“Kaia!” is a piece of music written by composer Craig Naylor for wind ensemble and symphonic band that takes inspiration from martial arts and ancient Japanese musical traditions.
“Kiai is the vocal exclamation that martial artists do,” said Naylor, who is a fourth-level Aikido black belt and works as an adjunct music professor at Flathead Valley Community College, a band teacher at Trinity Lutheran School and as music director at Northridge Lutheran Church.
The piece was initially commissioned by an Aikido dojo to interpret those vocal exclamations into musical form, according to Naylor.
He entered the piece into a competition called The American Prize, which awards musicians in a number of professional and student-level categories. The composition has earned Naylor a spot among 10 national finalists in the composition category for band/wind ensemble in the professional division.
“This piece is unique,” Naylor said, noting that what sets it apart is the blend of ancient Japanese music forms and principles.
“The first one is gagaku, an ancient, traditional type of Japanese music,” Naylor said. This form of classical music was performed in the Japanese imperial court.
“The second is kotodama, which is chanting — very much like Tibetan chanting or meditative chanting. The last is taiko,” he said, which translates to “drums.”
These special drums hold special place in Japan’s history of warfare and religious ceremonies.
“It’s a really wonderful art form,” he said describing that drums may span 6 inches to 6 feet in diameter and drummers often use large movements in ensemble performances.
Naylor’s interest in Japan stems from his youth.
“It goes back to when I was 12 years old and we had a Japanese exchange student with us who was studying music at UCLA,” Naylor said, noting his family would often host international visitors.
Naylor described how the piece begins in his notes to conductors and musicians that accompany the composition: “The music begins timeless, seemingly without beat, and gradually coalesces, converging over many minutes in the traditional structure known as jo-ha-kyu. The music never resolves, constantly leading, constantly questioning.”
He goes on to describe where the composition’s namesake surfaces: “‘Kiai’ can be heard in the powerful punctuations on the second part of the composition. The clashing of sticks, used frequently in many martial arts — including Aikido, where one learns to disarm the attacker and take the stick away — can be heard often in the last part of the work.”
Naylor’s inspiration in composing the piece was not limited to martial arts; he endeavors to capture the resiliency of the Japanese spirit.
“Just as I sat down to work on it, the earthquake and tidal wave hit Japan, destroying Fukushima [Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant],” Naylor said, referring to the 2011 disaster. “I was really quite taken with the Japanese people and how they responded so courageously to this devastation.”
In particular, Naylor said he was struck by interviews done with a group of elderly retired engineers who volunteered to work in the contaminated nuclear power plant to contain the crisis.
“One of the most moving events was hearing of retired engineers that had volunteered to go into the damaged nuclear power plants to fix them. They offered their lives so that younger workers and engineers, many with young families, would not have to. They reasoned that a few years off their long and productive lives would be worth the sacrifice so younger families could thrive,” Naylor reflected in the composition’s accompanying notes. He concluded, “All these influences are combined in one work celebrating the resilient spirit of the Japanese and the hopes and aspirations for the future. Kiai!”
Listen to “Kaia!” at http://bit.ly/2oc3nqG. For more information about Naylor’s musical compositions visit http://www.swanriverpress.com.
Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.