By Marit Hanson and Christopher Stephan
On Tuesday, March 19, five taiko groups filled the Gremlin Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota, preparing to perform together for the first time. The excitement was palpable as each group—Taikollaborative, St. Olaf Taiko, Harisen Daiko, Ensō Daiko, and Kogen Taiko—arrived and began to rehearse their pieces. In total, over 50 performers participated. Though many knew each other from shared taiko classes, past affiliations with the same group, or just as fellow taiko fans, very few had ever performed together, let alone with four other Minnesota taiko groups.
As the show began, the mood of the crowd could only be described as eager. Representatives of the Twin Cities Japanese American Citizens League Education Committee and the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota (ILCM) —the two organizations to which all of the proceeds of the concert were donated—were in attendance. Feedback on the performance itself from both organizations was glowingly positive, and Sophie from ILCM, who was having her first taiko experience when she came to represent her organization, came away eager to know where she could see more.
Each group brought their own voice and style to the performance. Ensō and Harisen brought powerful and driving pieces. Taikollaborative and St. Olaf contributed open-source favorites. Serene and contemplative pieces shared by Harisen, Taikollaborative, and Ensō provided moments of reflection. Both St. Olaf and Harisen performed songs that showcased their inherent geekiness. The audience was treated to a wide range of songs, subjects, and ways to play and appreciate taiko. However, no group could hope to outshine Kogen’s triumphant return to the stage—their infectious energy brought joy to all present.
In the course of the evening we had shared a stage, but we also shared songs, and shared in the love of performing and experiencing taiko together. In the finale of the performance, three groups joined together to perform Daichi, by Yuichi Kimura of Daichi no Kai, of Kobe, Japan. Which is a thunderous, driving piece written as a requiem for the survivors of the Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995. This was followed by an encore featuring two soloists from each group during which it was impossible to tell who was cheering more: the performers, or the audience. Even before the bows began, the house was on its feet.
As the crowd mingled with performers after the performance, similar comments were on everyone’s lips, saying: “When’s the next performance?” and “We should do this again.” With new and renewed connections made, and a fresh feeling of camaraderie, the doors are now open to future collaborations large and small. We came together, performed together, and supported our community together in a meaningful way, and we are all grateful to the Taiko Community Alliance for supporting our endeavor and helping to make this event possible.