On Ensemble: Contemporary taiko quartet
On Ensemble is at the forefront of a growing artistic movement in the taiko (Japanese ensemble drumming) world. Led by childhood friends Shoji Kameda and Masato (Maz) Baba, On Ensemble has made a name for itself by infusing the powerful rhythms of taiko with overtone singing, odd meter grooves and soaring melodies. Their fearless musical explorations have taken the ancient instruments of taiko into new realms and have established a distinctly modern expression for the art form. The group’s unique sound has been praised as “completely original and brilliantly conceived.” Modern Drummer magazine calls On Ensemble “an exciting taiko ensemble looking at new ways to apply traditional Japanese drums.” In 2013 On Ensemble was the first American taiko group to be invited to perform at the National Theater of Japan for the prestigious Nihon no Taiko concert series.
Shoji and Maz were taught taiko at an early age (8 and 6) by Maz’ parents, accomplished taiko players and jazz musicians Jeanne Mercer and Russel Baba, who started one of the first children’s taiko groups in the United States. The duo has been playing and making music together for over 30 years and are recognized as two of the brightest stars in the taiko world. Together with the other members of On Ensemble they combine their study and deep appreciation of Japanese traditional music with equally formative experiences as DJs, electronic music producers, and rock bassists to produce, record and perform some of the most compelling and creative taiko music.. The group has released three critically acclaimed albums, Dust and Sand, Ume in the Middle and Bizarre Heroes and their music was featured in the award winning short film Yamasong.
On Ensemble performs regularly in concert halls, theaters, and outdoor venues throughout the United States and Canada. Since the group’s inception in 2002, On Ensemble has presented sold-out performances to audiences in intimate, 100-seat spaces like La Chapelle in Montreal, to larger venues like the 1400-seat Cerritos Center in southern California. On Ensemble’s dynamic performances appeal to adventurous, curious, music-loving audiences of all ages.
Each year, On Ensemble visits dozens of schools to provide educational outreach activities. Providing context for the group’s music and insight into Japanese drumming in particular, On Ensemble’s lecture-demonstrations are tailored to a variety of settings, from elementary school gymnasiums to university lecture halls.
On Ensemble school presentations are exciting, interactive demonstrations of the powerful Japanese drums known as taiko. The 50-minute presentations intersperse cultural and musical background information with dynamic, live music. The performance utilizes Japanese percussion, string, and wind instruments. Students learn about “traditional” and “contemporary” influences and how the drums made their way from ancient origins to their current use in ensemble taiko. Students participate in the oral tradition of taiko, learning rhythms by vocalizing. At the end of the performance, selected audience members join On Ensemble on stage for a hands-on attempt at playing the big drums.
Workshops and Classes
On Ensemble’s members are widely-respected teachers and the group maintains a busy schedule of taiko workshops and hands-on courses. On Ensemble workshops provide in-depth instruction in a variety of topics covering taiko technique, composition, and music theory. The group organizes an annual workshop tour, teaching taiko in cities across the country.
On Ensemble’s taiko courses provide structured, hands-on instruction to taiko players in the Los Angeles area. Previous offerings include, “Improvisation 101”, “Ridiculous Rhythms”, and “Multi Drum Technique”. Most courses are designed as a supplement to taiko players’ studies in other groups, focusing on a specific skill set and the fundamentals and practice concepts necessary for improvement.