By Jawad Hossain and Erika Peters
Inside a martial arts studio, a mighty thudding echoed in the room. A line of 12 drummers, from ages 7 to 76 pounded on the drums with the same force, and at the exact same tempo. With this display of harmony, the group keeps alive the traditional Japanese art of Taiko drumming.
The only community Taiko group on Long Island, the ensemble practices at Ryu Shu Kan Japanese Arts Center every weekend in preparation for the Sakura Matsuri Cherry Blossom Festival held at Stony Brook University each May.
“Taiko drumming, you feel, not just [in the room] but you can feel it reverberating through your core,” Gerard Senese, the director of Ryu Shu Kan said. “They call it the heartbeat of Japan, the spirit of the Japanese people that has been handed down for generations through their festivals.”
Other than the performance at Sakura Matsuri Cherry Blossom Festival, the group, which has members ranging from seven years old to 76 years old, performs at libraries, schools, and multicultural events across Long Island.
Taiko is an ancient Japanese form of percussion using large drums. During the 1900’s, Taiko drumming became a musical art form that now involves an ensemble and tightly choreographed movements, which many identify with Japanese martial arts.
“What I get out of [Taiko drumming] is that connection to the Japanese people,” Senese said. “It’s a very exciting art form to watch, and to be part of. So that’s what we try to bring to the Long Island communities through our performances.”
The group performed at Comsewogue Public Library in Port Jefferson Station on April 7, teaching attendees about Japanese culture and how the drums are used at different festivals throughout the seasons, Sense said.
“We booked Ryu Shu Taiko this year in conjunction with the beginning of Cherry Blossom season,” Christine Parker-Morales, adult services librarian at Comsewogue Public Library, said. “With this performance patrons were able to experience many aspects of Japanese culture, including Taiko, dance, and the Koto harp. For those not able to travel this was a great opportunity to experience another culture in a relaxed setting.”
The group draws people from around Long Island that are interested in learning more about Japanese culture and the art of Taiko.
“I love the energy of the classes, sometimes I’m stressed and feel down and then when I start playing the drums, it makes me feel rejuvenated,” Marcelo Maziero said. Maziero, a performer in the group and an animator and 3D artist for ABC News, got curious about Taiko drumming after he watched a presentation during a Japanese New Year celebration called Oshogatsu.
“Taiko drumming is important to me because it is the music for our culture and it is something unique to Japan,” Toyomi Sobue, founder of the Long Island Japanese Cultural Center, said. Sobue created the LI Japanese Cultural Center 12 years ago to help introduce the culture of Japan to people who didn’t know much about it before, in the hopes that they would apply some of the Eastern principles they learned into their Western lives.
“The most essential thing to know about Japanese people is that they give respect to everything, not only people, because they believe every single thing has a spirit,” Sobue said.