I’ve been exposed to Japanese taiko (太鼓) drumming from a young age, having seen several performances at the Morakami Japanese Museum & Gardens in South Florida. While I do enjoy watching taiko performances, to be honest I started getting a bit bored of them; not only because they seemed to change little from year-to-year, but also their relatively basic rhythms began to loose their appeal, perhaps because I tend to enjoy more complex, offbeat rhythms.
So when I heard that Portland’s Non-profit group “en Taiko” was going to be playing at a private event I was attending, I wasn’t particularly excited about seeing them, thinking it was more of the same.
I think their members and instruments may vary by event, but in my case they had four children performing who seemed roughly of early to late elementary school age. They had colorful, well-designed costumes with headbands, and a few sizes of drums, as well as some type of small metal flute.
Soon after the performance began, I was surprised by my own reaction–I was really enjoying listening to this small group play their handful of instruments.
There were a few things that made this group special. Foremost, all of the members seemed really into the performance, with a maturity level that far exceeded their physical age. They had very large movements that were well-coreographed and coordinated with one another. As I expected, many of the rhythms were relatively simple, but their passion and ability really moved me (and surely the rest of the audience). They also added some things to keep it interesting, for example by telling a traditional Okinawan folk tale as they danced around on stage.
While the purpose of the event was not to learn Japanese, the members did speak in Japanese briefly a few times, and their pronunciation was pretty good. By the way, it looks like their artistic director, Kazuyo Ito, is a very experienced taiko drummer who has trained with several Japanese taiko masters.
You can find more about this great group here, and this page lists their events. It looks like their next event is Jan 19 at the Richmond Elementary School (I’m not sure if it is open to the public, but since it is listed maybe it is). Their annual concert is scheduled for March 24. From looking at their website, it looks like their full group is much larger and I’m sure events with more performers will be that much more impressive.
You also can see a short video on their website that has a slightly larger group than I saw.
As for the taiko performances at Morikami, I haven’t seen them in a few years so they may have evolved significantly (and my memory of the last time I saw one of them is foggy). So I would still recommend seeing a taiko performance there at least once if you have the opportunity.