The Stamford Taiko Group gets into it s stride
at its recent concert at the US Consulate-General.
Story by Elena Edwards
Photos by Supoj Thiamyoj
Many of us who were fortunate enough to have been invited to the US
Consulate-General on the evening of June 24 for the Taiko Drumming concert
given by Stamford University’s ‘Stamford Taiko’ group may not have realised
what a stunning performance we were about to see, hear and – feel!
other traditional Japanese percussion instruments are used to complement the
mood of the drum music.
Traditional Taiko drums have been used for more than 10 centuries in Japan,
at the Imperial Court, in Buddhist ceremonies and in war, and were
originally part of Gagaku, the most ancient form of Japanese classical
music. The drums themselves are made in a number of sizes, either hollowed
out from a single tree trunk, or constructed with curved staves in the
manner of a barrel. The skin is hide, usually horse, and is stretched at
high tension across the mouth of the drum, secured by metal rims and
tuneable by adjusting the tension before the performance by means of either
rope or a bolt system. The sound produced by these instruments is primeval,
unmistakeable and can be very loud; the complicated cross-rhythms linked
with the choreographed movements of the drummers themselves, together with
the different musical effects of the variously-sized drums create a unique
and purely Japanese experience for the listener.
The Stamford Taiko Drummers, pictured at the US
for the last performance of their Thailand tour.
‘Modern Taiko’ was born in Japan in 1951, when jazz drummer Daihachi Oguchi
realised that the traditional rhythms already had a ‘jazz’ feel to them. His
simple idea of forming a Taiko drumming ensemble revolutionised an art form
which had traditionally involved solo players, and resulted in his group,
Osuwa Daiko, becoming famous throughout Japan. Oguchi based the rhythms of
the group’s performances on the simplistic arrangements of the shrine music
that had been previously played; which allowed anyone with an interest in
Taiko to learn and perform.
drummer demonstrates that it’s not always necessary to thump the drum to
produce an effect…tapping works as well!
Subsequently, the mesmerising sounds of the Taiko ensemble reached out from
Japan worldwide, arriving in the USA in the late 1960’s and gaining a huge
following. Many groups formed; including collegiate groups, with Stamford
University’s group emerging in 1992. There are now at least 300 Taiko
ensembles in the US, 36 of which are collegiate groups based at
universities. Traditionally in Japan, only men were allowed to become Taiko
drummers; modern Taiko ensembles now include many women.
curved, barrel-like construction of the Taiko (drum) is clearly visible in
this shot taken during the performance. The Stamford Taiko group construct
and maintain all their instruments themselves.
The Stamford group is composed entirely of dedicated students, who build and
maintain their own instruments, design and create their costumes,
choreograph the moves and write the music. Their visit to Thailand
celebrated both 175 years of Thai-US relations and a ‘Celebration of Reading
– a Celebration of Life’, an initiative to encourage and promote reading in
Thai schools set up by the Yonak Foundation with support from Lampang
province and the local municipality. The concert at the US Consulate-General
was the final performance of the group’s highly popular tour.
Eight ‘songs’ were performed, each one with a different focus. The
fascination for the audience was the amazingly expressive range of tones the
players were able to produce from instruments varying only in size! The
excitement radiating from the incredible energy and enthusiasm of the group,
rising in tune with the vibrating crescendos of sounds, could actually be
felt by the listeners in their own bodies. What that must feel like to the
young players themselves, we could only imagine.
The choreographed movements are a traditional
of Japanese Taiko drumming, and require a great deal of flexibility and
In ‘Amaterasu’, a song based on the legend of the Japanese Sun Goddess
Amaterasu Omikami, who sealed herself in a cave thus denying the world its
light and warmth until she was lured out again by the other Kami, (gods),
the thunderous crescendo of sound and rhythm stunned the audiences, who
erupted into applause. In ‘Hanabi Taikai’, the excitement of a traditional
Japanese firework display was captured, and in the final piece, ‘Tatsumaki’,
(whirlwind), the storm unfolded on stage with a triumph of power, movement
According to the US Consul-General, Michael Morrow, ‘The Stanford Taiko drum
group not only reflects the rich cultural diversity of the American people,
but also serves as a bridge of friendship across the world through cultural
diplomacy. The group will find a receptive audience here in northern
Thailand, where people celebrate the drum music of the Lanna culture’.
‘Receptive’ we certainly were – and fascinated, impressed, stunned, moved
and thrilled by these talented young people, their energy and their music!
An anticipatory audience at the US
Consulate-General on June 24, pictured waiting to be amazed by the energy
and talent of the Stamford Taiko drummers.