Thursday, November 1, 2012


The word “tradition” is the most controversial word in all of North American taiko.  Some people are afraid of the word or even vilify it,  while others flock to it or hold it tight to their breast.  What is it about this one word that evokes such a reaction?

My first response to that question is, “I dunno man, people have issues.”  But my more rational mind says, “the word is misunderstood.”

“Tradition” is just something that you or your group has done for a time.  Do you bow into the dojo or as a group before practice?  That’s a tradition.  Do you warm up as a group?  That’s a tradition, too.  Do you have an annual concert or always play at a certain festival?  Tradition.  Now that may not make what you play “traditional taiko”, but you can still have traditions.

For purposes of this post, I’m going to refer to “traditional taiko” as any taiko done as a customary pattern of action.  It could be something several groups do, something one group does repeatedly, or both.

The problem with someone asking what “traditional taiko” is that it comes with an assumed definition on the part of the person asking.  If the listener has their own (and different) definition, then you might have a complete misunderstanding.  So what kinds of “traditional taiko” are there?
  • Japanese festival drumming
  • Japanese court drumming
  • Japanese group drumming
  • North American festival drumming
  • North American group drumming
  • South American group drumming
  • European group drumming
  • And several other categories I'm missing or not even aware of... 
If you say you don’t play traditional taiko, you are probably just as right as you are wrong.  You may not play one of these traditions, but I’ll bet your group has its own traditions and/or fits into one of the above listed traditions.  See what I mean about misunderstandings?

Personally, I think the word “tradition” is as bothersome as the word “taiko” in a lot of regards.  What is taiko?  What is tradition?  It makes for a fun debate but at the end of the day, it doesn’t really change anything – and often people come away more confused!  While an audience member might ask, “do you play traditional taiko?” and it might be beneficial to explain what your group does, it’s a complete waste of energy to get upset about being thought of as traditional or make a fuss when someone calls their group traditional and you disagree.  It’s fine to want to inform people better, but you can’t get to everyone and this is one of those things that is annoying but has very little actual impact.

Now, the longer your group has been around, the more traditions it will have.  So that adds another level of complexity to the problem.  If someone asks about “traditional taiko”, are they asking about traditional NA group drumming or your group’s traditional group drumming?  Again, the best you can do is try to inform someone who asks, but in the grand scheme of things, is it really a big deal?  I don’t think so.

The more we get caught up in politics and policing and proper-ness, the less energy we have for playing and performing and enjoying the art that we love to do!

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