Skip to main content

Koto and Taiko

Know what these words mean? No? Well, nor did I till we went to the Japanese Festival last Sunday at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens. They're both musical instruments, and we heard them played by some very talented people in a spectacularly beautiful setting.

The koto is a long stringed instrument, which can have 13, 17 or even 22 strings. Fumiko Coburn, a dainty lady with halting English but a great sense of humour, has the 13 string version.


As we watched, she tuned it up by inserting wooden bridges under each string, and adjusting them carefully to give the right pitch for each song. She explained that most of the older tunes for koto included a song, whereas the new ones were mostly for koto solo. It was interesting to hear the difference as she played a piece from 400 years ago and one from 4 years ago. In the older tune, the notes dropped singly into the silence, scattered across time and pitch. Like brush strokes in a Japanese painting, each note had its own place and importance. Fumiko used her right hand, with three plectrums attached to her thumb and first two fingers, to pluck the strings, and her left hand to adjust the pitch of certain notes by pressing down on the string above the bridge.


The newer piece had more of a western influence; it was faster and more harmonic. Fumiko's left hand plucked some of the lower strings to create chords below the tune played by the right hand.

The scales and rhythms still sounded exotic to western ears. She told us that it's impossible to play western-style music on a 13-string koto; it simply doesn't have enough notes. A 22-string instrument is able to produce all the necessary tones and semi-tones.


We ate some sushi and wandered over to see the Dondoko Taiko Drummers. There's your second word: the taiko is a large Japanese drum. The drumming group had about ten, of various sizes and shapes, and when they were all played together the noise thrummed through your body and reverberated around the garden.


It was a feast for the eyes as well as the ears; the drummers wore bright outfits and drummed as if they were dancing. Sometimes three men would rotate around a single drum or a pair of drums, each beating a few strokes before the next took their place.

They crouched, stood tall, and threw their arms up to create strong poses. Some pieces were interspersed with shouts, too.


Well, there's your Japanese lesson for the day. If you ever get the chance to hear the koto or taiko played, go for it - they're well worth hearing!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Dove Valley Walk: Going round the bend

Somewhere between Marchington and Uttoxeter, the wiggles of the River Dove stop wiggling west to east, and start wiggling north to south. If it went in straight lines, it would make a right-angled bend. As I'm following the river upstream, this was my last section walking west. After this it's north to the Peak District and Dovedale. here the Dove swings north The main walk of this section was all on the south side of the river. But I also did a separate, shorter walk, to explore the village of Doveridge, and the old Dove Bridge which is tantalisingly glimpsed from the A50. Walk 1: Marchington to Uttoxeter I liked Marchington even more as I arrived there for the second time. I parked opposite the village shop - noting the "ice cream" sign outside for later - and near the brick-built St Peter's Church, with a war memorial built in above the door.  A few streets took me to the other side of the village, where I found a path alongside a stream, then across some hay m

San Antonio

San Antonio is towards the south of Texas and feels very much more Mexican than American. The balmy evenings, the colourful Mexican market, the architecture of the buildings, and the number of people speaking Spanish around us all added to the impression. The city, in fact, grew out of a Spanish mission and presidio (fort), built in 1718 as part of Spain's attempt to colonize and secure what was then the northern frontier of the colony of Mexico. Texas was then a buffer zone between Mexico and the French-held Louisiana, and Spain was keen to cement her hold on the area by introducing settlers and converting the natives to Catholicism and loyalty to the Spanish government. The missions in general had no great effect, but the San Antonio area was the exception to the rule, growing into an important city with five missions strung out along the San Antonio river. The first of these, San Antonio de Valero, later became well-known as the Alamo, where 182 Texans died in 1836

Lots of cooking

This week, I have mostly been creating enormous piles of washing up. I thought you'd prefer to see the clean stuff. Occasionally something edible escaped from the mounds of mess and made it to the table. I don't know why it turned into such a cooking week; we haven't been entertaining, and I didn't think I'd added too many new dishes to my weekly menu.  The main problem was that I made several things in advance, which spread out the cooking - and hence the washing up - across a much greater time and area. The star of the menu was undoubtedly the barbeque ribs.  I don't believe I've ever cooked ribs before, but I followed the recipe from Jamie Oliver's Save with Jamie , and they turned out - well, just like ribs should!  Soft and tender, and coated generously with a sweet and tangy glaze.  It's not in any way a difficult recipe - but like I said, it kind of spreeeaaads, until you feel like you've been dealing with these ribs for a very