There’s no mistaking a performance by the Moab Taiko Dan drumming group. With palpable energy they beat out formal percussion compositions on traditional Japanese-style drums, and it’s clear in their postures and smiles that they’re having fun. This month, the community is invited to join in the fun energy by participating in a number of upcoming drumming workshops.
Moab Taiko Dan (MTD) was founded in 1994 and has been a crowd-pleaser at both public and private events over the years. The performers are invited to play at weddings, graduation ceremonies and festivals, and have delighted participants in Moab’s half marathon events by drumming along the course during races.
“We set up our drums so the runners can hear us down the canyon miles before they even get to us, because the sounds echo off the canyon walls,” said Robin Dahm, an MTD member. “Then they run right in front of us, and they have smiles on their faces and they clap at us to thank us for doing it. And they often keep pace with our drummers. Sometimes they stop and they pose for photos ... and as they run further down they can still hear us drumming for another mile or so.”
The group’s sensei, or master, Tiffany Tamaribuchi, lives in Sacramento, California, and comes to Moab a few times a year to give instruction. Tamaribuchi is internationally recognized for her taiko mastery, and will be offering several workshops in Moab between Jan. 4 and Jan. 8, which are open to the public.
“Sensei Tamaribuchi is a world-class instructor who makes taiko drumming fun and accessible,” said Vicki Webster, one of MTD’s senpai, or teachers. “This is an opportunity you don’t want to miss.”
Those entirely new to Japanese drumming will learn the basics, like how to hold the bachi, or drumsticks, and the proper striking techniques. Dahm said beginners “will learn how to relax their bodies into a posture that gives them power but doesn’t make them work harder than they need to — they will learn proper form.
“One of the things that surprises most beginners,” she went on, “is that when we hit the drum head, we are not ‘muscling’ the drumstick onto the drum head — we’re actually relaxing our arms and letting gravity help us get the drumsticks down to the drum head ... we’re drumming smarter, not harder.”
In the workshop, participants will get a chance to play three types of Japanese drums: shime daiko, which is like a snare drum, and chu-daiko and odaiko, the latter of which is a very large drum that can be played by two people at once.
Most of MTD’s instruments were made by MTD members — some of the drums have individual names, like Oishi, which means ‘delicious’ in Japanese, and Bertha. Some of the drum makers engraved positive messages on the insides of their instruments before sealing them with the drum heads.
Dahm emphasized that it doesn’t take a lot of upper body strength to perform Taiko, though it may appear that way to an audience watching the group. The drummers’ movements are sweeping and deliberate, and the resulting sounds ring loud. Dahm also assured newcomers that previous musical experience isn’t necessary, and that being part of Moab Taiko Dan is not expensive. The group provides drums to play and monthly membership is $20.
The classes will take place at Grand County Middle School, which is also where Moab Taiko Dan holds its regular practices.
Members are on the lookout for a new space to practice, whether that space is lent, donated, rented or sold to the group.
“If we don’t find a new spot within the next two years, we will have to disband our group,” Dahm said. “We are pretty sure that someone somewhere in town has exactly what we need to drum on … we just have to figure out how to make contact.”