Event Preview: Kodo Drummers

By: Anne Vickman

Photo by Shizuka Minami

Watching taiko drumming is, quite literally, a breathtaking experience. The double-ended drums create beats so deep and loud that they physically resonate throughout your chest cavity. It comes as no surprise, then, that the Kodo Drummers, a Japanese taiko drumming ensemble, take their name from the word meaning “heartbeat.”

The group of 50 live and practice together on Sado Island off the west coast of Japan. They celebrate their 30th anniversary this year, and 12 of them will be performing at Symphony Hall on Sunday, March 13. Boston Daily caught up with the group’s company manager, Jun Akimoto, to talk about the upcoming show, One Earth, and what it takes to be a Kodo drummer.

Boston Daily: What can we expect from your performance?

Jun Akimoto: We’re bringing a new composition, which [was] pretty much done by a younger generation of Kodo drummers. They have so many new ideas on top of our traditional heritage, so some of the pieces will be an experiment in rhythms and drum sounds. It’s inspired by other musical cultures such as Brazilian, Indian, Spanish, and Irish music.

How does one become a member of Kodo?

Anyone who wants to become a regular Kodo performer has to spend two years in the apprentice center and another year as a provisional member. We accept 10 to 12 apprentices each year. Eventually we accept two or three provisional members, and in the end maybe one person as a regular member. So it’s quite a strict process.

Taiko drumming looks intense. Is it physically demanding?

The performers are very careful maintaining their bodies. It’s more like being an athlete than a musician, which is why they need a regular sequence of practice and exercise. They cannot prep too hard and they cannot rest too long, so they have to find a good balance. It requires strength, but not necessarily the same strength as wrestlers or football players. Drummers are more like marathon runners, because they need endurance and also have to be very flexible.

What is the most challenging aspect for apprentices learning to drum?

We learn many of our performing arts from local communities in Japan, and we spend quite a long period visiting these communities to learn original folk performing. Apprentices are required to learn not only drumming but also activities such as agriculture and cooking, and to join local festivals. As part of the community, their commitment is to contribute.

Why are these things important to becoming a Kodo performer?

Because Kodo is not only about music. Our philosophy can be summarized as learning, creating, and living. These three elements are linked to each other very tightly, and that’s why we spend so much time living and working together in one place on the same island. We know each other very well, so when we’re on stage what we communicate with sound is basically the same as what we communicate with words.

$47–$60, Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Ave., Boston, 617-266-2378, celebrityseries.org, purchase tickets here.