Taiko is a traditional Japanese drum that is used in formal ceremonies and used to be used as a battlefield instrument; but the modern use of it, especially in America, started around the late 1960’s. Seiichi Tanaka was instrumental in the development of Taiko drumming in America. He initially came over to start his martial arts career, but found himself missing the sound of the Japanese drums he was used to hearing back home. His longing for familiar drumming resulted in the creation of one of the first American Taiko groups composed of mostly Japanese Americans.
Tanaka’s martial arts background heavily influenced his philosophy in developing this Taiko group. The drummers have graceful and disciplines movements which requires intense physical and mental training. Tanaka stressed a loose intensity when teaching Taiko and would tell his drummers to “feel the energy come from mother earth, from the bottom of your feet”.
A Taiko ensemble is composed of mostly large and small drums and is sometimes accompanied by gongs and bamboo flutes, each playing a unique role. The small and large drums maintain the pulse while gongs add musical depth, bamboos add melody on occasion, and other drums solo. In these solos, the drummers engage in a dance while they improvise a response to the rhythms of the ensemble.
After the post WWII modernization, aspects of many cultures had forgotten. As a result, many young people started actively rediscovering these forgotten cultural practices. This is
along the time that the rise of Taiko drumming came to be. The Japanese American youth
started taking up Taiko drumming to counter the prominent stereotype of the “quiet
Japanese” as these drums are very loud.
Today, there are more than one hundred Taiko groups in America and even Michelle Obama is joining in on the fun!
References: Fromartz, Samuel. “Anything But Quiet.” Natural History 1 Mar. 1998: n. pag. Anything But Quiet. Web. <http://www.fromartz.com/Pages/taiko1.html>.