For a select few attendees at the North American Taiko Conference each year, the excitement that comes with traveling to the gathering is accompanied by a little bit of nervousness. They come to NATC not just to take workshops and shop in the Marketplace, but also to play for their taiko family friends with public concerts like Taiko Ten and Taiko Jam. These showcases demonstrate the wide breadth of taiko performance in North America, performed in front of an audience unlike any other.
Amongst those groups who have performed at NATC, only a few have done so multiple times. One such group is Zenshin Daiko, a youth group from Maui, Hawaii, whose members performed in the 2005 and 2015 Taiko Jam concerts. When they look back on their experiences in Taiko Jam, they acknowledge both the magnitude of playing for taiko peers, but also the unique nature of the experience.
Sidney Tanaka, who performed at the 2015 Taiko Jam, calls the experience “frightening but fun.” Peytynn Kubo echoes this feeling, stating that it was “an honor and thrilling experience to play before the taiko community as well as some of the most respected and talented taiko artists.” She continues, “although at first the idea made me feel more nervous and pressured, it also pushed me to work harder and deliver one of the best and most special performances in my taiko career.”
It’s the act of playing for taiko friends, family, and teachers that drives performers to reach another level for NATC. As Lina Tamaye reflects on her experience playing in the 2005 Taiko Jam, “nothing compares to performing for the taiko community.” Elise Fujimoto, who played in the 2005 Taiko Jam and served as 2015 NATC Conference Coordinator, notes that “it’s different to play for an audience that truly understands taiko. They can be the harshest critics and the biggest supporters.”
Zenshin Daiko has certainly made an impact in their performances. One example took place at the 2015 Taiko Jam when the stage lights went out during a lightning storm in the middle of their performance set. Any audience would be impressed by the performers’ ability to continue playing, but the audience of taiko players especially understood the training and dedication that it took to maintain focus and keep playing through what could have been a show-ending accident. The roar of the crowd when the lights went back on was unlike anything else during the show.
Zenshin Daiko members range from 6 to 17 years old, but everyone is changed by their experience playing at NATC. The intense experience that is playing at Taiko Jam doesn’t get in the way of the core community that is both both created by and helps to create NATC. As Lina reflects, the conference is “the best way to get the taiko community together to make new friends and see old friends.” This benefits everyone. Elise sees “supreme value in the collective knowledge of this community,” and says gatherings like NATC “are what truly create connections and allow our community to thrive.” Through these connections, new understandings can be reached. Sidney notes that NATC “brings different styles of taiko to everyone in the community so that we all learn more in different points of view.” The celebration of difference is also highlighted by Peytynn, who feels that “the diversity and passion in the taiko community is what allows us to flourish and grow together as a whole.”
NATC means many things to many people, and different groups approach it in accordance with their own experiences. From organizers to participants, workshop leaders to concert leaders, all come to the conference with different roles but for the same reason: to celebrate taiko and the community it has created. Old friends come together, new friends are created, and lives are changed forever as they share knowledge and experiences. Looking back at her time at NATC in different roles, participating in many different ways, Elise summed up NATC in a single phrase: “I love coming to conference and feeling like I’m home.”
Throughout the month of April, we will be adding to the #20YearstoNATC Timeline by bringing you perspectives of NATC’s significance from various parts of the taiko community. Don’t miss out on NATC 2017!
Special Thanks: Zenshin Daiko. Written by: Ben Pachter, TCA Program Committee. Edited by: Elise Fujimoto, TCA Communications Committee.