It must have been 25 years ago that I saw my first live performance of taiko drums at Pierce College. The rhythm is like the physical component of fireworks as the reckless heartbeat of war drums beats up against your chest- drums that have resounded nearly 1500 years.
About every year, Japanese exchange students come to Pierce and often re-form a ‘Taiko and Culture Club’. Two or three times a year they present a performance for the student body and local residents in the know.
The stage holds three sets of drums. It is an honor to play the largest drum, usually the oldest drum. Their largest one is over 50 years old, but it is common for taiko drums to be hundreds of years old.
I eagerly attend the first showing and devour their first selection “Tale of the Samurai”, which, as a treat, is reprised at the end of the show as well.
I realize I know one of the drummers, one of a handful of female drummers. I don’t realize they are short, but they tell me that, even for women in Japan, they are small. Still, they beat the drums with an unquenchable vigor… and just a dash of theatricality. And smiles throughout.
Mami is nice to me from the first day and is perennially upbeat. After performances, she runs over to me and throws her arms around my neck for always showing.
But, as exchange students, they will return to their homes as the school year closes.
On the day of their last practice, they chose “Tale of the Samurai” to work out… three times.
Halfway through practice, Asuka hands me a small bowl-shaped instrument that gives a tinny, almost tambourine rhythm accompaniment. I concentrate on giving the correct pace.
Suddenly I am handed ‘the big sticks’ and am playing the largest drum. I don’t even have a chance to realize my turn of fortune and moment in time.
Though an hour has passed, all too soon, the drums fall silent. Mami hugs me one last time. I give her a present and hurry out knowing I will never see these magnificent artists ever again.
I hope that my future viewings will be even half as good as the thrill of friends and that relentless rhythm.
Domo arigato, Mami.