Website exclusive – interview with Margaret McKenty

Margaret McKenty Margaret McKenty has been a performing member of Hinode Taiko since 1990 and currently serves on the Board of Hinode Taiko as communications director.

What are your most important musical influences?
I’m never sure how to answer that. If you mean, what have I studied formally, I’d have to say the core Western classical repertoire – Bach, Beethoven, etc. – the stuff every piano student gets. I discovered early music in my late teens – by which I mean the revival of pre-classical musical repertoire and performance traditions in Europe, which go back about 600 years before Bach – and I fell in love with that. That’s where most of my non-taiko performing experience is. I’ve been listening to more jazz and pop and folk and world music over the years, so that’s part of the mix too. The only music that doesn’t influence you is music you’ve never heard.

What was the biggest surprise for you, becoming a member of HT?
How friendly people were, how much laughter there is, and the sheer amount of behind-the-scenes work it takes to get a handful of taiko drummers onstage to play somewhere. Most bands don’t have to build their instruments from scratch, most orchestras don’t have to train their players before they recruit them into the organization, and most dancers don’t have to carry anything heavier than their costumes when they’re setting up for a show. Hinode is lucky in having terrific support from all kinds of folks who don’t appear in our performances, but we’re still way more hands-on than any other kind of performing ensemble I know of.

Peak taiko experience, to date?
Extasia ‘99 was incredible, and also incredibly funny. Waiting to go on, kneeling for what felt like hours listening to Sheila muttering curses behind me…. I’m hoping I don’t get a cinder in my eye or my hair set on fire from this charcoal brazier beside us, and that the dancers coming offstage don’t trample us, and that we’ll be able to hear our cue, and that when we’re climbing up the ladder to the stage with these drums the size of microwave ovens strapped to our chests I won’t topple off and land headfirst in a sand dune. And then when it all worked, and we could hear this audience of 8000 Japanese taiko fans cheering for drummers from Winnipeg, Canada – that was amazing.

What’s the most important part of preparing for a performance, for you?
Being in shape, having solid technique, knowing your part, understanding how your part adds to the overall shape and flow of the piece, and being able to “sell” the piece to the audience so they can relax and enjoy it with you… those are all essential. There are always things you can’t control in a performance – the audience, the weather (if you’re outdoors), the load-in and drum set-up, the acoustics of the place – so it’s crucial to control what you can. The goal is, don’t rehearse until you get it right, rehearse until you can’t get it wrong.

What are you focusing on now, in your playing?
Technique. Symmetry. Power. Relaxation. Translating more of my musical values into playing taiko.

Most important personal goal right now?
I’m hoping to train and stay injury-free for the half-marathon this June. The idea of running that distance combined with our usual drum-a-thon at the Marathon finish line is pretty challenging. I’ve done the full marathon and drummed at the finish line afterwards, a couple of times, but we only played for an hour or so after I finished, so it wasn’t as tiring.

Books on your night table?
None, actually, I don’t read in bed. I’m in the middle of Simon Winchester’s The Meaning of Everything, about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary, right now – it’s about these incredibly learned but daft Victorians attempting the impossible, and it’s a hoot. That’s on the coffee table.

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