Thursday, May 31, 2012


Did you know that Kodo wrote the song "Miyake"?  Or that you can't use the slant stand (naname) without permission?  Or that Seiichi Tanaka is a redhead?

Ok, that last one was just to make sure you were paying attention.  The first two are wrong, though.

Every month there are new taiko players joining groups...collegiate, recreational, community, professional, etc.  And most groups are focused on growth, if not survival.  It may not be easy for a lot of groups to take the time to make sure their members are well-versed in the history of their own group, let alone the history taiko in North America (or their particular country), let alone the history of taiko overall!

And even if a group does teach its members some sort of history, there's the additional burden of maintaining that knowledge - who's responsible for keeping it up/handing it down?  The leaders of the group?  Certain members?  All the members?

Then there's the issue of what to teach.  If it's just the history of the group, it shouldn't be too hard.  But when it comes to the bigger picture, what's really important?  Maybe it's more important to know who taught your teacher, or where your style of drumming comes from.  Maybe you should know who the "firsts" were.  It's really going to depend on your interest and what's important to your group.

On that note, you should be careful to not get too bogged down with the details unless that's your thing.  Do you need to know the names of the original Oedo Sukeroku members?  Not bad information to have.  Do you need to know the names of every song in their repertoire?  Knock yourself out, but are there more useful things to know?

Finally, we come to the issue of the quality of information.  Where are you getting it from?  Who's a credible source?  There's a LOT of information available out there, but that doesn't mean it's all good stuff.  There are definitely students out there that are being told misleading or incorrect things by their teachers, although most of those groups are isolated from most of the taiko community.  Another complication is when two or more equally credible sources have differing takes on the same who's "right"?

I realize I've just spent half a page showing why it can be a pain in the ass to learn about taiko history, but let me end by saying it's something we should all be responsible for.  To what degree, to what detail, that's really up to the individual.  There's no "Taiko 101" class you can take, but there are incredible resources out there.  The North American Taiko Conference, regional taiko conferences, and the larger groups out there can be a great start.  There's the Taiko Community page on Facebook, for those so inclined.

Even a little bit of taiko history can give you knowledge and empowerment.  Can you play taiko without it?  Sure.  You can play taiko with only one bachi, too.  Learn something new, see what happens!

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