Photo by Kenji Yamazaki

In February, Yamato Drummers visited from Japan, and now, a local taiko drummer, Kenny Endo, will continue to spotlight taiko drumming with a performance on April 20 at the Edmonds Center for the Arts.

The performance at the Edmonds Center by the Kenny Endo Contemporary Ensemble will include Abe Lagrimas Jr, Amelia Lukas, Yi Chieh Lai, and Chizuko Endo. “We will perform mostly my contemporary compositions,” Kenny Endo said. “There will be a lot of improvisation and exploration of pushing our own boundaries.”

Endo’s goals for the performance are straight-forward: “For the music to be wonderful experience for the audience, the presenter, and for the musicians,” he said. “I choose musicians who are interested in collaborating, improvising, and enjoying the freedom that creativity can allow.

Growing up in LA, Endo saw and heard taiko at festivals such as Nisei Week and summer obon festivals. “The first kumi daiko performance I saw was the San Francisco Taiko Dojo in 1973,” Endo remembered. “The sound, movement, and energy was enthralling.”

Originally, Endo trained as a jazz musician, before turning to taiko, training with Kinnara Taiko and Taiko Dojo and then spending a decade in Japan.  The time in Japan, 1980-1990, was life changing and a time of growth and creativity,” he recalled. “Realized that the traditions have been honed and refined over hundreds of years and that became an impetus and inspiration to create new music. Feel fortunate to have studied with great teachers and work with some of the top musicians in Japan.

When Endo returned to the U.S., he earned an M.A. in Ethnomusicology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “The process of going back to school after many years was humbling and a great experience,” he said. “Learning about the basics of Western music as well as practicing correct and precise writing was very valuable, realizing that the concept of East meets West and East meets East would be a major factor in my work.

But performing taiko was not enough, and so Endo co-founded, with Chizuko Endo, the Taiko Center of the Pacific in 1994, to preserve traditional Japanese drumming and to create new music for taiko. “Taiko can be healing, transforming, and enjoyable,” he said. “Taiko is great art form where mind, body, and spirit can be in harmony.”

He strives to teach his students to practice, practice, practice. “Basics and simplicity are important,” he said. “Sound, timing, and feel.  To be patient with yourself and others.  To always strive for improvement of self and society.”

Endo works to preserve traditional taiko music because he believes that there is valuable musical wisdom in the traditions. “Although I don’t perform purely traditional music, the influence is immense,” he shared. “It’s not so much a matter of preserving but recreating, and as a result, the traditions connect you to your ancestors.”

Pursuing this path hasn’t always been easy, though. “The challenges are constant and you must persevere,” Endo advised. “It’s a never-ending process of trial and error.  To make a living playing music is difficult, but if you love what you do, a path will appear and doors will open.”

And when the doors open on April 20 at the Edmonds Center, Endo expects that his audience will be pleasantly surprised. “Hopefully, we’ll achieve the ‘ma’ (space) between jazz, Japanese music, and taiko,” he said.  “In Japanese, the definition of music is ‘ongaku,’ enjoyable sounds.”

Kenny Endo performs on April 20 at the Edmonds Center for the Arts, 410 Fourth Avenue North, Edmonds.

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