Mind, Body and Taiko

Large Drum at International Taiko Festival

Performer in traditional garb attacks large drum during festival finale.

This past week I had the pleasure of experiencing Taiko, the ancient Japanese art of drumming, at the 2011 International Taiko Festival performed at Zellerbach Hall at UC Berkeley. A coworker of mine is an assistant teacher at the world famous San Francisco Taiko Dojo under Grand Master Seiichi Tanaka. The San Francisco Taiko Dojo was the first of its kind in the United States, founded by Grand Master Tanaka in 1968 and over the past 40 years has gained worldwide attention by introducing Taiko to the West and helping to bring about a renaissance of this ancient Japanese art all over the world.

When my friend first told me she did drumming, I thought, “oh, yeah, that’s cool drumming!” and I had a picture in my head of her sitting behind some bongo-like instrument, drumming. But after she would talk about the intensity of her warm-ups and how she would have to learn all of these dance moves to go with the drumming, I began to think, “wait a minute, what kind of ‘drumming’ is this?”

I had no clue what to expect from the performance, but I was absolutely blown away. The show opened with the entire San Francisco Taiko Dojo on stage, about 40 students, including Grand Master Tanaka, each with their own drum, pounding and jumping and moving, making sounds, not only with the sticks to hit the drum, but with their whole body. As a member in the audience it was both overwhelming and invigorating.

The show was about 2 hours long and featured drummers from around the world including a very famous group lead by world-famous—and considered the rock-star of Taiko—Hiro Hayashida. The show included many styles of Taiko, as well as singing, dancing and other instruments such as the Shakuhachi (Japanese flute) and Koto.

Grand Master Tanaka believes that it is “very important that Taiko not be exclusive.” And has an open school that offers classes to both children and adults. When the performance was over, my body was left vibrating from the sound and I couldn’t stop smiling. I had never seen anything like this before and it was so irresistible I think I might take a class when their next session starts in May. For more information on this wonderful art and to experience the Taiko for yourself, please visit the San Francisco Taiko Dojo website here.

Grand Master Seiichi Tanaka performs his original composition, Tsunami, on one-ton O-Daiko drum

San Francisco Taiko Dojo performs on a variety of instruments during festival.

Grand Master Seiichi Tanaka performs on the O-Daiko drum. Standing at 12 feet tall it is the largest drum in this hemisphere and valued at $500,000.

Hiro Hayashida plays katsugi oke daiko, a unique shouldering taiko. Hayashida is a pioneer player of the instrument as well as composer of original Taiko music and brings his unique vision of Taiko to performances around the world.

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