This fall I have been taking Taiko drumming lessons from Mark H. Rooney. Mark organized a series of Taiko performances, including one in Maryland, because his dearest Taiko teacher, Ryo Shimamoto, was visiting from Japan.
Seeing Taiko performed by four passionate and talented musicians up close was a thrill. When you have learned the basics, it helps you to better appreciate the complexity of what they do.
Taiko Performer Ryo Shimamoto
The show was called “Return of the Dragon” because Ryo means dragon in Japanese. Ryo visited last year as well, so this tour was his return.
Ryo won first place at the World Wadaiko Solo Drumming Contest. It takes your breath away to watch him play. I managed to take only a blurry video, but at least you can listen to it and get a flavor for his speed and precision:
You can also view his award-winning solo performance on Youtube, which he also gave in person at the show. His upper body was like a machine playing this piece!
Kizuna – Washington DC-based Taiko performance group
My instructor Mark is part of a local Taiko performing trio named Kizuna which includes his wife Kristin Koyama and friend Paul Bodnar. This video shows the lovely chemistry within the group, how happy they look playing together. They are playing a piece called “Capillary Action” composed by Paul. It is inspired by the powerful force that drives water up from the roots to the tree tops, a concept that I thought was brilliant inspiration for anything in life!
One of my favorite moments in the show was a piece called Waiting for Spring or Senryu. Kristin Koyama, one of the performers, composed the piece with Mark in honor of her grandmother. Her grandmother Miyoko Koyama wrote a book of haiku poetry. They showed slides of Miyoko’s time in the Japanese internment camps during World War II, along with photos from throughout her life, interspersed with her poems and with a Taiko performance at the same time. My favorite move was when they hit the drum with one hand and swing out their other hand, so it looks like the act of hitting the air is actually making the sound.
I’m sorry I did not get video of that act, but I just wanted to be in the moment and I also felt kind of reverent, like I should not video tape it.
My second favorite moment was when Mark and Ryo improvised and played off each other. We heard from Mark later that this was a strange concept for Ryo, who was not entirely comfortable with the idea of not rehearsing the act. But he and Mark are so close, he gave it a try. The audience really enjoyed this exchange because we know our instructor Mark can be very light-hearted and foolish even when teaching us serious things, so this act embodies his joyful approach to Taiko.
In recent years, I have tried to be more mindful about following my heart. The moment that I thought about studying Taiko this summer, I knew it was just the perfect thing for me right now. I’m so glad that I found such a talented Taiko teacher who also reminds me by his very being to be in love with life. I felt honored to be in the circle of that audience. It felt like being a guest in a pocket of joy.
When I hit a Taiko drum, it feels like I am creating heartbeat in my life. When Mark notes that my left arm is not hitting that drum at full speed, that I am pulling back at the last moment, it is a reminder that I am pulling back at the last moment in other ways too. When he asks me to imagine the drum is six inches lower, then my arm really lets it rip, and that drum beat sounds much better. It’s time to hit the drum all the way.
Here’s the song they played at the end as an encore. Other students in my class on Sunday said this is one they have learned in the past so maybe I will learn it some day too! See how Kristin hops up and down when she plays? I want to play like that! See how Mark shouts or “kiais” when playing? That’s giving energy to his fellow performers. I want to kiai every day!