WEEKEND: On Ensemble to bring Japanese taiko to Port Angeles

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Their mission is loud and clear. Fearless exploration — and expansion — of taiko drumming.

The On Ensemble, four men from the east and west coasts of the United States, travel the country playing Japanese taiko and beyond. Their next stop is the Port Angeles High School Performing Arts Center, 304 E. Park Ave., for a show at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Tickets to this Juan de Fuca Foundation concert are $15, or $9 for children 12 and younger, at www.JFFA.org.

Together since 2001, the On (pronounced “own”) Ensemble infuses traditional taiko drumming with the sounds of jazz, hip-hop, electronica and rock.

It doesn’t take ensemble member Kristofer Bergstrom long to explain taiko’s wide appeal.

“The drum is the universal instrument, next to voice,” said Bergstrom, a California-bred player who spent three years studying traditional music and dance in Japan.

“We have a contemporary and very American approach to [taiko],” Bergstrom said. At the same time, the On Ensemble blends instruments from around the globe: Japanese koto, Javanese bonang gongs, various flutes, percussion instruments from Brazil and the Middle East.

“We all sing,” Bergstrom added. “We do something called throat singing,” a form of chanting originally practiced by the people of Asia.

The On Ensemble — Bergstrom, Masata Baba, Shoji Kameda and Kelvin Underwood — is based in Los Angeles. Port Angeles is one of many Northwest communities on their current tour of the Northwest.

Saturday night’s performance is the last of the Juan de Fuca Foundation season concerts before next month’s Juan de Fuca Festival.

That music and arts extravaganza is set for May 24-27 in Port Angeles, and information about it as well as the On Ensemble date awaits at www.JFFA.org, 360-457-5411 and the Juan de Fuca Festival page on Facebook.

Festival passes and On Ensemble tickets also are available at Port Book and News, 104 E. First St., Port Angeles, and Pacific Mist Books, 121 W. Washington St., Sequim.

As they do in many of the towns on their itinerary, the men of the On Ensemble will teach a workshop for middle and high school students. This time at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Port Angeles High School. The class is sponsored by WESTAF, the Western States Arts Federation.

The players bring with them rich personal histories. Baba started playing taiko at age 6, and is considered one of the top taiko musicians in North America today.

Bergstrom began his taiko career as a member of Stanford Taiko at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. He now teaches taiko technique, turntable scratching and shamisen, a Japanese traditional instrument.

Kameda has played taiko since he was an 8-year-old growing up in Mount Shasta, Calif. In 2006, he was chosen to be an Asian Pacific Performance Exchange fellow, and has collaborated with musicians from Malaysia, Java, Bali, Mongolia and French Guiana. Today he’s part of a trip-hop duo with Christopher Tin called Stereo Alchemy.

Underwood, a North Carolinian, has performed with the internationally known taiko group Ondekoza, at New York City’s Carnegie Hall and Tokyo’s Suntory Hall. He later earned a degree in professional music at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, studied the Brazilian martial art of capoeira and moved to Ashland, Ore., where he teaches and plays taiko.

Last modified: April 18. 2013 6:37PM
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