Stanford Taiko celebrates 30 years with master Kenny Endo
After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the rumbling rhythms of Stanford Taiko filled Bing Concert Hall on Saturday night. “Harmonic Convergence,” the band’s first in-person performance since 2020, celebrated Stanford Taiko’s 30th anniversary and featured guest artist and taiko master Kenny Endo, who was belatedly celebrating his 45th birthday in the art form.
“We’ve wanted Kenny to perform at Bing since it opened in 2013 and this was the perfect opportunity to accomplish that goal,” wrote Steve Sano, music teacher and co-advisor to Stanford Taiko faculty. “It’s also Asian and American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and it was very special, indeed, to help celebrate with last night’s event.”
The first half of the concert featured Kenny Endo and his contemporary ensemble, featuring Kaoru Watanabe, Sumie Kaneko, Abe Lagrimas Jr. and Chizuko Endo. They performed a variety of Kenny Endo’s original compositions using several Japanese and Western instruments. The compositions ranged from traditional pieces to arrangements with inspirations from other cultures and improvised jazz melodies.
The concert opened with a piece entitled “Clarity” and was followed by “Yume no Pahu”, a piece inspired by Hawaiian and Tahitian music. After an intense 10-year taiko training in Japan, Kenny Endo moved to Hawai’i, where he learned about the issues faced by the indigenous population. He dedicated this song to “support their struggle to control their destiny”.
The ensemble presented “Sounds of Kabuki”, a traditional piece, followed by another composition by Kenny Endo, “Sunflower”, dedicated to Ukraine. They ended the first half with “Symmetrical Soundscapes,” a fast-paced improvisational percussion composition with influences from Brazilian samba, and “Jugoya,” a song about the full moon.
Kenny Endo’s stop at Stanford is part of a larger tour celebrating his 45 years of taiko. Although this anniversary took place in 2020, the tour was postponed due to COVID-19. In all his years of playing, Kenny Endo has said that his greatest taiko lesson is that “there is never an end to learning”.
“It always keeps you humble, because there’s so much more to learn and so much more to create,” Kenny Endo said.
In the second half, Stanford Taiko performed a variety of traditional and fusion pieces, creating an interactive environment by inviting the audience to clap and participate with them.
The group opened their segment with “Rites of Thundering”, composed by Kenny Endo, and followed with four compositions by Stanford Taiko: “Amaterasu”; “Relieve;” “Reverberations,” which featured piano; and “Tales from a Balloon”. Between performances, Stanford Taiko members performed playful interludes, including a combination of taiko and tap dancing.
“I’m so grateful for everyone who came and stayed throughout our show, and I think we had a successful performance yesterday,” wrote Rachel Wang ’24, a second year at Stanford Taiko.
The evening ended with a joint performance featuring Kenny Endo and his band as well as current Stanford Taiko members and alumni, who performed “Tatsumaki”, a Stanford Taiko favorite.
“It’s our signature piece that we perform on the most important occasions and one of the first pieces written by a former member after [Stanford Taiko’s] founder,” Wang wrote. “Our song captain, alum Mark Nishimura [’16 M.S. ’17], arranged the track so that everyone is on stage together, which brings me to tears every time. I think this arrangement precisely encapsulates the spirit of taiko – we are a community of Japanese drumming enthusiasts who want to share the strength, charm and inclusiveness of this art form far and wide.
This year represents a rebuilding year for the club, as many students are playing taiko with the group on campus for the first time.
“Out of 16 members this year, nine of them are first years,” Wang wrote. “Only Vianna Vo [’21], a fourth-year and artistic director, did a spring concert three years ago before the pandemic. Therefore, Vianna has contributed immensely to our group’s rebuilding efforts this year, taking on so many responsibilities that a normal member should never take on.
Sano acknowledged the challenge of having three pseudo-frosh classes and praised the efforts of Stanford Taiko alumni who have dedicated their time to mentoring new members.
“It was such a joy to see Stanford Taiko return to in-person performance in Bing,” Sano wrote. “One of the best things was welcoming master taiko artist Kenny Endo and his contemporary ensemble as concert collaborators, and seeing so many people from the greater taiko community at the concert come out to support the artists and form of art.”
“I had a long relationship with Stanford Taiko in the music department here,” Kenny Endo said. “And I really appreciate their support for what I’m doing. I like trying to support what they’re doing and this collaboration is a really good result.
Wang shared a similar sentiment about the importance of the taiko family.
“[Our] The 30th year not only marks our establishment for three decades, but also serves as a testament to the friends and mentors we have made along the way,” Wang wrote. “We are so happy to be back on the Bing stage, sharing our music with local communities. For me, most importantly, I feel so lucky to have been part of this family.