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By: Allison Ballard, Director of Fort Wayne Taiko

 In the moment, all I could really see was Shoji’s teeth. Fort Wayne Taiko drummers and I were on stage waiting to start playing our newest song, Omiyage. Guest artists Shoji Kameda was playing back-up on a shime and an okedo and Masato Baba was playing the hira daiko.  As rehearsed, I was standing stage left by Shoji who was playing his way through a trance-inducing intro. As rehearsed, the intro built speed and energy and Shoji started vocalizing and smiling and then he shot an exaggerated unrehearsed grin over to me and the fellow Fort Wayne Taiko drummers standing by me as if to say, “Please vocalize with me!” And all I could see was teeth.

Suddenly I was terrified about the song we were about to play. We had been working to learn Omiyage for two years leading up to Fort Wayne Taiko’s November 2017 Knock on Wood performance presented at the downtown branch of the Allen County Public Library. During that time, Maz and Shoji had come from Los Angeles to Fort Wayne several times to teach Omiyage workshops to us. And we had, of course, spent hours on our own practicing and playing and playing and practicing. From time to time we had played for guests who had come to observe our taiko class for one reason or another, but we had never played it in front of an audience. This was our debut of this song that Shoji had composed as a gift to the taiko community. The song that taiko drummers all over North America are learning and playing and sharing and celebrating. When played well, the song is musically rich and visually beautiful and incredibly powerful. When played well.

 Thus, my terror. I was suddenly unsure that I could play this song. At all. Much less well. Standing there looking at Shoji’s teeth, I couldn’t even remember the song. I frantically tried to audiate the rhythmic melody in my head and came up with…absolutely nothing. I was a blank slate engulfed by teeth. Teeth that were beckoning me to engage. So I did.

 My fellow drummers and I not only responded vocally, we also began moving the music through our bodies. I was grateful for the invitation to dispel this anxious energy, albeit still in my spot and relieved to recognize our rehearsed cue to begin moving across the stage. I was no longer panicked. I was inspired by the music. And supported by drumming friends. And blessed with the opportunity to share with a full-house audience.

 I took my place at my drum located front and center and fell into my stance and knew I had found my way home. After hours and hours of practice, the rhythm and movements were not in my head. They were etched into my cellular memory. I was determined to yield and allow that knowing to flow through me and out of my sticks and into my drum. I was focused, only aware of my drum and the music being created with my drumming friends and teachers.

 There was nothing else…there was no room for error or second-guessing or bad judgments or regrets or diverse perspectives to be considered. There was the downbeat. And the upbeat. The syncopated moments. And the weight shift. With the swing. And a reach. And underneath it all was the pulse. Of living and striving and yearning and knowing and not knowing and risking and trusting and discovering…joy. Underneath it all is the pulse of joy.

Thank you to all who made this year’s Knock on Wood possible.
Dong doko dong!

Happy holidays!