Taiko Experience Valencia @ Casa Lo Es, Dos Aguas, Spain

Hosted by Circle Percussion’s Erwin Oudshoorn
As experienced by Jim Gubbels

The following is an account of a taiko retreat in the mountains near Valencia, Spain which Erwin Oudshoorn of Circle Percussion fame hosts every year during the summer. The events took place over one week from the 3rd of June till the 9th in 2022. I try not to go into too much detail about specific exercises. You will have to experience it yourself!

Taiko Bootcamp Valencia

6月3日 (3rd of June)
楽園 | raku-en | Paradise

Arriving at Casa Lo Es (‘Home of the way it is’) I expected a dry mountainous area, but what we got was a lush vista of various shades of green and a view of the local dam from the balcony of our stay for the week: a cosy two-story house with enough showers and beds to house a small group of taiko lovers. To the right of our home was the landlady’s home, and beyond that our sacred taiko space. This was a circular piece of land exposed to the elements and the sun; a friend who we would get to know better each day.

During the day we got acquainted with one another. In total there were seven of us, including myself and Erwin. Angelique and Greet who were familiar with taiko, Nicolien who was new to taiko, Maud who had actually done the retreat in the week prior to us as well, and Igor, the man who was interested in the world of taiko from an esoteric point of view.

Having settled in, Erwin invited us to the small plot of land where the taiko were already waiting for us, along with a massive tam-tam that could be used to create the most amazing sounds. These taiko were made by Erwin himself and mimic the original, though different materials were used so they can withstand the elements and stay outside the whole day.

The focus of the first exercise was on the legs, and the 腹 (hara, belly/core) as the foundation from which you use your body to hit the taiko and get sound out of it. The arms merely give direction, but the legs, and your belly are where the spark comes from lighting the taiko match.

With that fundamental knowledge we were done for the day and got to enjoy our new home for the week.

Taiko Bootcamp Valencia

6月4日 (4th of June)
感情|kan-jō | Emotion

The following day we entered a new rhythm of drumming, siesta, and a lot of eating to sustain ourselves during our time under the sun hitting the drums. My body had trouble adapting, and so I had to recuperate after giving it my all on the taiko in the morning. During this time, I was reminded how taiko is so much more than just a physical performance, but a mental, or even a spiritual one as well. Erwin, being the experienced teacher that he is, helped me through this difficult time, and it helped to connect on a deeper level which aids in a better taiko experience.

After this physical breakdown, I was able to become my old self again relatively quickly, and enjoy the various metaphors being used to describe taiko movements and the like by our teacher. For example, mimicking the orangutang’s arm movements is something any taiko player can benefit from when hitting the drum. Using gravity as your friend, and the arms of the orangutan helps a taiko player produce great sound with minimal muscle power. Very useful when having to play for long stretches of time!

Another valuable lesson on this day was to be aware of each other while playing the taiko, and trying to connect in some way. It sounds easier said than done, but throughout the week we grew closer together as a group and started to feel this connection both playing the taiko and during our free time.

An emotional day, but not a wasted one.

6月5日(5th of June)
大声|oo-goe|loud voice

On this third day we got to learn about the role of ma (間) in the world of taiko. Ma is the space in between the notes, in between the sound of the taiko, and is something to be sensed in the silence, not counted like we are used to in Western musical tradition. Breathing together in silence before hitting the drum is key to sensing ma, and where we stumbled in the beginning, we eventually were able to create a nice pulse together from which beautiful improvisation could take place.

This improvisation was made even more special by adding the ōdaiko into the mix. This taiko is placed on a high stand so you get to stand underneath it and really give your whole body and arms a good workout when striking it to create thunderous music. Igor added yet another layer by using his voice while playing the ōdaiko in a mighty roar that echoed through the taiko itself.

It would be Igor who would help us get the most out of our voices through guided voice training throughout the week. Sitting together and keeping a steady o-sound was a magical experience and could move mountains.

Other than this, we also finished experiencing all the parts of a song we were learning. I say ‘experience’ since it was not so much about learning how to play all the notes precisely in the beginning, but to feel the broader picture of the piece without getting stuck on left and right, and counting notes. In my view this is a very interesting and valuable starting point in learning a song, before you dive into the specifics.

Feel before you study!

Taiko Bootcamp Valencia

6月6日(6th of June)
お疲れ|o-tsukare|tiredness

Now we are in the middle of the week and the mind is trying to trick the body into feeling tired. Sometimes it succeeds, resulting in proper siestas by the pool area, but during the taiko sessions we are made to believe by Erwin that pain is just that, pain. We don’t need to feed the pain with more thoughts about how terrible it is, we can just let it be, and keep on drumming. Easier said than done, but it is also one of the reasons why the sensei chose to have every practice in the full sun. It can aid in strengthening the mind over the body.

On this day we also learned a thing or two about composing, though I shall not go into detail about the method that was used. What I can say is that it is incredibly interesting to shape and form a piece of music from scratch with only your fantasy and some guidance from an experienced musician, of course. The main thing to take away from this exercise is that it helps to think along the lines of a specific theme that will help give direction to the song.

A great first day of creating something together, which we would come to perform on the final day of the retreat.

6月7日(7th of June)
猛暑|mōsho|fierce heat

When building a church, would one just start stacking bricks on top of one another or would one start with an overarching vision? This was the question to ponder over while slowly dying in the fierce heat playing miyake, a style of taiko in which the drum lays horizontal and the player is forced to go very low with their legs. During the bootcamp we would listen to a lot of Erwin’s metaphors with respect to taiko, and one type would always resurface: approaching a taiko piece from a birds-eye perspective first, before diving down into the specifics. Not getting hung up on the minutia of every move, but allowing the feel and the pulse of a song to take hold of you benefits the overall performance. Therefore, we don’t just stack bricks; we stack bricks keeping the overall vision in mind.

Another element that kept coming back throughout the week on a personal level, was keeping a steady tempo. Playing with Erwin and the rest of the group made me realise my tempo can also get carried away by the excitement from time to time. Hearing Erwin’s steady beat reminded me I have more to learn on that front.

In the evening we had a chance to heighten our awareness of our surroundings through an interesting exercise I shall not spoil. The result of the exercise made us understand the importance of keeping in touch with each other, the taiko drum, and the environment while you are playing. Without this awareness we would unleash a loose cannon onto the world.

Playing taiko requires a calm centre in the heat of the moment.

6月8日(8th of June)
公園|kōen|performance

Today would be our last full day living in the mountains, separated from the rest of society. We learned that at the end of the day we would be doing a little performance, and celebrate the week by eating and drinking with other Dutchies who have been living in the area for many years. So, during the morning we would do a bit of rehearsing and iron out some of the uncertainties regarding the songs we would be playing, but the fact that not everything needed to be perfect made for a less stressful experience. In fact, we were encouraged to get comfortable in the confusion surrounding some bits of the song, and once again see the bigger picture, or better yet, feel the larger groove.

We would be performing at our training site at around 6.30 pm, so we had a whole day to practise amongst ourselves, or together, and just enjoy our siesta. The heat could really suck the energy out of a man, so often I opted to just let the warm blanket of the heavens cover me and zone out until it was time to show off what we had been doing during the week.

The performance itself was a nice experience to see how much we could play as a group after one week, and with Erwin’s guidance we managed to have fun while doing it too. In the end, that was all that really mattered to me: playing as a group, smiling at each other while making mistakes, but still managing to finish together. The crowd loved it, and we got our well-deserved fiesta until midnight.

Taiko Bootcamp Valencia

6月9日 (9th of June)
完|kan|The End

All good things come to an end, and this magical taiko bootcamp was no exception. During this brief 5-day period of intensive taiko exercises coupled with more experimental ones, I got to be inspired once more by not only the mountains and taiko sound, but also by the teaching skills of Erwin. As someone who gets a lot out of teaching taiko to those willing to learn, this week gave me lots to reflect on when it comes to keeping a group together and having them work towards one common goal. No matter how diverse a group may seem, the taiko can bring out some of the primordial raw energy and help us connect with our deeper selves, which in turn makes it possible to open up to one another.

I leave you with some messages from some of those who were with me during the bootcamp.

Taiko Bootcamp Valencia

Quotes:

“It is the now of pure happiness” – Maud

“Good connection, good vibe” – Greet

“[The bootcamp to me meant] connection with the other taiko players, with the music and with nature. I became one with this all. It gave me inner transformation, depth, insights and love” – Nicolien

“It is like the effect after giving your boss laser glasses on a company party: from a great height the happiness waves vibrated my vision of life in a new direction” – Maud

“Surrendering myself to the act of drumming gave me a great feeling.” – Greet

“Music, motion and nature are great healers.” – Nicolien

“Spending a whole week on my big hobby, how perfect can you get it? Without giving too much away, the workshop was more than just spending a week on my big hobby. For every participant – regardless of level – there were opportunities to grow (also on a personal level). Erwin knows how to facilitate this and how to motivate every participant including myself, very valuable. This in addition to experiencing a lot of fun with the group. Music brings people together, cliché but so true!” – Angelique

Jim Gubbels, June 2022

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