Writing about taiko feels wrong.
On my first attempt to start writing about drumming, I realized that formalizing my thoughts or verbalizing the experience (beyond the occasional kiai) seems fundamentally misdirected. My core experience of taiko is visceral, and to the extent that I’m in my head during practice, it’s generally not useful to anyone other than myself. It’s usually not much use to me, for that matter. Those thoughts often take the form of self-recrimination: “Why am I tuning out after the third line?” or “I wish I had found more time to run through this section on my own last week.” I have many consciously-formed thoughts, but I don’t know how much of it is purely about the drumming versus the intrusion of leftover concerns from work; frustratingly incomplete to-do lists from home; or vestigial irritation from encounters with lane-crowding drivers or wide-sitting metro commuters. Taiko is sufficiently enmeshed in the fabric of my life that it’s hard to neatly separate that experience from the rest. There are other folks far more deeply entwined than I am, so perhaps my experience is transitional.
My next instinct is to segue to a Dave Berry-esque train-of-consciousness ramble that attempts to capture my experience of drumming as I’m drumming. Why is hitting a taiko drum so utterly satisfying? And allow me to emphasize “utterly.” As in “Oh yeah.” Not the “Oh yeah” that comes out with an ascendant breeziness; I’m talking about the one that rumbles in your chest and comes out with that deep, resonant bass that could start an avalanche. When I’m playing, that satisfaction almost immediately transitions to need, as in “I want to do that again, right now.” I don’t know what the drum is vibing with, all I know is that it is good. If we sometimes struggle to be heard in the world, this drum is the antidote. The drum will reward you generously for even a fairly-good hit. I don’t know that I’ve ever hit a drum perfectly, but I can’t wait to find out what that’s like.
So why do I choose the hit the drum? It’s not an angry experience. The drums never did anything to me. I hold them perfectly innocent in all of this. If anything, the drum is a partner, like that smart horse in the old westerns that somehow shows up in the right place to allow a quick getaway when needed, that doesn’t flinch when you jump onto its back from a second-story window. More than that, though, the drum is a translator. It converts the energy of exertion into communication. Wherever that energy originates, the drum can turn it into something better. Frustrations can be re-channeled into something cathartic and even useful.
That’s where it gets interesting. When that energy starts reforming into something external, it can take on a different character. What might have started as annoyance can shift into exuberance. When expressed in concert with others, that inward focus can alter to communal fun. If done even half-right, it even sounds pretty good. Playing three-quarters right would probably feel awesome. I want to find out. For me, for now, the best I have are flashes of “pretty good” and that’s enough to pull me back for another round. Giddy-up!