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June Taiko Talk

By: Allison Ballard


Sometimes we play well and sometimes we don’t. That’s the simple truth of it. And we don’t even know why. It’s this strange phenomenon….a song you have played a 1,000 times just escapes you for no apparent reason…like when you see a flicker in your peripheral vision and you turn your head and it’s gone. That’s why we rehearse the same song over and over. Because we’re never quite sure what’s going to happen. That’s why it’s so much fun when we walk away feeling like we played well. Because sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t. That’s the simple truth of it.

Fort Wayne Taiko played three sets at this year’s local Cherry Blossom Festival presented at the downtown Allen County Public Library on May 20, 2018. It was a beautiful day…not too hot and not too cold. We were excited because we were taking our new Hira Daiko with us for the first time (a large drum we play in high horizontal position) and because we had three new young adult drummers playing their first festival with us. The group energy was high when we loaded out…it’s not always…sometimes we’re tired or sick or stressed and we load out knowing we have a job to do, determined to get through the task at hand. But loading out for this year’s Cherry Blossom Festival, we had extra hands and extra cars and happy hearts and I felt in my gut that it was going to be a great day.

Our opening set was only 15 minutes….our job was to open the festival with some big energy. We were told a Japanese dignitary was there who was curious to see us play. So play we did. Eight drummers, ranging in age from 17 to 58, played three songs with rehearsed fluency, then moved the drums off stage in a coordinated swoop and it was over. Just like that. The audience received us well. The dignitary described us as “flamboyant.” And we knew we had accomplished our task.

We always have a booth at the Cherry Blossom Festival and it’s interesting to hear people’s comments during the day. Someone said they come to the festival every year just to see us. And we gave away 80 coupons to people wanting to come try a taiko class. It was clear the community was responding favorably to our music. It was clear we have become part of the fabric of this annual festival.

We played our final set in the theatre. The controlled environment of this setting empowered us to play more complicated music that required more focus. There was that inevitable moment when I took my place on stage that I wondered if I could do it. As that flicker of doubt moved through me, I knew all my fellow drummers were having a similar moment. And I knew that the odds were in our favor. Because after hours of rehearsal and years of training, you substantially increase the likelihood that each drummer’s rhythms and movements will come together into a synchronized whole.

After we played our last song, we were carried on a wave of boisterous applause. People said we were “awesome,” “amazing” …..and then we loaded our drums out and went home. During the festival, we only played a total of 55 minutes, but it was divided between three sets scheduled over a span of four hours. Add in time for getting ready, loading out, loading in and recovering afterwards and that 55 minutes of play took all day. Add hours of rehearsal and years of training, two decades of acquiring drums and equipment, of cultivating relationships with mentors and organizing ourselves as a group and those 55 minutes have actually taken a lifetime.

After all that, it’s gratifying to walk away knowing we played well, knowing we were flamboyant, amazing, awesome….knowing that at least 80 people are interested in taking a taiko class. Knowing we have become part of the fabric of this annual festival. Knowing we are embraced and celebrated by our community.

Thank you Fort Wayne!

Don doko don!