This week’s post is by Abena Oteng-Agipong. Abena took her first taiko class with Mark six years ago and is now a member of Miyako Taiko, the community group of the Mark H Taiko School. She says, “My first encounter with taiko was in college when my lion dance group, Cornell Lion Dance, did a collaboration with the taiko group on campus, Yamatai. I tried to drum once in lion dance, decided I was terrible at it, and didn’t try again until I came across Mark’s school. When I am not playing taiko, I work in the ‘fascinating’ world of IT and web development. On a more interesting note, if I am not playing taiko, I may be practicing martial arts (I started wushu – Chinese contemporary martial arts – in college as well) or trying out something new – this year it is ballroom dancing.”
Abena wrote for us about Miyako Taiko’s busy spring season of performing and organizing events. Enjoy! -Linda
Spring with Miyako
The spring season is probably the busiest time of the year for Miyako, but also the most accomplished. It starts off with the Shinshun Matsuri at the Washington Marriott in Woodley Park. This event takes place in late January or early February. As the first performance of the year, it serves as a marker of the upcoming performance season.
Each year that we do this performance, I can see how our group improves in the logistics side of a gig: our sets get tighter, transitions smoother, load in, setup, take down, and load out faster. This year, our set was exactly on time at twenty minutes, which is impressive considering we have twenty people playing, positioning, and moving drums in between songs. We also did a somewhat impromptu procession in the morning before our set as kickoff for the festival. We only talked through what we were going to do the morning of, but we were again, exactly on time at four minutes. As Mark puts it, we are working towards becoming that well-oiled machine. And of course, our playing gets better each time!
Shinshun Matsuri is also a special performance for Miyako as it is usually one that most of our members can participate in. Miyako is a big group, about twenty members strong, so it is hard to get everyone in the same place at the same time. But on the rare occasion that we can all play together, it is amazing! As soon as we started with our first song, Ringu, I could feel the excitement and engagement not only from my fellow members, but the crowd as well. This year, every member of Miyako was able to perform and share our energy with the Japanese community of the DC Metro region.
After the Shinshun Matsuri, we go into full Sakura Taiko Takeover at the Tidal Basin/Sakura Taiko Fest (STF) mode. We may have other events going on, such as attending and sometimes even performing at the East Coast Taiko Conference, but our main focus is putting on this event. One area where I feel like Miyako really shines is supporting each other. Every member of the group will, without hesitation, be there to lend a helping hand to ensure the event runs smoothly.
Organizing a full day event like STF is no small feat, but every year, I am amazed at the show our community puts on. It has been getting bigger each year, involving more groups from the United States and even Canada, different branches of the Mark H Taiko school and, yes, even more equipment and drums. And on top of the organizing, Miyako is also working on our own set for the performance. It is a lot of work to pull all of this off, but it is very rewarding.
While Shinshun Matsuri connected us with the Japanese community of DC, STF connects us with community groups, collegiate groups, and other taiko players in North America. I look forward to seeing familiar and new faces each season. Being part of the National Cherry Blossom Festival also allows us to engage with a huge audience. The best audience members, without a doubt, are the kids rocking out in the front while we play. I can’t wait to see them again this year!
We can’t rest quite yet after STF, as we usually have a few more gigs after that. These are usually smaller gigs, such as the Freedom Walk or Lantern Lighting Festival. One of the advantages of having a big group is that we can split up for the smaller gigs. We also play at the Sakura Matsuri, the DC area street festival associated with the Cherry Blossom Festival.
Each performance is a little different in nature, and sometimes not everything goes according to plan, but Miyako has a remarkable ability to recover and adapt. All the members of Miyako put a lot of energy and effort into spring performance season, I really enjoying playing with my taiko family and representing the Mark H Taiko school in the DC area. With these amazing people behind me, I have no doubt we will have another successful performance season this year.