Welcome to our new blog series, TAIKO VOICES! Twice each month we’ll be sharing stories about the events, experiences, and individuals that make up our Mark H Taiko community.
Take a class with Mark and you’ll discover that amazingly interesting people are drawn to playing taiko. Even if you can’t come to post-class dinners at Mark’s Kitchen (that’s a restaurant, not Mark’s actual kitchen) to chat, he has ways of making sure we learn about each other. One of my favorite traditions takes place when we’re sitting in a circle before or after class: he’ll ask a question that we all take a turn answering. You’d probably be surprised what you learn from someone’s favorite ice cream flavor, but he also has a couple of standard questions that dig a bit deeper.
One regular feature of this blog series, then, is going to be Four Questions, where you’ll learn something about one of the members of our community through these questions. As the editor, it seems only fair that I go first, so here we go:
1. Tell us who you are – what you do other than taiko, and a little about your taiko history.
I’m Linda Lombardi. I’m a writer and editor with two main subject area specialties: one, everything about animals (from wildlife conservation to unconventional pets to dog cognition), and two, various aspects of Japan, including travel, culture, and language. (In fact, here’s an article about my experience with taiko for the Associated Press, and you should definitely follow @Yokai_Parade where I tweet about Japanese folklore.) In previous lives, I was a professor of linguistics and a zookeeper. I also admit to being a crazy pug lady, both in real life and online.
I had longed to try taiko for many years, since I first saw a performance at a festival in Little Tokyo while on a visit to LA. I didn’t get the chance until Mark moved to the DC area in 2011 and I stumbled across an ad in the local Takoma Park paper for his first concert. (Yes, long enough ago that there were still local papers, on paper.) I was one of a handful of students in his first Recreational Taiko class, and the rest is history: I have taken the class every semester since then.
What’s special about Mark’s Recreational Taiko class is that it’s open to everyone. Whether it ends up being your first step on the road to a professional career, or whether, like me, you’re thrilled to eventually reach a satisfying level of mediocrity, everyone is equally welcome. Fun and connection are as important as technique — maybe more important. And that seems right to me, because what’s the point of taiko if you’re not finding joy in it?
2. How has life prepared you for taiko?
In high school I was a guitarist and singer, and thought I wanted to major in music; in college and for quite some time afterwards, I played early music, particularly the shawm, a double-reed instrument that’s the ancestor of the oboe but MUCH louder. So playing the shawm was pretty good preparation: loud, and most people don’t really know what it is. But the other thing that comes to mind when Mark asks this question is the fact that I spent several years as a Morris dancer. If you don’t know what that is, search for some videos — you’ll find that it’s a form of traditional English folk dance that sometimes involves hitting the ground with big sticks, definitely involves coordinated movement, and (maybe most relevant) absolutely requires a level of comfort with making a little bit of a public spectacle.
3. How has taiko prepared you for life?
As a work-at-home freelancer who spends most of her work and play time staring at a computer, taiko is one of the few things in my life that forces me to get out of the house, stop overthinking with words, and move more of my body than just my fingers. I will fight to the death anyone who says that online life isn’t real life, but it isn’t the ONLY life. Taiko makes sure I still remember that there’s rewarding stuff that can only take place in the physical world, and that there’s something to be said for face-to-face time with fellow members of my species.
4. To end on a lighter note: What’s your favorite … (your choice)?
My favorite animal is the capybara. The capybara is the world’s largest rodent — if you’ve never seen one, imagine a hundred-pound guinea pig and that gets you most of the way there. It is semi-aquatic, and there is nothing more serene than watching capybaras floating in the water, especially in a Japanese hot spring bath.