Arts & Entertainment

Play Taiko

Virtually every culture includes some form of percussive instrument as part of their musical identity. Rhythm itself is one of our most primal instincts: it mirrors our heartbeat, pulse, breathing.

When you beat a drum, even for the first time, it feels intuitive, as if you’ve triggered the cell in your brain that preserves ancient knowledge.

When you do it as part of an ensemble, the energy is transcendent.

“You can totally change someone’s life. Some of the things people say… it’s amazing, it’s profound what it does to them.” Kerryn Joyce has palpable enthusiasm when she speaks about the drumming workshops held at the Taikoz studios in Ultimo.

“Taiko” literally means “drum” in Japanese but the word is also commonly used to describe the practice of Japanese drumming. Taikoz is a world-renowned Australian organisation that provides workshops, tutorial, demonstrations and major performances featuring some of the best Taiko musicians there are.

Begun in 1997 as an off-shoot from the very successful Synergy Percussion, Taikoz has carved a place of honour in music circles here and overseas. Artistic Director Ian Cleworth and shakuhachi (Japanese flute) soloist Riley Lee co-founded the organisation after Lee learned the craft in Japan.

Joyce joined Taikoz seventeen years ago. At the time she was a professional percussionist living in Brisbane who saw Taiko drumming during a Synergy show and decided then and there she would do whatever it took to be a part of it. What it took was several trips back and forth to Sydney eventuating in a permanent move, much hand to mouth living, and total dedication to learning Japanese art, culture and even a bit of the language.

Joyce is now class coordinator and fervent advocate for Taikoz, describing the benefits of Taiko as holistic:

“You have to focus. You’re using your whole body and mind to practice an art form that is so much greater than just hitting [a drum]. To produce a sound using your whole body is so good for you.”

Apart from the meditative level of concentration required, playing in an ensemble can fill the social void of human connection felt by many. The physicality of the playing provides a therapeutic release – it’s like a cleansing ritual, but much more fun.

For people who’d like to sample the exhilaration of taiko drumming, Taikoz offers a 90 minute trial workshop on a Sunday morning roughly once a month at their Ultimo studio.

In a converted industrial space, you’ll be asked to remove your shoes, seal your ears with the ear plugs or ear muffs provided (it gets VERY loud!), do a quick physical stretch and warm up and then stand in front of a random drum along with twenty or so other people. As you peruse the room you realise there is no “taiko type.” It seems to attract people of any age, gender, background and degree of musical ability.

The class is introduced to Ryuji, the passionate and animated teacher who might be somewhat limited in English but is fluent in charisma.

He instructs you to pick up your bachi (wooden taiko sticks which are about the size and thickness of a relay baton) and have a little hit to get a feel for it. Most tap timidly until Ryuji raises his bachi and whacks down on his drum to show us how it’s done.

From there, the class is taught an eight-sectioned routine via simple, methodical steps. Throughout the lesson, both Ryuji and Kerryn discuss rituals and protocol that are an integral part of taiko; the importance of using your whole body; certain words and actions that form part of the routine. There’s a strong sense of reverence that explains why taiko can be such a spiritual experience.

Once we all master (perhaps not the most accurate word) the routine, we play through continuously, at intervals moving around in our circle so that everyone gets to play on a different type of drum. The pinnacle of the routine is playing the odaiko, the big daddy taiko, that is struck side-on.

This last part of the workshop is frenetic, thrilling, exhausting and ridiculously fun! It’s a safe way to get an adrenaline rush (except for the occasional flying drum stick).

Nothing can adequately describe the rapture of being fully engulfed in sound and vibration and joyful communal energy of this taiko workshop.

Taikoz offers Play Taiko, a 90 minute introductory workshop for everyone; and Family Play Taiko, a one hour workshop for family and friends.

Beat a taiko – you can’t beat it!

Play Taiko: Aug 27, 11:30 − 1pm; Sep 17 10:30 − 12pm; Nov 19, 11:30 − 1pm; $44

Family Play Taiko: Sep 24, 10 − 11am; Dec 3, 11:30-12:30pm; Ad $30, ch $20

By Rita Bratovich

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