Website exclusive – interview with Kevin Utsunomiya

Kevin Utsunomiya has been a performing member of Hinode Taiko for 10 years and currently serves on the Board of Hinode Taiko as President.

Kevin Utsunomiya

What got you interested in playing taiko?
My sister Sandi had been with the group for about 2 years and was performing at Folklorama in 1993. I was very impressed with the performance, and that it was very visual and musical. But it was the sound that made the biggest impression; you don’t just hear taiko, you feel it. At the performance they announced that they were holding workshops in the fall for those that wanted to try taiko. I tried it and loved the fusion of music, movement, and exercise.

What are your most important musical influences?
Before I got into taiko, I played the guitar and was a guitar teacher – my minor in university was in music. My taste in music is quite diverse, from Metallica, to Igor Stravinsky and Pachelbel, to Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Miles Davis, to Elton John and The Tragically Hip. As a guitarist, my influences have been Rush, Yes, King Crimson, Steve Vai, Frank Zappa and Joe Satriani.

What’s been your peak taiko experience, to date?
We were the first Canadian taiko group to play at the Taiko Jam Concert at the 1997 North American Taiko Conference. I was very nervous and anxious about playing in front of an audience of taiko players, people who drum and know taiko. It was a great experience to play in a show with, and for, these great taiko artists.

What do you enjoy most about playing with HT?
Other than having a pastime where you can hit something really hard with a really big stick, it’s the group and being part of the community. Hinode Taiko practises at the Manitoba Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, and the group is very involved in activities within the Japanese community.

Your most important taiko influences?
When I first started learning taiko, we had a workshop with Gary Kiyoshi Nagata. He had apprenticed with KODO and was the first person born outside Japan ever asked to join KODO, although he ultimately decided to come back to Canada. It impressed me that someone would take on something where it consumed their whole life, 24 hours a day, for a whole year. We also had a number of workshops with Yoshikazu Fujimoto of KODO, who has been a major influence. Yoshikazu is one of the founding (original) members of KODO. He has taught our group basic form, playing Odaiko, and has taught us traditional songs, dances, and taiko from Japan.

What’s your most important personal goal right now?
I want to continue to grow as a taiko performer. I collaborated with 3 other HT members on a song on our CD. I’d like to someday to write my own taiko piece.

What about leisure activities – favourite book you’ve read in the last year, latest movie you’ve seen?
I read Memoirs of a Geisha and saw the movie. And liked both. I’ve also just finished Play Poker Like the Pros by Phil Hellmuth. I also enjoy cooking, and my wife and I like to try out different cuisines (eating and cooking) – Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, and Japanese are my favourites.

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