Dee’s Early Years with Nen Daiko
Dee moved from Hawaii to attend George Mason University. She started playing with Nen Daiko as a college freshman. As she wrote in her farewell letter to us, “Everything was so new and unfamiliar, and the culture was so different from my upbringing. Finding a taiko group out here helped me feel like I’d found a small piece of home in this 'foreign' land.”
Dee had played taiko since she was a girl and brought a wealth of expertise to Nen Daiko even as a young woman. She adjusted to the Nen Daiko style of playing taiko. She overcame shyness to engage with a whole new group of people.
Dee’s Favorite Songs in Nen Daiko’s Repertoire
Dee tells a story about her first year with Nen Daiko, when Nennie Greg Nakamura composed a taiko song for his friends’ wedding. In one week, and with the composition still in flux, Dee learned the piece to play at the wedding. It was called Shiawase Ondo, which means happiness, and became Dee’s favorite piece of all Nen Daiko’s repertoire.
When asked what song she would most miss playing, Dee said it would be Yamabiko, a happy song with lots of movement and dancing. The drummers face each other as we play, and we share energy with big smiles and loud shouts of encouragement. As Dee wrote, “I can’t help but smile when playing this piece and everyone’s energy is just so infectious.”
Dee describes the song Rouga as “the most challenging piece that I have ever learned and also the most different.” This song represents a wolf pack chasing prey. It requires us to stand in a very different stance than typical taiko songs, so that we look like we are ready to pounce.
“In the time we’ve spent on this piece, I’ve really been able to learn about the art of subtlety, and have become more attuned to body awareness,” said Dee.
That is really saying something, because one of Dee’s many talents is her ability to watch someone play and articulate very clearly and kindly how they can improve their playing. Dee has trained many Nennies, all with varying body shapes and musical backgrounds, to play in a way that looks cohesive.
Nen Daiko Celebrates Dee’s Contributions
Dee’s last performance as a Nennie was at our Obon festival last July, where Nen Daiko and the audience applauded her.
This month, Nennies from past and present came together to share memories of Dee. We ate her favorite spaghetti and meatballs from the restaurant Villa Bella, along with many homemade treats such as her favorite Funfetti cupcakes.
We made a slideshow and a scrapbook. We sang Aloha ʻOe, accompanied by Kevin Koyama on ukulele and Greg Nakamura on piano – which was moving for all of us. (Video by Chris Bistline)
Thank You Dee
It’s not easy to put into words the impact that Dee made on Nen Daiko. She often sets the standard of how to play the songs in our repertoire, making it look effortless. She always listens with a smile, sneaks in a word of encouragement and shows up every time. She laughs easily and remembers everything. You can’t play the shime part to that song? Ask Dee. You are not sure where we put the tape / bolt / rope? Ask Dee. Thank goodness there is Skype so we can ask Dee.
There are many reasons to play taiko, and being part of a group that cares for each other is by far one of the most important reasons. In Dee’s farewell letter to Nen Daiko, she shared the poem Footprint on My Heart by Flavia Weedn, which ends with the lines:
Some people come into our lives
and leave footprints on our hearts
and we are never ever the same.
Dee, domo arigato gozaimashita.