Website exclusive – interview with Shig Saito

Shig Saito has been a performing member of Hinode Taiko since 1996.

Shig Saito

What got you interested in playing taiko?
My youngest daughter, Laura, was participating in the kids group. We were bringing her to practice every Saturday morning. I’d always been interested in drums, and this, combined with a program on TV on Kodo, led me to enroll in a weekend workshop.

Your most important musical influences?
My musical tastes fall pretty much in the middle of the road with the likes of the Beatles and Yes, along with Canadian stars such as Tragically Hip and Kim Mitchell. Taiko influences would be Kodo and our own group members.

What was the hardest thing for you to learn as a member of HT?
Two things; playing consistently with the basic beat rather than speeding up or slowing down, and releasing one’s inhibitions to develop a performing style.

What was the biggest surprise for you, becoming a member of HT?
The number of people I can hug without getting slapped? OK, seriously, it was the amount of time invested in a show outside preparation of the show itself. This includes packing up the drums and equipment for transport to the show, unloading and setup at the venue, often hours before performance time, waiting around between the setup and performance, reloading the truck for transport back to our practice space at the Cultural Centre, and unloading and storing everything again.

Your peak taiko experience, to date?
I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in several memorable performances – our 15th anniversary and 20th anniversary concerts, Extasia in Japan, the 1st North American Taiko Conference performance, and the St. Louis Japanese Festivals [in 2003 and 2004]. But the most challenging and fulfilling experience for me was the production of our CD. It was a long process, full of ups and downs, mentally and physically challenging, but an accomplishment I’m proud to have been part of.

What do you enjoy most about playing with HT?
The camaraderie of the group and the responses of our audiences. The group spends a lot of time together leading up to a performance and it would be difficult if we didn’t get along. However, everyone blends so well together, we have a lot of fun during that time. The response we get from our audiences also makes it worth the time we put in. It’s exhilarating to see people visibly enjoying the group’s performance and talking to them about it afterwards. It makes you forget how tired you might be.

What makes the difference between your favourite and least-favourite gigs?
All performances are fun. The only thing that’ll make one less fun, is if I feel I haven’t performed as well as I think I should have.

What is the most important part of preparing for a performance, for you?
The most important part for me is confidence. I have to have confidence that I know the piece to perform it properly and in the way we want the piece to come across to the audience. In addition to physically practising the piece, I’ll go through it mentally before the performance to make sure I know my parts.

Your most important taiko influences?
They would be past and present members of our group, plus people or groups we’ve been fortunate enough to work with in person. Specifically, Yoshikazu Fujimoto and Kaoru Watanabe from Kodo, San Jose Taiko and Shoji Kameda from On Ensemble. They shared very different techniques and approaches to taiko.

What are you focusing on now, in your playing?
On the subtleties of the songs in our repertoire, and consistency in tempo.

Where do you see Hinode going in the next 5 years?
In the next 5 years, with collaborations with other performers such as Shoji Kameda from On Ensemble in LA, and Kaoru Watanabe of Kodo, I see the development of new repertoire for another CD.

What is your most important personal goal right now?
To learn new and existing repertoire and make a positive contribution to the group.

Favourite book you’ve read in the last year, and why?
The Bourne Legacy by Eric Van Lustbader. It had a lot of action and suspense. I thought it was far superior to the last Ludlum Bourne book.

What’s your favourite food?

When you’re not playing taiko, what do you do to relax?
Relax? What’s “relax”? No, really, I like exercising, running or reading good action books to unwind, and my wife Hazel plans great vacation trips abroad for me to look forward to.

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