On Friday, October 18 the Dimnent Chapel was filled with echoes from Music of Japan, a concert that incorporated a variety of different sounds and consisted of music almost entirely written by Japanese composers.
It began in dramatic fashion. Ken Koshio, a professional player of traditional Japanese percussion called taiko, walked into the middle of the stage, clad in a blue kimono. He proceeded to slowly pick up the drumsticks in ceremonial fashion. As Koshio raised his right arm high the crowd knew what to expect, but the effect of hitting the head of the goliath taiko drum, called Odaiko, literally meaning Big Drum, was still startling. This resonant punch kickstarted a series of enthralling performances. From that first hit to the final hurrah, each of the eleven pieces held the audience spellbound with their beautiful Japanese flavor. The Odaiko drum was but one of various taiko drums of differing sizes used that night. The drums acted as the spine of the concert, lending support to various pieces as well as being authentically Japanese. In addition to these drums both Dimnet’s organs were used, as well as a marimba, Shinobue (flute), Sanshin (stringed instrument) and vocals.
One piece in particular acted as the main event and cornerstone of the concert, “Fujin Raijin.” It translates to “Thunder and Wind,” and was instrumented by the taiko drums and pipe organs. Consisting of three movements, it held the audience in thrall with the atmospheric sound effects and story-like progression of dynamics and mood. The power of the pipe organ was matched well by the power of the taiko drums, and one wasn’t sure whether the two elements were fighting or friends as their sounds reverberated amongst the stone walls of the chapel.
This piece was the inspiration of the concert as a whole. Rhonda Edgington, a prestigious organist and staff accompanist at Hope, spearheaded and organized the event. After the concert, she mentioned that she had first heard “Fujin Raijin” in Germany. Impressed, she tucked away the name of the piece in her memory but for some time never did anything with it. Around a year and a half ago, however, she began to track down the epic Japanese movements. In this process she found out that the piece was never actually published. She was fortunately able to find the composer, and after communicating he sent her the score—in handwritten form. Rhonda said the score was “not super prescribed…it didn’t necessarily tell you the right notes,” lending her the creative freedom to interpret how wind sounds herself. Once the piece could be performed, she contacted Ken Koshio and other musicians versed in Japanese music to create the entirety of Music of Japan.
Notably, she was even able to get a piece commissioned specifically for the instrumentation present at the event, “World Premiere” by the established composer Carson Cooman. It meshed explosive taiko drumming with the pipe organ and marimba to create a unique musical experience for the listener, which was a fitting end to the concert.