Today I’m grateful for taiko!
After a long day trying to revise and prepare myself for the exam I have tomorrow, heading off to play taiko this evening was such an immense relief! My brain was totally full of information, I was getting bubbles of panic (‘panic and emptiness’, to quote E. M. Forster) and felt lethargic to boot. In short, I really needed to get out of the house.
Taiko is an energetic form of Japanese drumming that I’ve had the pleasure of being involved with on the sidelines for a number of years. Before embarking on my Music degree I was the administrator for the Music Department of a local secondary school. In addition to organising the hundreds of weekly instrumental and vocal lessons that took place, one of my additional roles was to help with taiko. We developed new groups while I was administrator and I would get involved by recruiting new members, keeping track of who turned up each week etc. More excitingly, however, I was involved with the organisation of a taiko festival that we held, which enabled me to meet fabulous people from the taiko community. And we’re not just talking UK-based taiko players, we also had an incredible man come over from Japan to provide workshops and perform in the evening concert.
So up until now, taiko has definitely been on my radar but I’ve never been an actual taiko player. In September, my partner set up an adult taiko group at the school he teaches at and I was eager to actually take part this time. It has been an amazing adventure so far. There have been times when I have hopped with frustration, being the perfectionist that I am, but it’s been such tremendous fun too. I’ve met new people, improved my sense of rhythm (which has always been a little fluid, shall we say) and got a great work out at the same time. Taiko is very physical but also mentally challenging, as the pieces are taught by rote and played from memory. The performance aspect definitely takes me out of my comfort zone as I’m not naturally flamboyant, but you can’t really play taiko and not be a fully active participant. When you add flourishes and more movement it’s easy to lose the rhythm, which is what frustrates me most. Just when you think you’ve got it, when you think you have all balls up in the air, one drops with a crash. However, everyone is lovely and supportive and the small size of the group means there’s lots of banter!
There’s a UK Taiko Festival that is held annually in Exeter (although very sadly not this year), so do check it out if you’re interested. It’s hosted by Kagemusha Taiko and visited by a multitude of professional, amateur and school-aged groups who both perform and spectate. The Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers are also worth looking up on YouTube, or even going to see if they’re touring at a venue near you. Kodo, based on Sado Island in Japan, are touring Europe this year – you can find their schedule here. Hurrah for taiko!