Audiences groove to the beat of the Taiko Project's drums

On Saturday night, Wadsworth Auditorium was overtaken by the sounds of the powerful drums of the Taiko Project. Presented by the Limelight and Accents series, the Taiko Project originated in Los Angeles, Ca. where it was founded in 2000 to help celebrate American taiko, a variation of the traditional Japanese drumming style.

Since then, the group has garnered much success; it became the first American taiko group to win the annual Tokyo International Taiko Contest and has performed with numerous artists. In addition, the Taiko Project performed at the 2009 Academy Awards and even appeared in a popular commercial for Mitsubishi.

As the group began its performance, it quickly became clear that the Taiko Project is about far more than drumming; the show soon evolved into a showcase of the Japanese taiko culture. The audience was introduced to artists playing various instruments who danced around the stage as though they were enjoying time with friends and not executing planned choreography.

Following the first piece, one performer addressed the audience directly. After reciting facts he had learned about Geneseo by reading the Wikipedia article devoted to the town, he discussed a 2007 article appearing in Money Magazine that named Geneseo the No. 10 place to meet and fall in love. He then expressed how excited the performers were to meet the audience following the show, which earned him a number of laughs.

Each transition accompanied either a similar chat with the audience or a musical interlude that drew the performance seamlessly from one piece to the next.

One member introduced three pieces that were performed as a tribute to the three founding groups of American taiko. The first displayed the culture; two members wore masks and acted out a folk tale. The next two performances demonstrated the power and force of the taiko drums.

The colors cast upon on the backdrop of the stage highlighted the intensity and energy of the performance. Dark blues accompanied a calm beginning, but gave way to brighter, warmer colors as the music intensified. The vibrations of the drums could be felt all throughout the auditorium.

The drumming consisted of more than just rhythm and sound. The artists performed stunts, moving their entire bodies as they beat upon the skin of the drums. One member bent backward to play on two drums – one behind him and one in front of him – simultaneously.

Drums were hardly the only instrument employed by the group. One flautist’s melodies carried through many of the pieces. The koto, a type of harp, was used in a piece that reflected upon the ancestral use of stars as guides. The group also used a special marimba acquired from Zimbabwe in an island-themed piece. There were other distinctive instruments used, including a whistle, that were less recognizable to the audience.

Perhaps the most important instrument the group used besides the drums themselves was voice. The yells of the performers were an integral part of each piece and are significant to the taiko culture as a whole.

The Taiko Project members’ passion for performing and spreading their culture was evident throughout the entire performance. The show was filled with high energy and a distinctive medley of elements. This dedication earned the group not one, but two standing ovations from an impressed audience.