By, Allison Ballard
No way around it, I’m not Japanese. I’m never going to be Japanese. I am most definitely Caucasian,…and female. I am a white girl. Always have been, always will be. Indeed, I am a Midwestern white girl borderline Southerner (I was raised in southwestern Kentucky). And let’s be honest, now that my 50th birthday has come and gone, I’m middle-aged. And plump. AND I’m a taiko drummer. None of these truths cancel each other out. All are equally valid. The trick is getting them to all work together.
Recently, Fort Wayne Taiko got a call from a booking agent in southern Indiana desperate to book us for a corporate event with a Japanese theme that was just a couple weeks out. A different taiko group had been booked for the event, but the contract had fallen through and the coordinators needed another last-minute taiko group to come in and save the day. A group that was geographically close enough to allow for reasonable travel which left them limited options considering there’s not much taiko in the region. Phone call negotiations transpired over the course of a day and just as we were about to close the deal something was casually mentioned about Japanese men.
“I want to make sure you realize our performing group is comprised of four Caucasian women,” I told the agent.
“Can you send some Japanese men?” she asked.
“Well, since we don’t have any drummers who are Japanese and we don’t have any drummers who are men, it is not likely we can recruit and prepare any Japanese men for this gig being held in a couple of weeks!”
And just like that, negotiations were over.
Fair enough. Each performance opportunity is unique and it’s important to customize the work to meet the presenter’s needs. Some want audience participation, some don’t. Some want us to play for an hour; some want us to play for 15 minutes. We work hard to design each show to meet the needs of the presenter and the target audience and accommodate the unique characteristics of the venue (acoustics, space, etc).
There are a lot of variables we can control, but we are never going to be Japanese men. In fact, I think one of our strengths is that we make the work accessible to a diverse audience. We are middle-aged white girls who play taiko. In Indiana. And we study with the best. This spring we’ve hosted nationally/internally renowned master drummers Shoji Kameda, Masato (Maz) Baba, Tiffani Tamaribuchi and Kenny Endo to teach workshops in our home studio in Fort Wayne. We are taiko evangelists, sharing the joy of taiko.
Dong doko dong!