When Akiko Uchiyama saw taiko performer Mark Rooney at the Manjiro Festival in New Bedford, MA, she thought he would make a great guest instructor for her students.
A couple of years and one later, Uchiyama was able to bring Rooney to Clarkstown High School North on Thursday to have him lead a taiko workshop with the Clarkstown North Japanese Club.
“At the festival he was leading a children’s taiko group and I thought it would be something really fun to bring to North,” Uchiyama said.
After school on Thursday, 23 students from North and South met with Rooney in the North auditorium for a taiko workshop.
“Taiko as it’s known in the United States is Japanese drumming,” Rooney said. “It’s known as wadaiko in Japan. Taiko is in a sense what we think of as traditional Japanese drumming. It stems from the Japanese word for drum.”
Rooney performed a bit and then led the demonstration with students alternating between using actual drums and rubber garbage cans flipped upside down with the bottoms heavily taped.
The group stood in a circle with Rooney as he talked about different styles of taiko, including chants and movement that go along with certain songs. He also had the group vocally perform any notes before actually trying them out.
“My favorite was the ‘ki-ai’s,’” said Japanese Club Co-President Michael Burke, 18, of New City. “That was fun to do while drumming.”
Burke said he had never performed taiko before, but was really hoping to do so again in the future.
A lot of the students enjoyed the ki-ai’s, or shouting out, while performing. Rooney also told them while doing so they could point their drum sticks at someone else in the circle and aggressively shout.
Rooney is based in Washington D.C. and teaches taiko full-time. He’s been studying, performing and teaching it for about 15 years.
“What we practice and what you see most of the time is a modern variation on traditional taiko. Taiko goes back hundreds of years in Japan,” he said. “The idea of playing as an ensemble and as a performance is very new. It’s only about 60, 70 years old. It’s a very new art form based on traditional art.”
Uchiyama said this was the first time the club has practiced taiko, but they plan to keep doing it.
“This is going to be leadership training for the kids,” she said. “The ones that were here are going to try and go out to get more students involved in taiko here at North, and we’re going to keep studying it. Eventually, we want to have a big taiko team here.”