CALL OF SACRED DRUMS
for taiko-ensemble and symphony orchestra
Einfach war es für den estnischen Komponisten Peeter Vähi nicht, ein Konzert für japanische Ulmenholztrommeln (Taikos) und klassisches Symphonieorchester zu schreiben. Zwar hatte er bereits japanisch-inspirierte Werke komponiert (ua “A Chant of Bamboo” für Shinobue-Flöte und Kammerorchester oder die Kantate “Chrysanthemum Garden Chant”), der Kompositionsauftrag des Musik-Festivals Grafenegg stellte ihn aber vor besondere Herausforderungen. (Daniela Tomasovsky, 2008, Austria)
Das mit Spannung erwartete Ergebnis nennt sich “Call of Sacred Drums” und kombiniert eines Klassisches Sinfonieorchester mit so genannten japanischen Taiko-Trommeln, also Ulmenholztrommeln. Und getrommelt wurde bei der Uraufführung wirklich perfekt. (MMO, 01.09.08, Austria)
Title: Call of Sacred Drums
Author: Peeter Vähi
Dedicated to: Sherab Dölma
Original score: 64 pages (A3)
Duration: ca 30 min
Commissioned by: Grafenegg Festival and Vienna Tonkünstler Symphony Orchestra
Première: Aug 28th, 2008, Grafenegg Festival, Austria
Published by: Estonian Record Productions (ERP)
First performers: Hayashi Eitetsu Taiko Ensemble, Tonkünstler Symphony Orchestra, conductor Kristjan Järvi
Taiko-ensemble: 2 shime-daikos, 2 nagado-daikos, 2 hira-daikos, 2 okedo-daikos, ōdaiko, 5 chappas, 3 atariganes, rin, vocals
Orchestra: flute piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets in B-flat, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, double bassoon, 4 French horns in F, 3 trumpets in C, 3 trombones, tuba, kettle-drums (4), tubular bell in A, triangle, tam-tam, thunder sheet, hand-claps, celesta, harp, 1st violins, 2nd violins, violas, cellos, double basses
Download: a fragment of the score (pages 37–46, A3, pdf, 2.8 MB)
Call of Sacred Drums, audio, fragm I, 2 min 59 sec, live rec, mp3
Call of Sacred Drums, audio, fragm II, 3 min 59 sec, live rec, mp3
Taiko (太鼓) means ‘drum’ in Japanese. Outside Japan, the word is often used to refer to any of the various Japanese drums and to the relatively recent art-form of ensemble taiko drumming. Taiko drums have been developed into a wide range of percussion instruments that are used in Japanese folk, ritual and classical musical traditions.
Taiko, in general, are stick percussion instruments. With the exception of the kotsuzumi and ootsuzumi, all taiko are struck with bachi. They have heads on both sides of the drum body, and a sealed resonating cavity. Taiko are also characterized by a high amount of tension on the drums heads, with a correspondingly high pitch relative to body size. This high tension likely developed in response to Japan’s wet and humid summers when most festivals take place. Many taiko are not tunable, and a drum with high head tension would counteract the slacking effects of humidity.
Taiko are categorized into 2 types of construction. Byou-uchi daiko (鋲撃ち太鼓) have heads nailed to the body. Tsukushime-daiko (付締 め太鼓) have heads sewn onto iron rings, which are then laced to each other around the drum body. Byou-uchi daiko are typically hollowed out of a single piece of wood. The preferred wood is keyaki (欅) due to its density and beautiful grain, but a number of other woods are used. Byou-uchi daiko cannot be tuned, and their sizes are limited by the diameter of the tree they are made from. The typical byou-uchi daiko is the nagado-daiko (長胴太鼓, long-body taiko). Nakado-daikos are available in a variety of sizes, from 12 to 36 inches (head diameter). Nagado-daikos over 36 inches are also available, but they are referred to as ōdaiko (大太鼓, ‘great drum’). The largest ōdaikos (with a length of 2.4 m, a maximum diameter of 2.4 m, a weight of 3 tons, made out of a single piece of wood from a 1200 year old tree) are too big to move and permanently reside inside a temple or shrine. Tsukeshime-daiko are available in a wide variety of styles, and are tunable. This style of taiko is typically tensioned before each performance. The tensioning system is usually rope, but bolt systems and turnbuckles have been used as well. Tsukeshime-daiko can either have stitched heads placed on bodies carved from single piece of wood, such as the shime-daiko and tsuzumi, or stitched heads placed on a stave-construction body such as the okedo-daiko.
Interview with composer
The commission to compose a work for ensemble of taiko-drums and symphony orchestra came as a kind of logical sequence to my previous works on the Japanese theme (A Chant of Bamboo, Chrysanthemum Garden Chant) at the same time giving me the possibility to express more “heavy” thoughts thanks to the unique powerful staff.
To the question “what would the composer like to say with this work?” there is only one true answer – it is all in the score. In these rare cases when the verbal form has suited better for expressing an idea, I have written an article or a book, not a piano sonata. In order to express best the idea of “Taiko-Call” the orchestral form was more suitable than an essay.
By their method of creation composer can generally be divided into two categories: the ones that determine the general form and structure of the work (4 movements: first Allegro in F major, second movement… etc) before starting to put down the notation; and the ones that just sit down and intuitively write the notes as if receiving them from “Above”, their form principles usually not being so strict. I certainly belong to the latter and thus, like most of my works from the recent years, also Call of Sacred Drums cannot be strictly categorized under classical divisions like fugue, rondo or variations. With certain reservations it could maybe called concerto for taiko-drums and symphony orchestra.
To write music for instruments from so far-away culture was not an easy task for me as a composer. Though as the artistic director of Eastern Music Festival Orient I have had relatively close contact with two Japanese percussion ensembles – O-Suwa Taiko and Kodō, only recently the Japanese drum world was not really my greatest expertise. I had to start from learning the different possibilities, playing techniques and sound nuances of those mentally and physically great instruments. In order not to keep the acquaintance on purely theoretical level I purchased a set of two nagado-daikos.
In the course of composition I had to solve the problem how two musical staffs of so different traditions can synchronize themselves under the conductor’s baton. Which percussion instruments to choose (beside artistic considerations there are also more practical issues like the air-transport of taikos and door sizes of concert and rehearsal halls). Finally it came to be the following staff: drums (2 shime-daikos, 2 nagado-daikos, 2 hira-daikos, 2 okedo-daikos, a huge ōdaiko, 5 sets of hand-cymbals (chappas), 3 gongs (atariganes), and a bell (rin).
Obviously, I was afraid about the first rehearsal, Kristjan Järvi is probably the best conductor for such work both for his musical creativity and also for our long-time mutual understanding.
I have used a few somewhat different notations in the score, e.g. denoting rubbing of hand-cymbals against each other or playing on the drum-rim, etc, but generally, it is still the western art of notation in this score. First and foremost for the simple reason that Hayashi Eitetsu and his ensemble know the system, and second, using a different system in the score together with symphony orchestra would create unnecessary confusion.
Asian or European?
I have decided not to start imitating Japanese style in this work. At the same time having worked with different aspects, styles and staffs of Asian music for such and extended period, it has got into my blood and is probably more characteristic of me by now than my Fenno-Ugric roots. It has happened more than once that critics have “discovered” Asian, Buddhist or Japanese traits in my works where I have not intended them to be nor am aware of their presence. So it is highly probable that the Japanese performers, Japanese drums and finally the long-time Asian influence in my musical handwriting make even so Western staff like symphony orchestra sound Japanese.
It is a well-known fact that drums in Japan have through centuries been used in folk music, in military practice for encouraging soldiers, in royal court music, in so-called gagaku-music, in Shinto and Buddhist rituals as well as at modern concert halls, Olympic Games and TV-shows, etc. For quite some time I could not determine the exact role of those taikos in my future work. Then, before starting the actual writing of the score, I was on a 3-months long expedition along the Great Silk Route travelling through China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Syria and Turkey. Namely there, on the endless desert and mountain roads, I had time to think and ponder… and then came the title Call of Sacred Drums that above all refers to the use of taikos in the religious rituals.
Download an overview by Andreas Prescher (Kumano Taiko Dôjô) in German language (PDF, 1.5 MB)
Mit Trommeln jeder Größe und jeder Form, mit Holzblöcken, Becken, Gongs und Glöckchen bedient Peeter Vähi aus Estland in “Call of Sacred Drums” für Taiko-Ensemble und Sinfonieorchester eine ungewöhnliche Kompositionsidee. Das war ein wohl organisiertes Getöse von Riesenschlägeln und kleinen Stäbchen auf gespanntem Fell, ein Gezirpe von kleinen Metallgongs und kühn behandelter menschlicher Stimme − Musik mehr fürs Auge als fürs Ohr, der bis auf den anrührenden Schluss die musikalisch-musikantische Seele fehlte. Perfekter und differenzierter Rhythmus trieb dem verblüfften Zuhörer Schauer über den Rücken… (Hans-Jürgen Thiers, Thüringer Allgemeine, 30.09.12, Germany, whole article)
“Call of Sacred Drums” /…/ beschwor mit der ganzen Gewalt der Gegenwart einen halben Kontinent. /…/ Gemeinsam mit den traditionellen, japanischen Trommeln, die in der Musik zum fernöstlichen Symbol schlechthin geworden sind, kamen insgesamt 18 percussionsinstrumente zum Klingen. Erstaunlich irgendwie, dass ausgerechnet das jüngste Werk so sehr den Nerv des nicht eben jugendlichen Publikums traf. Es lag wohl nicht nur an der unbändigen Kraft der fünf japanischen Musiker und ihrem ganzkörperlichen Musizieren… Es war das Zusammenspiel mit einem klassischen westlichen Sinfonieorchester, das faszinierte − weil sich alles trotz gegensätzlicher Tradition und Musiksprache doch bruchlos zusammenfügte. (Julia Lucas, Südthüringer Zeitung, 01.10.12, Germany, whole article)
List of other works by Peeter Vähi
Mary Magdalene Gospel
In the Mystical Land of Kaydara
Discography of Peeter Vähi
Press resonance about the composer