A 10-kilometer run before breakfast followed by a rigorous program of calisthenics and weightlifting sounds more like prep for a major marathon than a musician’s daily warm-up routine. Yet, that is the training demanded of Japan’s Yamato drummers before they even strike a beat.
The passionate percussionists throw their entire bodies into creating the thunderous sounds and staccato rhythms defining their high-energy performances, which have exhilarated some 3,500 audiences in 54 countries since the troupe’s emergence in 1993. On Sunday, Jan. 28, the Nara-based sonic ensemble will add Tilles Center of the Performing Arts to its showcase roster.
Yamato grew out of the discovery of an ancient taiko drum in the hometown of Masa Ogawa, the group’s founder. Ogawa says that at his mother’s urging, he composed, with his brother and a friend, an original song for the centuries-old ceremonial instrument that the trio then performed at a local Shinto festival. “We hit the taiko and it resounded in the shrine,” Ogawa says. “After our performance was finished, we could see the crying faces of the people gathered there.”
Starting with that one taiko drum, Ogawa now presides over 40 of the cowhide-and-wood instruments, ranging in width from a foot to nearly 6 feet and weighing in at close to half a ton. Complementing the Yamato players’ dynamic interchange of soft patter and explosive pounding on their assortment of drums are the traditional Japanese sounds produced by the koto (a zither-like instrument), the shamisen (a three-stringed lute) and the shinobue (bamboo flute).
Surprisingly, the troupe’s performers have no formal musical education and usually only a little prior taiko-drumming experience. According to Ogawa, they come to join Yamato mostly with a strong desire to commit to the old-world practice, reinvent it and convey the spirit of Japan. While traditionally a patriarchal pursuit, Yamato distinguishes itself from the numerous groups dedicated to the art form by featuring female performers and injecting a sense of fun into taiko’s customary stoic veneer.
Like the theme of Yamato’s current touring production — Chousensha, or the Challengers — Ogawa continues to push the envelope with the troupe’s latest program.
“The songs are new and revised, for the young generations,” he says. “It is much more powerful than before.”
To underscore the force and vigor of the drummers’ program, Ogawa asked international fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto, perhaps best known for outfitting David Bowie on his concert tours, to create their costumes. Yamamoto’s aesthetic aligns with the Japanese concept of basara, a love of bold, even jarring, colors and patterns, befitting of Yamato’s vibe.
“Yamato members are trying to put all the energy into the sound of taiko,” says Ogawa of the troupe’s impassioned performance. “They are trying to reach the audience’s heart.”
Yamato drummers of Japan
WHEN | WHERE 7 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 28, Tilles Center, 720 Northern Blvd., Greenvale
INFO $35-$65; 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com
Choral society’s fine tunes
WHAT The Mineola Choral Society is hitting the high notes this weekend in celebration of its 70th season performing select masterworks including Mozart’s “Requiem” and Gabriel Fauré’s “Cantique de Jean Racine.” Under the musical direction of Thomas W. Jones, the choral society, an outgrowth of Mineola’s adult education program, today comprises amateur singers hailing from 33 towns and villages across Long Island. Eighty voices strong, the chorus, with its twice-yearly concerts showcasing varied programs, soloists and a full orchestra, is likely to have audiences singing its praises for years to come.
WHEN | WHERE 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 28, St. Catherine of Sienna Roman Catholic Church, 33 New Hyde Park Rd., Franklin Square
INFO $20-$25; 516-294-1175, mineolachoralsociety.org