1. TELL US WHO YOU ARE – WHAT YOU DO OTHER THAN TAIKO, AND A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR TAIKO HISTORY.
I’d like to start out by saying, I’m not the professional taiko player, Art Lee, just the adult rec taiko player, Art Lee. I am a retired US Army Medical Service Corps (MSC) officer with a doctorate in Environmental Engineering (Go Penn State!). My wife, Anne, and I were married in Tokyo. She is also a Penn State graduate and an MSC officer.
I was stationed in Japan for four years at Camp Zama in Kanagawa Prefecture and traveled as much as possible within Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK). I loved the people, the cuisine (katsu, natto, banchan and kalbi), and the landmarks. I ascended Mount Fuji four times, twice in eight days, with Anne (we were a lot younger then!). As a young captain, I performed engineering surveys at most of the US Army installations in the ROK, including Panmunjom in the DMZ.
We started learning taiko at the Settlement Music School with KyoDaiko in 2011. Shout out to our instructors, Kris Rudzinski, June O’Neill, Audrey Tuckerman and Paul Butler for all their patience. I am a woodworker (past president of the International Wood Collectors Society) and built several beta, naname and odaiko stands for KyoDaiko. I learned how to re-head drums from Stan Kaneshiki of Hoh Daiko in Seabrook, NJ. Here is a picture of me, Stan, Paul Butler and Tom Mistretta in Stan’s garage a few years ago.
Anne and I started attending Mark’s adult recreational classes back in 2016 and really enjoy his philosophy of taiko and the camaraderie of the other players. Mark teaches the Areas of Respect and Exchange of Energy. Although he is a great taiko instructor, he is also really teaching life lessons: learn new things, do your best but enjoy yourself and make friends, don’t stress too much about trying to be perfect, don’t compare yourself to your neighbor, have a beer after class and share a meal, chat with your classmates, learn about their life journey, be present, don’t overthink things.
2. HOW HAS LIFE PREPARED YOU FOR TAIKO?
As an Army officer, I went to Airborne School to learn to parachute. As a military instructor and a professor, I learned to overcome the fear of public speaking. After retiring from the Army, I wanted to learn another skill outside of my comfort zone. I was not a musician but I enjoyed watching taiko performances. Life taught me to try something challenging (but do-able!)
3. HOW HAS TAIKO PREPARED YOU FOR LIFE?
Taiko has taught me to enjoy what you are able to do with the skills you have now. Playing kumidaiko is very empowering. We usually play a recital piece after each eight-week class. The feeling of energy from the drums, the audience, and from my fellow players is amazing. Mark has taught me to be generous with your time, and forgiving of mistakes (your own and others’). Sometimes, we do not have enough practice time (in my opinion) before performing the pieces. We perform with what we have and most times it works out. The life lessons being “Do the best you can with what you have. Look like you should be there. Don’t make a sour face if you make a mistake, find your spot and catch back up.”
4. TO END ON A LIGHTER NOTE: WHAT’S YOUR… FAVORITE HOBBY, other than taiko?
I am a woodworker and wood collector. I enjoy talking and learning about wood from other enthusiasts. I am an occasional docent at the Japan House (Shofuso) in Philadelphia. I enjoy talking about the history of the building and the design and construction. It is a post and beam structure, which is not fastened with nails. The roof is hinoki bark that is two feet thick in some spots, and the house has a great wood and tatami smell to it. One time, I took two architectural students through the house. I showed them the garden while sitting outside on the veranda, then moved them ten feet inside the house and showed them the view looking out towards the garden while sitting in the main tatami mat room. Their eyes got real wide and they quickly wrote in their notebooks. As a former professor, those “Aha” moments make your day. From inside the house, the garden and pond are framed by the beautiful wooden posts and beams, and the late afternoon sun illuminates the scene just right. The difference of the perceived beauty between the two locations just ten feet apart can be amazing.