Local drummers rumble to taiko beat | TheUnion.com

Local drummers rumble to taiko beat

Japanese taiko drumming classes have been “rumbling” in our community since late 2000 at St. Joseph’s Cultural Center.

Currently, Grass Valley Taiko, under the direction of Sensei Mitzi Garnett, has an enrollment of more than 40 students in three classes. They include a children’s class, a beginner’s class and an advanced beginner’s class.

Taiko drumming originated in Japan more than 2,000 years ago as “the beating of the big drum” and was used in rituals and festivals to drive away evil spirits and pests harmful to crops and to invoke rain for a bountiful harvest. It was also used to communicate between villages to carry the beat at wars. Today, this form of ritualized drumming is experienced in concerts, festivals and spiritual healings. It combines percussion with physically demanding choreographic and martial arts movements.

The grand master of taiko, Sensei Seiichi Tanaka, introduced this art form to America in the 1960s. He currently heads up the San Francisco Taiko Dojo and has been considered the “Father of Taiko” in America. He is responsible for the creation of countless ensemble groups from Maine to Texas, including Hawaii and Canada. Sensei Tanaka is highly revered and sought after as the expert in the field. Sensei Mitzi had the opportunity to study under him from 1995 to 1999. When she moved to Grass Valley in 2000, she vowed to bring taiko to this community; she has succeeded.

In mid-January, Sensei Mitzi took Grass Valley Taiko to San Francisco to present the group to Sensei Tanaka and to request the honor of playing the highly acclaimed “Hiryu Sandan Geishi” to the grand master himself.

Today, it is a rarity that the grand master would devote such time to essentially beginners. They were honored and humbled by his devotion to the discipline and his commitment to the group’s success. He acknowledged Grass Valley Taiko with the honor of being considered “Taiko Family … blood” and Mitzi-sensei as a worthy instructor carrying on the wadaiko teachings (way of Taiko). With the commitment that the group return to San Francisco periodically for future workshops, he blessed them with the privilege of his expressed permission to play the song in its entirety, including a very exclusive ending that is currently limited to three groups worldwide.

Additionally, he rewrote the prayer to include Grass Valley and expressed his confidence that Sensei Mitzi has the “voice” to call on the dragon – to incite the energy needed for change and to take this work – our part of the world – to its enlightened path. Mitzi describes her experience: “I feel both big and small at the same time from this experience. Like a pebble that has been lifted into the arms of a mountain.” Sensei Tanaka truly saw the potential in Grass Valley Taiko.

Sensei Tanaka and members of the San Francisco Taiko Dojo have been invited to participate in a Taiko Festival in August 2005 in Grass Valley, sponsored by the Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra as a fund-raiser for the theater.

Due to the popularity of Taiko drumming and the demand for more classes, Sensei Mitzi will be accepting enrollments for a new beginners’ class to commence late February. Contact her at grassvalleytaiko@excite.com or 273-2285.

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