Fox Mill Elementary School in Herndon, Virginia, has a well-known Japanese immersion program. Nen Daiko gave a children’s workshop at their Japanese festival. Thank you to the festival organizers for inviting us and to all the families for coming to learn about taiko.
Four Nen Daiko members facilitated the workshop – Brenda, Carla, Kevin and Chris.
Brenda was excited to facilitate because of her childhood memories of taiko.
“When I was 7 years old, growing up in Hawaii, I saw my first taiko performance,” she said. “I knew right away that I wanted to learn how to play taiko. I did not have an opportunity to do it until I was 26 years old. These types of workshops are so important because I want other kids to have a dream to play taiko.”
Carla was looking forward to the workshop as a way to make taiko a more impactful experience.
“When Nen Daiko performs and we make it look easy, people may not have a real understanding of what goes into the drumming,” she said. “If an audience member can hold a bachi in their hands and try our stance, their appreciation of what we are doing will increase, and they move from passively watching to actively imagining themselves playing taiko.”
The workshop kicked off with Brenda and Kevin doing spontaneous solos with Chris playing chappa or cymbals. It was like a mini-taiko jazz moment. This attracted many families to come to the area of the school where we were performing.
Brenda welcomed the audience in Japanese and tested their knowledge of Japanese words such as taiko, bachi and renshuu (drum, drumstick and practice). She showed the audience how we use certain words to represent the sounds of the taiko. For example, don means a direct hit in the center of the drum head, while kara means tapping the edge of the drum with the tip of the bachi.
Carla demonstrated how taiko players learn the rhythms of a taiko song – with kuchi showa, or spoken sounds. She taught the audience the first two lines of the song Renshuu, which is the song all new Nen Daiko apprentices learn in their first year. One audience member later told us, “I have seen taiko many times in my life but I never imagined that is how you learn the song – it was fascinating.”
Chris taught the proper taiko stance – a low, grounded stance. He had everyone in the audience stand up and give it a try. The kids seems to hold the stance without complaint, but many adults were groaning. Kevin showed how when you play in this stance, it greatly increases the volume of the hits, and makes the performance more fun to watch.
After a quick performance of Renshuu, it was now time for the kids to warm up and have turns playing taiko. Kevin taught taiko to kids when he played with Daion Taiko in Orange County, California. He knew just how to keep the kids engaged as we did jumping jacks and stretches, counting to 10 in Japanese. Groups of children each had a turn playing the taiko. Some played on chu or medium-sized drums while others played gomidaiko or drums made from large rubber trash cans.
We finished the workshop with a special appearance from a new Nen Daiko member, Kevla or Carlin, who wore a double-wide happi coat. The audience was very kind to our newest member who has only had a few opportunities to practice, and who learned playing Renshuu one-handed with another person is much more difficult than you would expect. We also learned that while everyone may sweat when performing on stage, you sweat even more when inside a shared happi coat. The happi coat was sewn by Carla using recycled fabric scraps which came together in a very fun design.
We hope Kevla or Carlin has other opportunities to capture the imaginations of kids and adults. It was a wonderful experience sharing taiko with these enthusiastic families. We hope there was a least one 7 year old who now has a dream to play taiko.
Upcoming Interactive Taiko Experiences with Nen Daiko
Experience family-friendly taiko activities at our annual Obon Festival on July 9 from 5-9pm at Ekoji Buddhist Temple. Nen Daiko will perform and there will be opportunities to learn more about taiko.
For adults, we have monthly open houses. Our next two are May 22 and July 26 at 2pm at Ekoji Buddhist Temple. You can do our weekly warm-up exercises and have an opportunity to play a taiko. Donations of $5 are appreciated.
If you would like to experience taiko in a workshop setting, our annual workshops are held each September at the Ekoji Buddhist Temple. There are two workshops – one for children and one for adults. Follow Nen Daiko on Facebook for announcements about dates and times.
Photos by Carl Brown (thanks Dad!)