This Friday, WesTaiko, the end-of-semester performance of Wesleyan’s Taiko Drumming Ensemble had a mindblowingly cool show that featured probably some of the most epic drumming I’ve seen since Animal used to rock with Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem.
For those unfamiliar, taiko is a type of music incorporating a wide variety of Japanese drums. There are a couple of different kinds of drums, ranging from the smaller, one man shime-daiko, to the much larger o-daiko. Between the different sizes of drums, there is also a wide variety of set-up styles. For example, the o-daiko can be resting face down on the ground and played by a single drummer, or it can be elevated above the ground so that the musicians need to throw their entire bodies at it just to be able to reach it with enough strength.
Students in the ensemble are enrolled in the full-credit course led by Karo Watanabe, whom the students respectfully address as Sensei. The course is divided into beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels.
The Argus spoke with Francesca Moree ’14, a member of the beginner class, about her experience in learning the unique musical style.
“The more difficult songs incorporate a lot of different styles, often requiring big and dramatic flourishes,” Moree said.
These dramatic flourishes were what made the drumming show such an impressive experience. As the performances went in order from the beginner class to the advanced class, the drummers stood with a pose of intense and immutable discipline, constantly delivering total unison in their rhythms. The styles started to become more and more complex with each class, with two drummers on a single o-daiko steadily delivering intricate and impressive movements with each drum beat while also undergoing subtle, yet obviously complicated, variations to their different sequences. This form of music requires immense focus and a lot of physical exertion; at the end of each piece, in the midst of applause, each drummer took a moment to catch his or her breath.
The advanced students also played two impressive compositions created by Wesleyan students. One, composed by Atticus Swartwood ’14, combined the taiko drums with a more Western style to create an incredibly interesting and fast-paced piece. The night concluded with a piece by Eriq Robinson ’15 who performed on the fue, a Japanese flute that allowed for a very calm and peaceful complement to some of the more aggressive drumming pieces.
The journey from the first drum beats to the Friday performance was a long and arduous one, beginning with a series of auditions that evaluated not only drumming experience, but also simply general musical talent and personality. During rehearsals, a lot of students actually had to practice with drumming on garbage cans, with their Sensei occasionally remedying this situation by bringing in his own drums from Brooklyn.
However, the whole experience was obviously also an immensely gratifying one.
“I got interested in it because I wanted to try some kind of music before I graduated,” Moree said. “It’s definitely reflective of the Wesleyan experience. It looks hard, but when you start to work on it, it becomes a lot of fun.”
Ultimately, what makes this ensemble so cool is not only the impressive music it produces, but also the opportunity it offers students to try their hand at a music group, even if they weren’t previously musically inclined. Any student who desires to try out a little music and has a credit to spare should definitely consider giving this group a try next semester.