For 20 years Ian Cleworth travelled the world as principal percussionist with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Then he discovered taiko. He moved to Japan to learn the craft and formed Taikoz, Australia's own taiko drumming ensemble.
Their latest production, The Beauty of 8, is being performed at Newcastle's Civic Theatre on July 26.
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The Beauty of 8 refers to the mesmerising shapes and movements that are synonymous with the flamboyant yokouchi (side-on) style of taiko playing. Joining Taikoz for The Beauty of 8 is Chieko Kojima who is a Distinguished Member of KODO, one of the world's leading taiko ensembles, and shakuhachi Grand Master Riley Lee.
Cleworth, now Taikoz's artistic director, took five with Weekender.
1. What is taiko?
Taiko is the Japanese word for drum. There are many different types of taiko, large and small, high-pitched and low. Taiko also refers to the wider art form of drumming and its history in Japan can be traced back centuries. Essentially, it's the festival drumming that is at the root of modern taiko.
2. What was your role in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra?
As the principal percussionist I was responsible for organising who plays what. All the players have to cover everything from the snare drum to the triangle, cymbals, xylophone, castanets, tambourine and many more besides. In modern music scores, we could sometimes play over 25 different instruments. It was the hardest decision of my life to leave after 20 years to pursue my dream of creating Taikoz.
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3. What drew you to Japan to study taiko?
My uncle and aunty were living in Tokyo in the 1980s and they told me about this amazing drumming tradition in Japan. Over the years, I have had the benefit of studying and playing with some of the finest masters of the art form and all of them have encouraged me to find my own voice, which over time has found expression in my work with Taikoz.
4. How did Taikoz come about?
My friend and colleague, shakuhachi legend Riley Lee, suggested we form a taiko group here in Australia. I didn't think it could be done because taiko is so "Japanese" but Riley, who was the first non-Japanese to achieve the official title Dai-Shihan (Grand Master) of the shakuhachi, insisted we could create something really original here that reflected who we are as contemporary Australian musicians. So in 1997, the adventure began ... and here we still are.
5. What can audiences expect at a Taikoz performance?
Amazing instruments, dramatic movement and super energetic dance, theatricality, sweat, fire and passion, stillness, intimacy and meditative spirit, and of course, great music.