Kodo — Japanese drum performance — Review
Japanese Drum Performance — January 29, 2017
Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, California
This wasn’t a performance I would have chosen for myself. A friend invited me and we went. It was an amazing spectacle. It awakened me to the vast possibilities of percussion as an expressive language. Everything from the most delicate whispers to the most brutal violence can be conveyed through the rhythmic sounds of percussion. There is pitch, harmony, intonation, texture, rhythm, counterpoint, in an endless array of combinations and colors and moods.
The guys that play these drums are not just musicians, they are world class athletes. Their bodies are sleek and lean. Their arms, shoulders and chests ripple with perfectly sculpted, powerful muscles. This wasn’t just a music performance, it was a festival of hypermasculinity.
It so happened that my friend and I could not sit together. Our seats were one row apart. By chance and good fortune, a young Japanese girl came in and occupied the seat next to me. It turned out she knew one of the players on the stage and had been herself part of a similar drumming group for women when she was in college. She told me that it is was traditionally an all male art form, but there were girls’ groups on some college campuses. She said the guys on the stage train rigorously, rising at 5am to jog and work out. I wondered at how old they might be as it seems to be extremely physically demanding and they all looked quite young. She told me they tended to be young but some were in their 30s and 40s, which surprised me a little bit.
Many different kinds of drums were used as well as many different means for making sound with the drum: everything from fingernails and forearms, to wooden batons that were slung against the drum heads with excruciating force. It is interesting how this chorus of varied drum sounds and rhythms creates an emotional tenor that builds to a riveting intensity. It was a polished, moving performance of the highest caliber of virtuosity and interest. I was so glad to be introduced to it.