Ryutaro Kaneko, Player, Musical Director

Born in downtown Tokyo in 1964 Ryutaro (Ryuta to friends) moved to the suburbs when still an infant. He remembers spending most of his time running about outside. Being an assertive child he was not very popular and often got into scraps. From start to finish school failed to inspire him. The saving grace came in grade four when he joined the concert band to learn the trumpet. Playing the horn and soccer were to remain his main interests throughout his school career, the highlight being his band's taking of the gold medal at a national competion.
His loyalty to the trumpet became divided however when a friend lent him a Led Zeppelin album. From this point on he was transfixed on drumming. He splurged and bought a set of Pearl drums, squeezing them into the tiny room he shared with his brother, leaving no space for him to sleep. After graduation he moved to his own apartment where even playing on his drum pad occasioned complaints from the neighbours thanks to the thin walls. This forced him to restrict his practicing to a tiny rental drum studio when he could afford it. Because of his meager wages at the large vegetable market to which he commuted in downtown Tokyo these occasions were rare.
He joined a rock band called 'Planet' and played semi-regular gigs at a live house in Shinjuku, after which he would be in bed at 1am and then be up at 4 for work. When he was 20 he saw a poster for Kodo so on a whim bought a ticket and sat at the very back of the theatre. He remembers being shocked by the intensity with which Kodo performed and that they seemed to create their own unique universe within the confines of the stage. He was also impressed with the quality of the sound of the drum sticks on cowhide heads and that the performance was complely acoustic. The sound seemed much more natural than that of plastic drum heads used in a western style kit.
That year he went to a Kodo summer school for a few days and later to another concert in Tokyo. At this his second concert he remembers thinking that unlike completely traditional groups, Kodo's approach to performing seemed to be still in ferment, which meant if he were to join there would be room for him to influence its direction. He resolved to join, but before doing so he met renowned solo taikoist Eitetsu Hayashi who was a founding member of the group. Ryutaro wanted the input of someone who had quit Kodo. Eitetsu told him that there was much he could learn from Kodo but warned that he must be sure not to submerge his identity to the group; advice which Ryutaro values to this day.
Ryutaro probably has the distinction of being the only member who found adapting to the early hours and long practice and training easier than his previous life. It was a beautiful early spring on the northern coast of Sado, he could eat three squares a day and drum all day long, day in day out. With the sea spreading out before him and the green mountains behind, he thought he'd gone to heaven. Most other players are more apt to reflect on their early days at Kodo as something closer to the other metaphysical extreme. He sensed a special power emanating from Sado which continues to stimulate and give him strength.
Apart from his work as a principal performer on stage he composes original work, including 3 pieces on Kodo's newest CD 'Ibuki' and for the 3rd time he will be artistic director for Earth Celebration '97. He also enjoys performing as an independent player with other musicians. He leads taiko workshops geared especially for teachers and people in the arts who are facing a 'block' in their creative energies. He shows them how to 'unravel', using the taiko to open up a path. He doesn't point out anything to them, but rather, in his words, 'How to throw away what they have and become natural.'

Drumming with the Renki Jushin Ho
Ryutaro Kaneko on his unique approach to drumming.
People remark on the speed with which I play taiko. This ability has less to do with velocity than it does with hitting the drum properly. Each single beat has to connect 'just so' in order to play really fast. My concern is not merely with playing the okedo-daiko quickly however; I want to play the large miyadaiko with greater authority too. This means not just eliciting the surface boom from the drum head, which is something any strong player can do, but making the body of the drum itself reverberate, to exploit the full potential of the sound that particular drum has to offer.
In 1995 I took a 3 month sabbatical to study Renki Jushin Ho under Mr. Meitoku Shimada. My sensei developed this technique based upon his experience with Tai Chi, Aikido and other martial arts.
To begin with you must be totally relaxed before you play. There are essentially two kinds of muscles in your body, those used in contraction and flexing (Popeye-type) and those for extension; the type that are developed in true marshal arts masters. Perhaps you have seen one of these diminuative old men turn a 'powerful' young man one third his age and three times his size inside out. People who develop these muscles have a very smooth, fluid movement and can scarcely feel their own muscles moving.
Though the drum is beaten with your muscles in extension, when going for volume most people use both groups of muscles. This is like putting the pedal to the floor in a car at the same time us pulling up on the emergency brake. Think of movement and strength separately. Strength isn't the power of muscles. You should use your body (muscles) to control gravity; in the case of drumming for instance, the gravity that pulls the drum stick towards the drum head. The strength of gravity is power. My drumming has been affected profoundly in that I am now more relaxed, don't tire as I used to and yet I play with much more power. I feel the sticks penetrating into the core of the drum.