International Taiko Festival Rising Stars Q&A

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It was on a visit to the Cherry Blossom Festival in San Francisco’s Japantown in 1967 that Grand Master Tanaka discovered his calling. Tanaka was surprised to learn that there was no Taiko drumming at the Cherry Blossom festival in San Francisco — or, for that matter, anywhere else during his travels in the United States.

Tanaka returned to Japan and sought out a visionary in the Taiko world, Taiko Grand Master Daihachi Oguchi of Osuwa Daiko, to teach him the art, traditions, and philosophies of Taiko.  In 1968, Grand Master Tanaka emerged as the sole Taiko drummer at the Cherry Blossom Festival. That same year, Grand Master Tanaka established San Francisco Taiko Dojo, the first such school in the United States.

Forty years have passed since the founding of San Francisco Taiko Dojo and more than 10,000 men, women, and children of all walks of life have been fortunate to study under Grand Master Tanaka. Many of these students have gone on to begin over 200 other Taiko groups throughout the United States and Canada.

Grand Master Tanaka has been recognized and awarded by various countries for his talents and contributions to the preservation of Japanese traditions and culture. Most recently, Grand Master Tanaka was honored by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs with its prestigious Foreign Ministers Commendation. The Commendation recognizes Grand Master Tanaka’s significant efforts in promoting the Japanese art of Taiko drumming.  In 2001, Grand Master Tanaka was named a National Heritage Fellow by the United States National Endowment for the Arts.

Grand Master Tanaka currently continues teaching hundreds of students the art of Taiko, including the young members of the San Francisco Rising Stars Dream Team.  The Rising Stars consists of a group of teenagers and young adults who have literally grown up studying and performing Taiko together under Grand Master Seiichi Tanaka for 13 years-learning respect for each other as well as the art of Taiko. They have performed in Japan, Rhode Island, Indiana, Chicago, Hawaii, New York, and across the United States, and are considered one of the finest Taiko youth groups in the country, and the most disciplined and traditionally trained Taiko youth group in the world.

Sixteen-year-old Rising Star Michelle Daher has been playing taiko since she was six. She lives in Half Moon Bay, and attends Half Moon Bay High School.

When did you start doing taiko and how did you start?

I started playing taiko about ten years ago, and I started because one of my friends had started taking classes. I wanted to get in touch with my Japanese background, and my parents urged me to start practice, just for fun.

Can you describe the experience of performing with the SF Rising Stars?

It’s really incredible. No matter how much pressure you’re under before the performance, and no matter how much you might be pushed to your limit, being on stage performing with your friends is absolutely exhilarating. You’re just feeding off of everyone else’s energy and it’s incredibly fun. I love it!

How has it influenced other aspects of your life?

Discipline is a huge part of taiko, and I think it’s really helped me be more responsible in the world outside of the dojo.

What is it like working with Grand Master Tanaka?

He’s a very strict man – he’s the most venerable taiko player in America, and so he definitely knows what he’s talking about. Even though he can be really strict, his strictness helps you grow as a drummer and also disciplines you.

Which taiko groups or artists have most influenced you and why?

I  can’t really name specific groups or artists because I’ve been influenced by a great number of other taiko groups. A lot of times, grand masters from Japan come and teach us their techniques, and it’s very helpful and amazing to watch how other groups drum differently.

Do you plan to continue doing Taiko?

I would absolutely love to continue doing Taiko – I’m not sure what’s going to happen in a couple of years when I leave for college, but hopefully I’ll go somewhere that has a taiko group nearby. If not, I would love to create my own group or at the very least fly back to see the International Taiko Festival every year.

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