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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“We want to be big,” he adds. “That’s what taiko is: big!”

Taiko drums have been traced back hundreds of years in Japan, used at festivals, during battles and as a way to communicate over vast distances. Traditionally, only one or two drums were used at a time. During the 1950s, Japanese jazz drummer Daihachi Oguchi experimented with taiko ensembles—numerous drums at once, played with precise, elaborate movements.

Taiko quickly became popular in Japan. It spread to America in the 1960s as Japanese-Americans began acknowledging a heritage many had shelved following World War II xenophobia, when more than 100,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans had been interned in War Relocation Camps.

“It was rooted in the civil rights movement,” Palmer says. “For people of Japanese ancestry, taiko was a way to reclaim their culture.”
There are now around 4,000 taiko groups in Japan, 150 in North America and dozens more around the world.

“Half of it is the choreography, the movement, and half of it is the actual drumming,” O’Neill says. “It’s a very physical performance. It’s very tiring.”

O’Neill was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and American serviceman father. She came to America when she was 5. She now manages the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, a nonprofit that offers grants to city arts programs.

“I’ve started working out because it’s hard to get through it if you don’t have the stamina,” she says.

After the two-hour practice session, the members are sweaty but smiling.

“If we’re doing it right,” Palmer says as he points to his torso, “when we finish, we should hurt like hell right here.”

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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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