A JAPANESE FESTIVAL IN ATLANTA:
Drumming Up Support for the Nagano Games
JULY 23, 1996
It is not just the athletes who are feverishly making last-minute preparations for the Centennial Olympic Games, to be held in Atlanta from July 19. Members of a drumming troupe and traditional chamber music ensemble from Nagano, who have been invited to participate in Atlanta's Cultural Olympiad, are also busy getting ready for the big stage.
The Olympic Charter stipulates the holding of an official program of cultural events in addition to the sports program. The Cultural Olympiad for the Atlanta Games, featuring concerts, art exhibits, theatrical performances, and other events, began ahead of the Games on July 1 and will continue through August 3 around various Olympic venues.
Tokyo Ondo Echoing in the Atlanta Air
The performances of traditional Japanese music were organized with the aim of publicizing the next Olympic Winter Games, to be held in Nagano in February 1998. They are being sponsored by the steering committee of the Nagano Olympic Atlanta Campaign comprising the Japanese Olympic Committee, Organizing Committee for the XVIII Olympic Winter Games, Nagano 1998 (NAOC), Nagano Prefecture, and Nagano City.
The performers are not full-time professional musicians; they are salaried workers and homemakers who live in Nagano Prefecture and who were chosen to travel to Atlanta for the performances. There are 15 drummers, 3 "shakuhachi" (end-blown bamboo flute) players, and 7 "koto" (Japanese zither) performers in the entourage.
Because the music program will foster the spirit of the Olympic Movement--promoting friendship between two Olympic host cities and helping introduce Japanese culture to a global audience--it was entered in the official program of Cultural Olympiad events.
On July 26 the performers will showcase their skills on a giant, 52-meter-wide stage in Centennial Olympic Park in central Atlanta. The images of the drumming troupe, including a huge drum with a 1-meter radius, will be shown on the giant Astrovision screen and broadcast live over cable television.
The powerful beating of the drums and the elegant strains of the chamber music ensemble will be heard throughout the 9-hectare park over its public-address system.
The show's finale, a rousing rendition of "Tokyo Ondo," will not only feature the drummers and the chamber musicians but also the Snowlets, the mascots of the Nagano Games, recreating all the energy and excitement of a Japanese midsummer festival in the American South.
On the day before this performance for the general public, another show will be held for Olympic athletes and officials in the Olympic Village.
Braving the Heat
The biggest worry for the performers, as well as for the athletes is the ravaging heat of Atlanta. Performing outdoors, where there is no air conditioning, dictates dressing lightly. The shakuhachi and koto players maintain, however, that they hope to appear in formal kimono to fulfill their role as goodwill cultural ambassadors from Japan.
Mingling with the Locals
Japanese drumming groups have received much acclaim overseas and have participated in many events promoting grass-roots exchange. Particularly in the United States, moreover, drummers have been invited to jam with top-level professionals, who are attracted to the dynamic energy and deep resonance of the drums.
In Missouri, which has sisterhood affiliations with Nagano Prefecture, performances by drummers from Suwa, Nagano, have been held each year at a Japanese garden in St. Louis. The current trip by the musicians will thus include a stopover in St. Louis for performances on July 22 and 23.
The musicians will stroll through a shopping mall, performing on small, waist-held drums dressed in "happi" coats. And they will also be performing prior to a Major League baseball game outside the main gate of the stadium.