The Knox College Japanese Club presented campus with a special treat this past Sunday in the form of guest performers of Toyoaki Shamisen. Taking place in Kresge Recital Hall, the performers hailed from the JASC Taukasa Taiko School.
The performance opened with a presentation on Noh theatre by one of Knox’s own students, senior Akina Nagata. Noh theater, according to Nagata, is 600 years old and consists of “scripts and dance sequences,” with each movement portraying “a long history condensed.”
Nagata was then followed by a Toyoaki Shamisen demonstration, talk and performance featuring Amy Homma (shamisen/Taiko drums) and Tatsu Aoki (shamisen).
For the first half of the performance, the two performers played shamisen duets. In between each song, Aoki described the context of the music explaining both its historical meaning and technical style.
The shamisen is comparable to a lute, guitar or a banjo without frets. It is an instrument widely used in both Japanese folk and classical music.
Aoki was part of a Geisha house in Japan, where he grew up playing and listening to folk shamisen.
This particular style emphasized improvisation. Aoki explained that the Geisha are “professional female entertainers” that trained and lived together. Geishas were required to be well-skilled shamisen musicians. However, as a member of the Geisha house, Aoki was expected to perform his shamisen for the guests before the Geisha arrived.
The classical style was more prominent in Japanese theater, where the shamisen was an official instrument. Unlike the improvised performances of the Geishas and other folk musicians, the shamisen players were expected to be more regular. Dance sequences and storytelling in Japanese Kabuki Theater relies on the live music being consistent and predictable so that the other performers can follow the song. Despite having his originally training in folk shamisen, Aoki played songs from both of these styles. showing his versatility.
Following the shamisen performance, Amy Homma, the president JASC Tsukaa Taiko, demonstrated Taiko drumming. With each basic Taiko song, the drummer must also perform the accompanying physical movements.
The event concluded with a fusion of eastern and western music. Knox music students junior Jimmy Pittman (bass) and senior Corey Heppner (guitar) had a live jam session with Aoki playing jazz shamisen and Homma on drums.