Grass Valley Taiko asks for community’s help to repair drums | TheUnion.com
Emily Lavin
Staff Writer

Back to: Local News

Grass Valley Taiko asks for community’s help to repair drums

Mitzi Garnett would hear the beat thumping through her windows every Thursday evening — bum-bum-bumbum-bum-bum.

Garnett, then in her 20s, was serving in the U.S. Marines and living in an apartment in Okinawa, Japan.

"What in the world is that?" she remembers thinking.

One day, she decided to find out. She laced up her running shoes, and took off through the streets of Okinawa, following the noise. She was getting closer — until the sound stopped. Soon after, she noticed a man walking toward her; he was carrying a bag full of sticks that looked as though they could create that thumping noise.

In her broken Japanese, she was able to ask the man if he knew where the sound was coming from. His eyes lit up, Garnett said; the next thing she knew, she was inside a nearby building, getting a private taiko performance from three Okinawans.

Garnett was immediately spellbound by the Japanese drumming.

"It was literally like the drums sucked me into the center and then sent me back out two inches taller," Garnett said.

After moving back stateside, Garnett ended up in San Francisco. She would go on to spend five years studying taiko under Grand Master Seiichi Tanaka, the man who is widely credited for bringing taiko drumming to North America.

In 2000, Garnett relocated to Nevada County, where she founded Grass Valley Taiko. The group offers beginner- and performance-level classes at its dojo at 12400 Loma Rica Drive.

Since its inception, Grass Valley Taiko has performed at a wide variety of local and regional events. This July, the group will perform on one of its biggest stages yet — the 20th annual California WorldFest. The four-day music festival, which will be held July 14-17 at the Nevada County Fairgrounds, will feature more than 40 artists on eight stages, and will be headlined by rock and blues icon Boz Scaggs.

Grass Valley Taiko is asking for the community's help to ensure its drums are in top shape for the performance. In April, the group launched an online fundraiser to help repair several drum heads; that effort raised about $3,000, enough to repair the group's most-worn drums.

The group is accepting additional donations to help repair the rest of its instruments, as well as expand its instrument repertoire. To donate, visit grassvalleytaiko.com/donate.

Several members of the group pitch in to repair the drums — a time-consuming, detail-oriented process. It costs about $250 to repair each drum head.

"It's an expensive venture," said Mike Oitzman, who has been a part of Grass Valley Taiko for over a decade. "The drums, many of them, they're over 10 years old. They've been played hard."

And having quality instruments makes a big difference on stage, said Margaret Arroyo, who has been a member of the group for seven years.

"The drums will sing better, they will sound better, they will project better," Arroyo said.

For many in the group, Taiko is more than just a hobby — it's a passion. The drumming style sharpens muscle memory, requires discipline and thrives on teamwork, Arroyo said.

"I like the sense of working as a group and being one drum together," Arroyo said.

Members of the Japanese drumming group invest a lot of time into practicing the art form, Garnett said. But the group's focus isn't just on bringing music to the community; it's also about sharing the culture and tradition behind Taiko.

"There's a whole root system that's going in and sprouting up in Nevada County that's bringing this art form and bringing this whole belief system to so many people here," Garnett said.

The opportunity to play at California WorldFest is not only a chance for the group to continue to share taiko with others, but to represent Nevada County while doing so — and that's exciting, Garnett said.

"We're taking it very seriously. We're polishing up, getting our Sunday best on and we want to bring the best that we can bring out there, and show them that Nevada County's got talent, too," Garnett said. "We're worth being right there with Boz Scaggs and all those big names."

To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email elavin@theunion.com or call 530-477-4230.