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Taiko Drumming: A Cultural Japanese Art Form

Kevin Lucas • April 2021FeaturesGoodVibes • April 6, 2021

Last year I had the pleasure of watching a rehearsal of a taiko drum ensemble in Madison, WI. It was very interesting the way they communicated. It was obviously not a traditional “Western” style of ensemble drumming, which was a breath of fresh air. They had no sheet music, and everything was based on ear and communication. I watched them after I borrowed the drums for my ‘Land of Confusion’’ video. I was very humbled to learn how little I actually knew about this Japanese drumming style, and how aggressively they actually strike the drums compared to my ‘cautious’ approach to them! I interviewed the leader of Madison Japanese Taiko Drumming Group BENI Daiko.

Can you tell us your name and brief background and how you got into taiko drumming?

Junko Yamauchi is my name and I had taiko drumming in the community that performed at festivals when I was growing up in Japan.

Explain to me exactly the program you run for taiko in Madison WI and how many people have been involved in your group?

Our group is community based people who are interested in learning taiko and being part of our group. and about 25 people have been involved and now we have 15 active members.

What is the meaning and purpose of taiko drumming and how does it relate to Japanese culture?

I think taiko has always been related to Japanese culture. such as festivals, sending off fishermen, and celebrations of harvesting.

I noticed warmups in your class with a lot of communication and prompts. Can you explain how this works?

I think “prompts” bring positive energy and connect members together and bring them a sense of spiritual unity as they become “one” with the ensemble

I also noticed different members taking turns setting new rhythms for the group to follow. And others take turns improvising over the beat of the entire group. How does this work?

There are rhythms set by the groups the are repetitive and go through cycles. As these rhythms happen, different members of the group will solo and improvise over the groove. Sometimes the “Shime Taiko” is used for groove improvising, which is the highest drum. Other times, the lowest drum is used for this purpose. It is called the “Ji” drum, which is the bass.

What particular types of taiko drums does your class use in terms of size and any other interesting characteristics about them?

We use mostly chu daiko 18 x 22 inch, 24 x 28 inch, shime 14 x10 inch, and two eisa taikos, which makes a very big sound. I heard that it is similar to your mother’s heartbeat you heard from when before you were born, giving a feeling of returning to the beginning of the lifecycle and innocence.

What types of sticks does your class use? I noticed the weight distribution and shape for taiko drum sticks is very different than regular drum sticks. I noticed that it was more difficult for me to play with them because they didn’t have the same weight distribution as the sticks most drummers use. I really had to use a lot of muscle when playing because I had very little rebound to rely on.

The sticks are called bachi to make a bigger sound, we use bigger sticks than American drumming. https://taiko-shop.com/blogs/learn/types-material-of-bachi-sticks

What is the goal of taiko drumming? Is its purpose spiritual, cultural, musical, social, or all of the above?

Our goal is to teach and give experience of traditional Japanese culture for everyone!

It is musical expression that combines mental discipline and physical demand through taiko drumming. And yes, I think the purpose is everything you mentioned plus having fun! https://m.facebook.com/madisonjapanesetaikobenidaiko

In 2016, The Huffington Post called Kevin Lucas “the most talented percussionist since Lionel Hampton, Ginger Baker and Tito Puente”. He has been nominated for 38 music industry awards for his Echoes in the Sand album, and he won the 2016 American Songwriting Awards. Kevin performed with the Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps from 1992-1994 and won the DCI Midwest Individuals in 1994 for keyboard percussion. He placed second in the United States for concert hall percussion at the Music Teachers National Association collegiate competition in 1997.

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