My Journey with Taiko Drumming

Some 10 years ago, Older Daughter & I stood in the atrium of the Esplanade: Theatres by the Bay, mouths agape in wonder as we watched & listened to the rhythms of a taiko drum resonating through us.   This past weekend, we found ourselves at this same venue,  craning our necks through the crowds to watch Hibikiya & Kodo open the Super Japan: Japanese Festival of Arts.  It felt like we had come full circle as we gathered in the outdoor theatre, just a decade later.

It was an evening of incredible taiko drumming: the contrast of the fast-paced modern performance of Hibikiya contrasting with the traditional style of Kodo served to highlight how eclectic the world of Taiko drumming is; and I stand in awe in the realisation that I am part of this proud tradition.

At the age of 10, Older Daughter loved all things Japanese, so when we saw a free Taiko performance advertised at the Esplanade, we simply had to go.  The Esplanade has continued to host free performances through the years and we’ve been treated to many musical genres which we may never have experienced otherwise.

Older Daughter was very keen to try her hand at taiko drumming.  So, shortly after that first performance in the Esplanade, we tracked down Sensei Jeffrey who teaches  interest group classes at various Community Clubs.  We started with him and Gindaiko, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Gindaiko, opening for the Ikebana Festival, 13 May 2016

Percussion has never been easy for me.  I consider my sense of rhythm pretty decent, but when I have to hit something in time, there seems to be a disconnect between my brain and hand. In High School,  I had a brief brush with the drum kit but just couldn’t get the hang of it.  As an adult, I had another opportunity to play several types of hand drums, but just couldn’t make it sound as cool or credible as I’d have liked.

So, with Taiko Drumming, I was hesitant, but I figured since I had to drive Older Daughter to class, I might as well just join in.  I found the sticks (called bachi) heavy & strange to hold, and trying to coordinate the rhythms was challenging, to say the least.  I remember the first time I had to assume the taiko stance, which is a widened semi-squat.  I could not assume the stance for more than a minute; after trying for an hour & a half,  I could barely stumble out of bed the next day!

Taiko Drumming remains the most challenging physical activity I pursue today.  After 10 years, I am still working to control my wrists & arms & bachi, struggling with difficult pieces, and aching after classes.

Sensei Jeffrey has a very generous world view.  He believes that one of the best ways to improve one’s level of play & to appreciate the art is to have the opportunity to perform.  So, occasionally, Older Daughter & I are privileged to step in front of an audience.  I still find it a nerve-wrecking experience although I have to agree  with Sensei: there is nothing like the satisfaction one gets from playing our songs for those who would listen & watch.

Here are some video clips from the Opening of the Ikebana Festival which we played over the weekend; just before we went to the Hibikiya/Kodo performance actually.  It really was quite a memorable night of taiko.  I hope you enjoy watching them.

Videos taken by Loving Husband; Photos courtesy of our friend, Daniel Ong

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