Drums of the Moment

Contributed by Matthew Dubroff

Matthew Dubroff playing otsuzumi

For this  summer’s Noh Training Project (NTP) performance of Atsumori, I began preparing one year in advance to play the kotsuzumi (small shoulder drum).  I practiced the last half of the play under the guidance of Oshima Kinue at the 2011 NTP and during the year I did as much as I could to ready myself.  Nevertheless, the three week summer intensive rehearsals proved to be daunting and, ultimately, rewarding.

The bulk of my efforts focused on maintaining what I had learned of Atsumori (the kuse-otokomai-kiri sections) and memorizing the text.  With what I knew of the drum patterns it proved challenging as I could either sing and keep the rhythm on the drum or imagine the singing and do the kakegoe (drum calls) and the hits.  Either way was helpful, but I knew that when the rehearsals started things would go differently as the singing would be controlled by the chorus and the main actors.  Memorizing the entire utaibon (text and musical notes) of Atsumori was a fairly straightforward and extended process of line-by-line and melody-by-melody memorization.  Again, once rehearsals began, I knew that the rhythmic changes of the drum patterns would alter everything.

With kotsuzumi

The first week in Bloomsburg was devoted to clarifying the drum patterns for the rest of the play.  Drum teacher, James Ferner worked with me through the patterns needed to get me on track for the whole performance.  The second week was devoted to coordinating with David Crandall, our ôkawa (large hip drum) player, Richard Emmert, our nohkan (noh flute) player, and to memorizing what I had learned in week one.  The final week was an attempt to consolidate all of my work and combine it with the chorus, lead by Oshima Kinue, and main actors, Jubilith Moore, Kevin Salfen, David Surtasky and Gary Mathews.  Ideally, I worked towards playing the proper patterns, having my kakegoe be properly voiced, and, ultimately, creating the proper emotional atmosphere as the play’s story unfolded.

On the Saturday night of our takigi performance, the torches were lit and we began.  As each kakegoe and strike of the drum occurred, I let go of whether or not I was too fast or slow, loud or soft, but, rather, I focused on the emotional impact of each sequence of performance.  As I attempted to bring each moment of the story alive I did not have a chance to dwell on any of my successes or miss-steps.  At every instant, my year of preparation and effort culminated in each hit and kakegoe.  From my perspective, the show went very well with the smoke from the torches periodically wafting across the stage creating a truly magical experience.  Finally, I felt that my year’s efforts paid off in the quality of work that made for a thoroughly enjoyable performance.


About Theatre Nohgaku

Noh, one of the oldest continuing stage arts, combines highly stylized dance, chant, music, mask and costume with intense inner concentration and physical discipline, creating a uniquely powerful theatrical experience. Theatre Nohgaku’s mission is to share noh’s beauty and power with English speaking audiences and performers. We have found that this traditional form retains its dramatic effectiveness in languages other than Japanese. We believe noh techniques hold a powerful means of expression in the context of contemporary English language theatre.
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