I’ve spent many years with music, but my background is in Western music. I started playing alto saxophone in fourth grade and continued music recreationally through graduate school. (Yes, pep band counted towards my graduate degree.) I performed in school concert and marching bands and took private lessons throughout middle and high school. Switching around instruments until I stuck with French horn, mellophone (the marching version of the French horn), and piano.
Looking back, most of my classes and performances focused on perfection and precision—for instance, making sure to exactly follow the conductor’s tempo and only listening to feedback from the conductor or other music instructor and not from a peer. This complemented my perfectionist personality. Sometimes, the band director or music instructor wanted us to have “fun.” “Just have fun and rock out,” my college marching band director instructed for portions of our Guitar Hero show. He didn’t take the time to explain what that meant. I rocked my body with the music and pretended I was having a great time. That perfectionism and precision mindset prevented me from feeling connected to anything but the music and marching movement. I occasionally felt a connection to the crowd, conductors, and fellow players. But for the most part, I faked that connection.
Joining the Mark H Taiko School helped me rediscover the fun and connection in playing music. Mark builds connection between players through explanation, demonstration, drills, songs, and peer to peer feedback. Rather than Mark just saying the words “have fun,” we practice connection. Exercises connect one or more players through eye contact, kiai, body movement, facial expression, and feedback discussion. At first, this felt strange and intimidating. “I don’t know these people. I don’t normally make prolonged eye contact,” I timidly thought (of course, while trying to make eye contact with other students during these drills).
Then, at the Sakura Taiko Takeover last year, one of my fellow Miayko players pretended to bump into me during a song. She shared a smile and funny eyebrow raise to remind me to relax and share the fun. Once I started catching another student’s eye and smile in that way, I felt the connection. I wanted to share that joyous feeling with my fellow students. Later on, I realized connecting to other players brought enthusiasm to playing and performing I hadn’t felt in a long time.
Now, we are in COVID times. Close physical presence is not safe at the moment. But that doesn’t mean the physical and emotional connection have disappeared for Miyako. Our practices have gone virtual, where I enjoy watching everyone drum at slightly different tempos due to internet lag. Our Miyako practice now serves as time to both learn taiko and catch our breath from unprecedented and unexpected events. Even though these activities take place virtually, I still feel emotionally connected to my fellow members. I look forward to our post-Covid practices. I know we will continue our connections from before the pandemic, despite everything that happened in between.