Grass Valley Taiko, under the direction of Mitzi Garnett, has been part of this community’s artistic and cultural landscape since 2000.
One may have experienced their thunderous drumming at the Nevada County Fair, the Fourth of July parade, the Relay for Life, or at its 10th anniversary celebration at the Center for the Arts in 2010.
Members of Grass Valley Taiko caravanned to San Francisco Oct. 27 to audition for the upcoming International Taiko Festival at the Lam Research Theatre, located at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 700 Howard St. (at 3rd Street). Those members were ecstatic to learn that they had made the cut.
After some fine-tuning in recent weeks, Grass Valley Taiko will share the stage with other esteemed taiko players, including special guests from Japan, Wako Daiko, at the 2 p.m. matinee Saturday. For tickets, visit wwwybca.org or call (415) 978-2787.
Taiko, a Japanese style of drumming, has a long and rich history. Originating in China thousands of years ago, it traveled through many countries and took on various forms, and finally settled in Japan. Here, it was used to call the gods to alter existing conditions such as warding off pestilence, bringing rain, blessing a harvest or inviting the ancestors to join in celebration of the family.
Villages used the drums to communicate; soldiers were sent to war and fishermen were called in from the sea. Taiko was once very utilitarian.
As Japan became influenced by the West, however, certain traditions were left behind, as many young people struck out for America. Soon, the beating of the drums was missed as traditional festivals began to surface in America.
A few frontiersmen took the lead in bringing Taiko to America. Among them, and one of the most influential in 1968, was Grand Master Seiichi Tanaka of San Francisco Taiko Dojo. He is noted for having started or influenced most groups that have since sprung up in North America.
Garnett, student of Grand Master Tanaka, has carried that torch and formed Grass Valley Taiko in 2000. Over the years and as recently as this summer, the group has attended workshops by Grand Master Tanaka, who has continued to impart his infinite wisdom and art form.
The group now actively participates in many community events and offers classes for all levels. Beginners are always welcome. Just come to the Dojo located at the St. Joseph’s Cultural Center in Grass Valley (entrance at the ground level, opposite the garden) at 5:30 p.m. Wednesdays. Garnetts’s creative interpretations of traditional pieces, along with those created by the members, present a variety of styles and rhythms to appease the audience.
The community is invited to attend the International Taiko Festival 2 p.m. Saturday in San Francisco. In addition to this appearance, there are performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday by other taiko artists and groups.