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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After the lunges and other stretching, June Washikita O’Neill mans the odaiko, the large drum that is the heart of the ensemble.

With the 3-foot wide drum at her eye level, she gingerly taps a beat that slowly evolves into a thunderous, hair-raising rumble. Her arms rapidly pound the taut cow skin, with the bachi—thick, wooden drumsticks—becoming a blur. The two performers on the smaller, high-pitched shime drums begin thumping, and the rumble reaches a feverish pace.

Between beats, O’Neill and the dozen other members of Kyo Daiko, Philadelphia’s only Japanese-style drumming crew, start shouting, “Eeeeeeii Ya Sa!”

They repeat the rhythmic, nonsensical phrase over and over again as the resonant roar fills the room and the energy builds. Then the remainder of the troupe joyously prance on to the stage, waving their bachi in the air, continuing to scream, “Eeeeeeii Ya Sa!”

After a dramatic pause, they each man a drum and the tribal-sounding beats erupt into an explosion of sound, matched by uniform choreographed movements, creating an avalanche of sight and sound.

“It’s so much fun,” shime drummer Audrey Tuckerman says after performing the song. “Taiko is so awesome.”

The Kyo Daiko performers are a collection of people from various backgrounds, races and ages who share a love of the taiko experience.

“Kyo means cooperation in Japanese,” explains Matt Palmer, 29, a founding member of the troupe. “Daiko means drum. So we are a community of drummers.”

The group formed five years ago when O’Neill, then the executive director of the Japanese House and Garden in Fairmount Park, and Palmer, the House’s site manager, grew frustrated by having to locate taiko troupes from elsewhere to perform at festivals and events at the Japanese House.

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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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