The curtain rises to reveal a simple scene — drummers and their massive Taiko drums are plainly lit as they purposefully sit upon the barren stage. When they begin, the auditorium fills with cadences that have been beaten for centuries. Originally rooted in Japanese villages, these rhythms resound throughout the world on each stage on which Kodo appears.


Tonight at 8 p.m.
Hill Auditorium
Tickets from $10

Kodo is a traditional Japanese Taiko drumming group that formed in 1981 and has performed worldwide and will play at Hill Auditorium tonight. The group’s name can translate to “heartbeat” or “children of the drum.” Having first performed in Ann Arbor in 1982, Kodo is on its current world tour, entitled “One Earth.”

“Kodo is regarded as one of the important, traditional music groups of Japan,” said Jun Akimoto, one of the group’s managers. “It is respected as a traditional Japanese performing art.”

The group is composed of 25 members, ranging in age from 21 to 60. For each member, training is rigorous.

According to Akimoto, members must train themselves physically, rhythmically and mentally. In this process, members are expected to run 6.2 miles a day before they begin their musical training.

“There are all types of drumming techniques and style skills that members are required to be able to do in order to perform in the traditional way,” Akimoto said. “Members must learn to open their mind and be connected with the clarity of the artform.”

As Akimoto mentioned, though there are Taiko groups in both Japan and the United States, Kodo remains one of the only ones that is continuously dedicated to the ritual of the art form. Other groups compose their own songs from scratch, but Kodo sticks to custom.

“Kodo always tries to be loyal to the traditional songs of Japan,” Akimoto said. “Kodo actually goes to the Japanese villages and asks villagers to teach their music. After learning it, we ask the local people for permission to use it. If they say yes, we arrange it and make it more attractive for performing arts. We try to return to the original style every time we make arrangements for songs.”

One of Kodo’s goals is to bring Japanese culture to the rest of the world. According to Truly Render, the University Musical Society’s press and marketing coordinator, the group has been a hit each time they perform in Ann Arbor.

“They are really high energy,” Render said. “The concerts are as much a physical endeavor as a musical one — it’s very athletic and really engaging. I also think it’s a cool cultural experience, too. It provides a really interesting glimpse into the older Japanese lifestyle, and people get to hear that traditional sound.”

This year, the group will perform twice at Hill, with one performance tomorrow specifically geared at kids.

“This group is unique in that their concerts appeal to all ages,” Render said. “Kids love it and adults love it — it’s just really accessible. It’s not every concert that a five-year-old would be as rapt as a 90-year old.”

Through fast rhythms and beats, Kodo tells complex stories from every corner of Japan. But ultimately, it is through the simplicity of tradition that the group shares Japan with the world.

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