Website exclusive – interview with Pamela Okano
Artistic director Pamela Okano has been a performing member of Hinode Taiko since 1983.
What got you interested in playing taiko?
I was introduced to taiko through Folklorama. Vancouver’s Katari Taiko was performing for the Japan Pavilion and when I first experienced their show, I was mesmerised. Soon after their performance, the local Japanese Canadian community offered a beginner workshop. I registered but was unable to attend. After a year, my cousin Florence invited me back for a session with the newly formed Hinode Taiko. I haven’t left….
What was the hardest thing for you to learn as a member of HT?
I distinctly remember the first time I had to kiai during a practice. It was one of the hardest things to do, since I was always told to not yell as a child. It took quite a bit of psychological preparation and musical timing to give a meaningful yell without losing my place in the song. It was a wonderful feeling of release but I think I surprised everyone with the volume!
What’s been your peak taiko experience, to date?
Members of Hinode Taiko have been fortunate in having a whirlwind of one-of-a-kind experiences. The most memorable for me was our first invitation to perform at the Taiko Jam concert in Los Angeles, in 1997. It was a huge honour to be asked to play – only five groups were, from all across North America – and we were the only Canadians. I’ve never been so nervous in my life. However, our set received huge applause, and our reputation as taiko innovators was sealed from that moment on.
What makes the difference between your favourite and least-favourite gigs?
Gigs can be amazingly different, even if all the variables appear to be the same. As a musician, I always savour the gigs where the players are in “the groove”… communication becomes non-verbal, and we can almost read each other’s minds. Audience response is key to what makes a great gig, as well. I could be playing for 5 people, or 500, but it’s always the audiences who express their joy through tapping their toes, nodding their heads, clapping to the beat, and yelling along with us that take the performance to the next level.
What are you focusing on now, in your playing?
As any musician can attest, technique is always a focus for improvement. The longer I play taiko, the more I realize how much I don’t know and/or need to improve! The balance between getting the most precise hit, and the best sound, with the most efficient stroke, is something that a taiko player can spend a lifetime working on.
What is your most important personal goal right now?
Being performance-ready is always a challenge for me and provides my most important personal goal. Personal fitness, especially cardiovascular fitness, is the base for each taiko player and provides the anchor for a player’s stamina on stage. I’m always balancing the need for physical fitness and technical readiness.
It’s safe to say that food in general is my favourite! All taiko players love food! My least favourite foods, as Hinode members are well aware, are peas (specifically, peas in rice) and halvah. If I lived on a diet of peas and halvah, I’d be thinner than Margaret!
When you’re not playing taiko, what do you do to relax?
I made the return to pet ownership last year when I adopted a chocolate Labrador puppy named Ruby. I’m not sure how relaxing it is playing with a dog as energetic as she is, but we do love spending time outside! It’s a great way to meet the neighbours and enjoy the fresh air.