Drumming Japanese

Kyo Daiko, Philadelphia’s only Japanese-style drumming crew, provides a heart-pounding experience.

By G.W. Miller III
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 11 | Posted Mar. 24, 2009

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Pulse points: Members of the West Philly-based taiko drumming crew, Kyo Daiko, at practice.

“We got really tired of doing that,” says O’Neill, 50. “And it got really expensive.”

Troupes can charge $1,000 or more for performances.

“We decided we needed our own community taiko group,” she says.

They formed an arrangement with Settlement Music School, which provided a faculty member, Kris Rudzinski, to be the teacher and artistic director.

At first, they didn’t even have drums, which can cost more than $2,000 per instrument. Instead, they practiced on automobile tires wrapped in clear packing tape. With time, the group became more polished. They now boast 12 drums, including several imported from Japan, and around 15 members who show up for weekly practices at Settlement’s West Philadelphia branch.

Last year, they performed at 23 events—weddings, festivals, business openings and conferences.

“Every time we play, we pick up a few new people,” says O’Neill. “Anyone who wants to put in the time can be a part of it.”

In the spring, they’ll offer classes to beginners at the Asian Arts Initiative on Vine Street. And they’ll play at Sakura Sunday, part of the Cherry Blossom Festival, at the Japanese House on April 5.

Meanwhile, Rudzinski, 35, rides the group hard. “We don’t exaggerate our moves enough!” he bellows after practicing the piece.

A Rowan University grad trained in African and steel drums, Rudzinski spreads his legs, forming a low, wide base, and then demonstrates the exaggerated moves—snapping his hands toward the drum, sweeping the bachi in the air, ending in a striking pose with his right hand behind him, the bachi pointing straight back.

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Comments 1 - 11 of 11
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1. Smetzger said... on Mar 24, 2009 at 04:44PM

“This video was infinitely better than your last effort (Fishtown Beer Runners), George. Congrats.”

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2. Erin said... on Mar 24, 2009 at 07:58PM

“Great article--the end is fun.”

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3. Linda Cragg said... on Mar 25, 2009 at 07:23AM

“This is a very well done article and I really enjoyed the video!”

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4. Anonymous said... on Mar 25, 2009 at 09:37AM

“This article is inaccurate. They are neither the first nor only taiko group in Philadelphia. Swarthmore College Taiko has been performing since 2000.”

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5. G.W. said... on Mar 25, 2009 at 10:42AM

“Swarthmore College isn't actually in Philadelphia. It's in Swarthmore.”

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6. June said... on Mar 26, 2009 at 11:54AM

“I love watching the Swarthmore college group perform. A couple of them have gone on to San Jose Taiko and such. Kim Arrow is a fantastic teacher and player. It's been interesting to his students come and go. Actually, KyoDaiko formed because the Swarthmore group is never available in the summer, and that's when the Japanese House in Fairmount Park has most of its programs. Also, those of us who wanted to learn to play needed a "community" taiko group who met in Philadelphia. For those of us in Philadelphia, Swarthmore is a bit of a hike. And the "community" aspect of it is very welcoming - open to all.”

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7. Brandyn said... on Mar 26, 2009 at 01:54PM

“Very good article!”

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8. TS said... on Mar 26, 2009 at 03:28PM

“The key point here is "community" taiko. KyoDaiko is the first such group, open to membership from anyone in the community, in the Philadelphia area. That is not to ignore the contributions made by Swarthmore to taiko in Philadelphia and I look forward to enjoying another Swarthmore taiko performance at the Sakura Sunday festival in West Fairmount Park on April 5th!”

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9. Mark Duclo said... on Mar 28, 2009 at 08:26PM

“Hmm...being a former karate student and drumming student, wouldn't it be appropriate to study from a qualified teacher? African and steel drums? That isn't Japanese. And from what little I know left about martial arts, I'm sure taiko has a discipline and code, that you have to learn from a qualified teacher. Other than that, I praise you for your efforts and congratulations!!”

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10. Dad- said... on Mar 29, 2009 at 08:28PM

“Once again son you have published a "fan-tastic" piece. Keep up the GREAT work!”

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11. TS said... on Apr 2, 2009 at 05:18PM

“To Mark Duclo's point...About a year before Kris began teaching KyoDaiko members, he was sent for intensive, one-on-one training with Marco Leinhard, an internationally known taiko player and instructor who played with Ondekoza (one of the first kumi-daiko groups of Japan) for 13 years and later founded his own taiko group, Taikoza, in New York. Kris' classical drum training, as well as African and steel drum background made him an ideal candidate to master another world-drumming style and teach it to others. As a former martial arts student myself, and now as student of Kris and member of KyoDaiko, I can assure you we don't take taiko tradition or discipline lightly. And Kris most certainly is a qualified instructor.”


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