bit of planning and diligence, but I can generally get by on about $5 a day and eat food I enjoy wherever we go.  I try and take advantage of local foods when possible, but tend to err on the side of preparing my own food. It’s hard to not waste food without a refrigerator, and shopping along the way tends to produce lots of trash. So I now cook about 70% of the food I eat when on tour.

Here’s what I’ve learned!..


Cross-country tour: Day 21

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

After Toronto, we made our way state-side to Bowling Green OH, where we visited the university-based Kaze no Daichi.  Here we debuted my new, Composition Step By Step workshop, with the ambitious goal of composing a whole piece in 2.5 hours.  My teaching and the workshop structure was a bit rough around the edges but the members of Kaze no Daichi were extremely creative and productive.  There is much good music to come from these guys.  Thanks to Jake and the gang for having us!

We then headed to Chicago to visit long-time taiko advocate, John Yost, and members of his groups.  John is a force for taiko, presenting groups like Kodo in years past, and now performing regularly, and providing access to taiko classes in the greater Chicago area.  John knows all about the rigours of touring and very graciously arranged a workshop and housed us for the night.  We had a great time with the Chicago taiko characters, teaching the 30 Days to Better Shime workshop for John and six of his students.  Thank you, John!

From friendly face to friendly face…  Long-time On Ensemble friend and supporter, Wendy Jedlicka, arranged a workshop for us in Minneapolis.  In planning the tour, I initially thought we’d travel south and would miss Minneapolis.  When our route changed, I contacted Mu Daiko but it was too late to arrange a formal workshop.  Many of the members were going to be in Sacramento for an odaiko intensive.  But Wendy invited available Mu members and taiko friends to join us for another round of Composition Step By Step.  I felt much better about how it went this time.  We were able to bang together a rough piece inspired by Renshuu and all the participants had great ideas and questions.  Thank you Wendy!

From Minneapolis, we made our way to Spearfish SD, for a performance arranged by the Spearfish Arts Center at the Matthews Opera House.  The organization of the concert was rather last-minute, and we had no idea what to expect.  None of us had ever performed in South Dakota and we had flashbacks of a concert in 2009, playing for a single audience member (John in Placerville, we love you!).  It turned out our fears were unfounded.  Michael at the Spearfish Arts Center went to great lengths to take care of us, the theater was the perfect size and sound for our music, and the concert was attended by a throng of enthusiastic, loving Spearfishians.  It was a wonderful experience, and one of the highlights of the tour!  Thank you Michael and the great folks of Spearfish!  Hope we’re able to return someday!


Sunday, January 16th, 2011

A hand-crafted rainbow by Kiva Stimac, in welcome contrast to boulevard St-Laurent's bleak winter look.

Collaborations with On Ensemble are among my favouritest musical things- fantastic sounds, heavy beats, humour, and four of the warmest human friends anyone could ask for. Invariably, however, our time together is so compressed that we feel afterwards like we’ve been in a traffic accident, a week’s worth of experiences crammed into 24 hours… with no sleep!

What is also so very special for me is that from day one (March 2006, it was), sharing music with Shoji, Kris, Maz and Kelvin has always felt so remarkably comfortable and natural. There is never a need to talk much about what needs to be played, or what moods need to be created, as we are often already on the same page. It’s a pretty rare thing, something which makes our collaborations come together very quickly, very organically.

I believe this comes across onstage as well. I know the audiences we play for can feel this simpatico, and I often feel that we somehow manage to draw them into our little circle, creating some very intense performances. The spaces we play in reverberate with the sound of drums, but also with the vibrations of many people resonating with the same frequency.

This is the way it felt on Wednesday night, at La Sala Rossa, here in Montreal.

As a musician, what more can you ask for?

My thanks to On Ensemble for traveling so far, in the snow- one of them in shorts even (at -8C in Montreal!)- on little sleep, under stressful conditions (Kelvin’s wife delivered their second child the night before!) and for being such pros; Thanks also to Steve and the entire Suoni Per Il Popolo team, including our stellar sound-man Dave and the staff at Sala Rossa; Thanks to Arashi Daiko for the continued and enthusiastic support; Janet and Festival Accès Asie for their help with promotion and other pesky details; and a big thank you to our intrepid team of volunteers, Yukari, Danielle, Elena and Florence, for arriving at the nick of time and handling things beautifully.

I am now looking forward to making trips to the new On HQ in LA in February and March, so we can continue what we started here in Montreal. Minus the snow!

Introducing guest blogger Patrick Graham

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

Patrick Graham is a multi-percussionist from Montreal and On Ensemble’s go-to guy for complex, odd-time-signature compositions, amazing frame-drum technique, and more bells and whistles than you can shake bells and whistles at. In collaborations with On Ensemble, he brings his mutant drum kit with odd cymbals and rattly bits, a cajon for his kick drum, and the shime-jishi Japanese drum. It sounds fantastic and in the talented hands and tasteful approach of Patrick, adds dramatically to On Ensemble’s music.

Patrick will be joining us again in March for our biggest show ever: Taiko 2.0 at Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts!


Sunday, January 16th, 2011

Kris is the by far the most handy of the On Ensemble members.  You probably have a pretty good idea about this if you’ve read any of his posts of have seen his apartment.  He’s the one with power tools the one that fixes stands when they break down or can make cases for the koto or turntable.  But even amongst guys with power tools it’s not everyone who will attempt to make their own portable computer.  More of a lugtop than a laptop but still very impressive.  I’m calling it the Bergstrom Lugtop 3000.

The wine bar improvisation workshop

Saturday, January 15th, 2011

While Kris and Kelvin were leading a workshop for Inazuma Taiko Maz and I prototyped a new workshop format with Christian, Jean-Francois and Sandra of Arashi Daiko –  the wine bar improvisation workshop.  It basically works like this: share a great bottle of wine, talk endlessly about the nature of creativity and art then end with an impromptu vocal improvisation after the wine has been finished.  It’s only a prototype workshop but the results from the first were amazing and we’re looking forward to trying this again!  Thanks to Amie for her recommendation.  If you are into food Amie is a great food writer and has a blog on her restaurant recommendations and culinary explorations at:

I can trace my love affair with wine back to a single meal I had at Glutton’s when Makoto Ono was the chef.  (more…)

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