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Its roots

Taiko is the artistic, powerful, and physically demanding discipline of ensemble drumming. Famous taiko groups include Ondekoza and KODO from Japan, and San Francisco Taiko Dojo and San Jose Taiko from the U.S. Taiko first began in ancient Japan as a form of communication. It was also used on the battlefield to coordinate troops and intimidate the enemy. The Japanese also used, and still use, taiko in Kabuki theatre to accompany singers and actors.

According to Daihachi Oguchi, the father of modern taiko, about four thousand years ago, in the Jomon period, taiko was used to signal various activities in a village. It is said the boundaries of a village could extend only as far as the taiko could be heard, so a larger drum meant a larger village. Simple beats signaled that the hunters were setting out, or that a storm was coming and people needed to bring in the meat and fruits they had drying. Because these signals were so important to the flow of daily life, the people were very thankful of the taiko, and began to believe that the taiko was inhabited by a god. As this belief developed, only the holy men were allowed to beat the taiko, and as the Shinto and Buddhist religions developed in Japan, this custom remained. (This paragraph is adapted from material posted on the Rolling Thunder website.)

In modern times, taiko is no longer the realm of holy men and warriors. It has developed into a performing art in its own right. However, this has been a relatively recent development; modern taiko traces its roots only to the 1950s. Daihachi Oguchi is credited with forming the first taiko kumi, or group, Osuwa Daiko. Just 60 years after Oguchi put his first group together, taiko is booming worldwide, testament to the universal appeal of these powerful drums.

Taiko in the U.S.

American Taiko groups have sprung up all over the country since the art form first came to this country in the 1960s. Although modern American taiko began in the Japanese-American community, many people who play taiko now do not have any Asian heritage. North American taiko groups perform both traditional Japanese folk pieces and contemporary pieces that blend taiko with other art forms, including flamenco, interpretive dance, and good old American rock and roll.

The Drums

The word 'taiko' refers both to the drums themselves and to the art form. (Taiko is Japanese for "big drum.") Traditional Japanese taiko range in size from one foot to six feet in diameter and are made of hollowed out tree trunks. In the United States, taiko are more commonly made from wine barrels. Taiko skins are leather, and are held in place with byo, or nails. Stanley Morgan, the founder of our parent group MoGan Daiko, was one of the first taiko craftsmen in the U.S. Karen Falkenstrom is Odaiko Sonora's lead drum builder, and has studied taiko construction with Mr. Morgan, Tony Trapasso, June Schumann of Portland Taiko, and master builder Mark Miyoshi.

Odaiko Sonora: Taiko since 2002!

Our founders, Rome Hamner and Karen Falkenstrom, first studied taiko from sensei Stan Morgan. His group, MoGan Daiko, was the first taiko group in our region. In 2002, Mr. Morgan fell ill and MoGan Daiko was dissolved. Hamner and Falkenstrom founded Odaiko Sonora so that taiko could continue in Tucson. Odaiko Sonora is now a 501(c)3 performing arts and education agency offering taiko classes, performance, team-building workshops, school residencies, and master level workshops and concerts by internationally acclaimed taiko artists. Want more info on Taiko in AZ? Try our AZ Taiko Resource page.

Occasionally, taiko have the ‘mitsu-domoe’ or three-comma design painted or lacquered on the skin. (A modified 'mitsu-domoe' appears at the beginning of this paragraph.) This symbol is said to symbolize the earth, the sky, and people. By connecting these three elements into a nearly interlocking whole, this symbol conveys the interconnectedness of all things. The sense of connection, shared energy (ki) and union between individual elements is a key concept of taiko.

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