Taiko drumming: the new Zumba


The Burlington Taiko Group in Dibden on Jan. 24

On Thursday Jan. 24 the Burlington Taiko Group took to the Dibden Stage with their stomach-rumbling and propulsive sounds.

Taiko, meaning “big drum” in Japanese has been practiced in the culture through war and religious ceremonies for over 1500 years. The founder of Burlington Taiko, Stuart Paton, uses this art to both entertain and educate people. “Since 1987, Burlington Taiko has been mesmerizing audiences with the powerful and spellbinding sounds of the Taiko,” according to their website. “With the power of an elemental force of nature, men and women play with the passion of complete abandon, fully committing their bodies and spirits to the beautiful, precise choreography and powerful, surging rhythms expressed by Taiko. Using a background of thunderous drums, graceful movement and colorful pageantry, Burlington Taiko provides a unique opportunity for entertainment and education.”

The stage was set up in a maze of small, medium and large drums which all made drastically different sounds. The drummers donned black parachute pants with smocks over red t-shirts reading, “Burlington Taiko” in Japanese characters. It was evident from the beginning of the show that not only do these musicians need to learn to play the different songs, but they also need to be strong enough to strike the drums for at least six minutes straight, the approximate length of one piece. And if that is not demanding enough, they also have choreographed dances from drum to drum all across the stage.

At one point towards the middle of the show, Paton sang a lullaby to the sounds of the Taiko that was sung to him when he was a child. He explained that it was a song to put dragons to sleep, and then all of a sudden from each side of the stage came dancers dressed as dragons. They weaved their way through the audience, cuddling up to several members and eventually making their way back on stage where they fell asleep. The act was very comical and also true to the Japanese culture. Watching these passionate dancers and musicians, it is easy to feel the same passion as they do. They had the audience entranced from the moment the first gong rang.

For their last song, they played a piece called “Tsunami,” which held the audience in rapture. The piece started calm and smooth, much like the water before a tsunami comes. It slowly built up, like a rolling wave, then the wave crested with a jolt of noise, and suddenly thunderous sound poured out of the drums. During this part, each member of the group took turns doing solos on the largest drum and it was amazing to watch. They used their entire bodies to extract sound from the drums with every strike. At the end the song slowly got quieter and quieter until the strikes on the drums could no longer be heard.

At the conclusion of the show, the entire audience sprang from their seats to applaud the group. Smiles were abundant on the audience members’ faces and the energy in the auditorium was high. Valerie Garcia, a JSC student, said, “That was amazing and the skill was perfected!” It was clear to from the audience’s reaction that they felt much the same way. Paton also noted at the end of the show that if someone formed a club, JSC might be able to get their very own Taiko class. So who knows? Maybe Johnson will be a part of the new Taiko sensation in the very near future.