Memorial Day: Interview with a Taiko Airman

The last weekend in May means different things to different people. It signals the beginning of summer: barbecues, weekends away, and warm weather.  We get a chance to experience the small freedoms sometimes taken for granted.  As we close out the taiko census this month and start analyzing our data, we are constantly reminded of the diverse views and experiences of the members of our community.  

TCA sat down with Rob De La Cerda from Odaiko Sonora to find out more about his taiko reality. Rob has been playing taiko for 10 years with Odaiko Sonora’s Adult Community Group. Rob is a classically trained percussionist, an avid soccer player, a husband, and a father, but for one weekend a month and two weeks a year, he also serves as an active member of the US Air Force Reserve.

AF RobTCA: Thanks for meeting with us today to share your thoughts and experiences.  Can you tell us a little more about what it means to be an Air Force reservist?  

Rob:  We’re an arm of the US Air Force and serve as a backup to supplement active duty Air Force men and women.  To stay in top shape, we have monthly drill or unit training assemblies, and for two weeks each year, we are deployed to locations around the world for full time service. Our time helps provide time off for active personnel, or additional support for areas where we’re needed.  The reserves can also be called upon to do active duty at particular times of need.  For example, my unit was activated and deployed after 9/11. It is sometimes very difficult work, but it gives you an idea of what active duty personnel face every day.

TCA:  Why did you decide to enlist in the military?

Rob:  My father was in the Marine Corps and served in Vietnam.  Because of that, I grew up with an interest in military history.  In high school, I decided that I wanted to do other things in addition to military service like go to college, so I decided to do a part time service, and officially joined as a citizen airman in 1992.

Taiko RobTCA:  How did you become involved with taiko?

Rob:  Growing up, I played classical percussion and drumline in marching band, and music was a big part of my life.  I saw Odaiko Sonora perform at a local family arts festival here in  Tucson, Arizona and thought it was very intriguing so I signed up for classes in 2006 and have continued ever since.  

TCA:  What was it like switching from classical percussion to taiko?

Rob:  It was a tough transition at first with the body awareness, dance, and choreography. Learning through kuchishoga was also a big change from reading Western music.  Sometimes I still have a hard time with “don kara”s, but if I see something played a couple of times, I can catch onto the rhythms pretty quickly.

TCA:  So you’ve been playing for around 10 years.  What in particular has drawn you to continue with taiko?  

Rob:  For me, it’s about the music and performance.  I like being able to work hard to learn a piece and share that with other people. Odaiko Sonora also makes taiko scalable and fits with my schedule.  I’m able to put my life first and still participate in classes and performances.  We have a diverse offering of players across the board and we all bring something different to the group.  They’re good people that are truly like a family.  In fact, my own 10 year old daughter plays with the youth group as well. We all support each other and have fun together.

TCA:  Do you see any connections between your taiko life and your work in the US Air Force reserve?

Rob: I think my military bearing has taught me to be serious and disciplined, so practicing and working hard to prepare for performances is something I can relate to. In both worlds, we train to perform well. With my background in music and my military leadership training, I also see my role onstage as a rock or an anchor, whether it’s with the ji, or the main patterns.  

Conversely, in my Air Force life, taiko gives me inner peace.  When you’re in a hostile area, deployed to a location far away from home, you need to have something to hold onto that won’t hurt you.  To maintain the strength to lead effectively in times of extreme pressure or crisis, I remember rhythms, or repeat kuchishoga in my head.  It helps keep me grounded and moving forward.

TCA:  What does Memorial Day mean to you?

Rob:  For me, it’s a reminder of the brothers and sisters in arms we’ve lost.  The military is a 100% voluntary force– whether it was wartime, or peacetime, it can be a hazardous position to be in, and we should remember those that lost their lives for our country.  “Remember the past,live the present,look to the future.”


Special thanks to Rob De La Cerda for his time and involvement with this post.  

On this Memorial Day, help us measure our extended taiko family and fill out the Taiko Census today!  #1dayleft.  The census closes on May 31st.

If you would like to find out more about how you can help veterans and troops, check out the organizations below:

Disabled American Veterans


American Legion

National Council of Veterans Associations in Canada