July 14, 2016

Japanese Taiko Drums with James Barrow


Open Class: SHIROYAMA Composed by James Barrow circa 2010, this piece Shiroyama translates as White Mountain and was inspired by James’ work with Taiko Mynydd Du, the first Taiko group in Wales, established by Ursula Frank and Helen Murray. (Ursula and James met for the first time at Doris back in 2004-ish.) The name of the group is Welsh for Black Mountain Taiko, appropriate as the group is based in the Black Mountains around Abergavenny.  Many of James’ teaching visits there were made during the winter when the hills were snow covered, and this rhythm was quite literally composed while travelling through them on the way to drumming sessions there. It involves plenty of visual stickwork and vocal work, otherwise known as shouting!

Intermediate Class: YUTA NO GEZAN. This is a working title for an open source arrangement written by Yuta Sumiyoshi, who is currently one of the lead players with the world famous KODO drummers. He based his arrangement on the backing rhythm of a well know traditional piece called “Gezan Bayashi” which literally means “music for descending the mountains”, in this case following a pilgrimage to the sacred Mt Iwaki in Aomori Prefecture.  The origins of the pilgrimage, also known as Oyama-sankei, dates back to the Genroku era (17th-18th century).  Yuta generously offered to share his interesting and challenging arrangements to the UK Taiko Community through a series of masterclass workshops in London in recent years. James workshops will also offer to chance to play the katsugi “over the shoulder” technique.

– MORE BACKGROUND INFO ( At the time of the autumn equinox, the people of Aomori visit Iwaki Shrine at the foot of sacred Mt. Iwaki to worship. On the last day, they undertake their annual pilgrimage to the summit, carrying colourful banners and wearing white robes.The long procession is accompanied by hayashi: katsugi taiko (portable drums), flute, tebira (cymbals) and nenbutsu (chanting). They make two ascents: one at night to see the sunrise and the second in daylight. After the purification ritual, the pilgrims descend the mountain accompanied by hayashi. Mt. Iwaki, an elegant 1, 625m volcanic cone with its views over the Tsugaru Strait to the northern island of Hokkaido is locally known as Tsugaru Fuji.)

About James

James studied Taiko in Japan for 4 years with Osamu Munakata-sensei, Head of the Hiroshima Taiko Hozonkai. His first UK performance was in London in 1988 and in 1993 he set up the UK’s first regularly performing traditional Taiko Group, Akatsuki Daiko. Soon after, he began performing with the renowned multi-percussionist, and Europe’s top solo Taiko player, Joji Hirota. In 1995 he led the UK’s first hands-on drumming course with Mark Alcock which culminated in a performance at the WOMAD festival in Reading. Since 1998 he has been teaching, performing, composing and recording Taiko full-time. He set up Taiko Wales in 2000 and Taiko West in 2002. In 2005/6 he was a guest touring drummer with Taiko Meantime in their collaboration with  Henri Oguike Dance Company. In 2009 he reconnected with Thomas Adams School  in Wem to lead the ongoing school’s taiko groups as well as the regular adult evening classes. The Wem Taiko Fest that James helps to coordinate has become a major event in the UK Taiko calendar and is now into its 9th year. He now runs the biggest educational Taiko project known to humankind, the Taiko West Schools & Communities Project, across the Midlands and Welsh Borders, consisting of almost 20 weekly and monthly classes, involving 70 pupils from 7 different schools and up to 150 adults, each with performance opportunities throughout the year, across different 8 venues and including major taiko festivals with visiting teachers.


One thought on “Japanese Taiko Drums with James Barrow

  • Hi James. Every time we come to Doris we always are drawn to your Taiko, however we have only been weekenders in the past so never actually had a class with you. This year 2018 we are in for the whole fest and were getting excited to join your workshop. Is that going to be possible as in the prog there is the abbreviation ‘ Int/ Adv’ next to your sessions? Would that exclude beginners? Do hope there’s going to be an opportunity to learn Taiko!!
    In anticipation and with thanks,
    Love Jules & John

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