The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Hidano Shuichi
Shuichi Hidano
Born in 1969, Hidano began percussion at the age of 10. His first encounter with traditional Japanese wadaiko drums was at the age of 18 and he trained with a wadaiko group Kodo. He began solo performance activities in 1989 and since then has given a total of over 1,300 performances in Japan and 16 foreign countries. He also performs often with jazz, rock and ethnic music groups and musicians. In 2005 he served as producer for government supported events at the Aichi Expo 2005. He has also worked on the development of wadaiko drums under an advisory contract with the U.S. percussion maker Remo.
Hidano Shuichi
an overview
Artist Interview Artist Interview
A fusion of Japanese drumming and Western musicThe world of Shuichi Hadano  
Drum performance using the traditional Japanese drums known as wadaiko is winning an international audience and overseas performance groups are even being formed in places like Europe and North America. Traditionally, the Japanese drums were not played as solo performance instruments. The drums were traditionally used only as accompaniment for prayer incantation at temples and shrines, or as percussion instruments in the ensembles that played for ceremonies or festival rites and the music for stage performances. It wasn’t until after World War II that these Japanese drums came to be played for the general public’s entertainment in the form of drum ensembles or in solo drum performance. Today, there are countless wadaiko performance groups, both amateur and professional, but there are extremely few professional wadaiko drum soloists. Among this rare breed, Shuichi Hidano is a popular solo performer who sometimes explores the possibilities of applying the methodologies of Western music to the Japanese drum tradition as he creates his own unique world of sound. At the same time he also works as a producer.
(Interview by Kazumi Narabe)

It has been 15 years now since you began solo performance and we understand that you are commemorating this with a nationwide tour.
I planned this tour as a way to sort of “reset” myself and to reconstruct my ideas about what kind of music I should pursue from now on. For each of the performances on this tour, I am taking into consideration the culture of each locality and the characteristics of the venue when deciding the pieces I will perform and their order. I wanted to make each of the performances on this tour different, so I planned 30 different programs. I always disliked the expression “drummer” (taiko-uchi) and I have referred to myself as a musician instead. A lot of my performances are collaborations with traditional folk musicians or jazz musicians and I think I have been looked upon as someone who has strayed from the traditional wadaiko world to try strange new things. But now, as I am doing this tour where I really get into the thick grit of my drum world, I feel that I have finally become a taiko-uchi for the first time. In the audiences at my performances are people who have come to hear me play rather than some other of the many musicians around. I came to the wadaiko from a different world and have continued to pursue originality in my work. So it is very encouraging for me that there are people like this who have come to recognize and appreciate my work.

You say that you came to wadaiko from another world. How exactly did you first come to it?
My parents loved classical music and I grew up in an environment where there was always music playing. I liked instruments that play the melody in music and when I joined the music club in elementary school I wanted to play either the recorder or the keyboard harmonica. But, so did most of the other kids, too. So, we had to decide by paper-scissors-stone who would do the other instruments. I ended up losing and getting assigned to play the one instrument no one else wanted to play, the bongos. The bongos are known as the most painful percussion instrument of all, because in essence you are hitting the drum with the bones of your fingers. That was my first painful experience with percussion (laughs). In junior high school I wanted to play the trumpet in the wind instrument band, but there were already too many in the trumpet section. The only openings were for the tuba and percussion. So, I felt a sinking feeling when they asked what I had played in elementary school (laughs). I was told, “Since you are big, percussion seems perfect for you.” So there I was in percussion again. My life has been decided by my inability to escape the percussion section (laughs).

It looks like percussion chose you (laughs). At what point did you begin to think you might like to be a performer?
I happened to start thinking about it in junior high. It was there that I learned about drums and started a band with some friends. In high school I discovered jazz and started playing drums and singing as the vocalist in a band. That happened to be at a time when an amateur band boom was just getting under way and everyone was working hard to get good at music. I encountered a lot of types of music at that time and worked to absorb as much as I could. I finally decided to try to become a performer when my parents asked me if I was interested in trying to get into a music college.

In order to get into a Japanese music college, you have to have specialized training in something like voice or piano, don’t you …
From my second year in high school I was getting out early to take private lessons in voice and percussion. I was told by the percussionist, Mr. Makoto Aruga, that I should study voice before I come to study under him. This is because he says that, “breath is the basis of all music.” Breathing in, breathing out, delivering the voice from deep in the stomach. This is the foundation to start all music study with. Different people have different breath lengths, and that is why people make music differently. If the breathing isn’t right the music will not have a pleasing sound. I learned how important the breath control acquired through voice training is in music. Wishing to know traditional Japanese music, I studied the naga-uta percussion from the age of 21 to 25. And, traditional Japanese music is no exception to the rule; the true master has complete control of his breathing.

How did you study the technique of percussion instrument performance?
I am one who moves the hands very quickly when performing, and this basic music training came from my study of classical music percussion. I first actually studied percussion under Mr. Aruga. And in my first lesson he suddenly started to strangle me with tremendous force in his hands. I instinctively pulled his hands off and pushed him back so hard that he fell over. He said to me, “That’s good. You looked like that you were so tense that you wouldn’t hear anything I was teaching you. I want you to come to each lesson with the feeling you had just now when you pushed me over.” And that was the end of that day’s lesson (laughs). He is the kind of teacher who will give you ten answers for every one question you ask and then say, “You choose.” I had been told by an upper classman that I may not always understand what Mr. Aruga is saying at the time, but I should write it down in a notebook because someday it will be useful. So, in the train on the way home from those esoteric lessons, I would try to remember everything he had said and write it down in my notebook. He was a tough teacher for a kid like me who had been into rock since the age of 17, but I believe now that he taught me the attitude to approach music with. What I remember best of the things he taught me was these words: “Because it is a percussion instrument, you must sing. It can be anything you want, but always have some melody in your head that you are singing. No matter what the situation, never let yourself just follow along on the score.” The ideals I am following now, like “follow your own mind and don’t let yourself be guided by the opinions of others,” or “whether you are a major or minor performer is something that time will decide,” or “do the kind of music that you can die feeling satisfied with,” these are all things that I learned back then with Mr. Aruga. After that, I studied percussion under Mr. Tomoyuki Okada. I feel very fortunate to have studied under such great teachers. Both Mr. Aruga and Mr. Okada were people who laid the foundations of Japanese percussion while doing very avant-garde things that just came naturally for them. Most of the things that we think of as new today are things that they were already doing in their day.
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