TCA Member Spotlight: Kara Drapala

Join us as we take a trip with Kara Drapala from the east coast to the midwest to the west coast and then slightly further south on the west coast. What do you do when “life happens”? Well, according to Kara you join San Francisco Taiko Dojo and use those hard-earned blisters as a solid reason to never hand-wash a dish again (and instead fill your time with more taiko).

When did you first find taiko? Is this the same time that you started playing taiko?

I actually had a big gap between the two, ha! And I’ve told this story a lot so apologies to any repeat listeners out there. I first saw taiko when I was young, maybe nine or ten, at Epcot at Disney World in Florida. We had the pleasure of seeing the amazing Matsuriza perform and I was just obsessed—I made my parents take us to see their show every day we were there, which I’m sure they appreciated. I even bought a CD of taiko songs (and other traditional Japanese music!) afterwards, which I played so much it broke. Growing up in the suburbs of Detroit, that was really the biggest IRL experience I had with the art form at the time.

And then of course, life happened, and it wasn’t until I moved to San Francisco for work in 2013 that I rediscovered taiko and my passion for it. I was very lucky to move to Japantown, which is awesome for many reasons, among them that San Francisco Taiko Dojo performs there regularly. I saw the incredible Cherry Blossom Festival concert, and to my great delight learned that they actually offered classes at the YMCA, sort of like a satellite location of the dojo in South City. I showed up the very next class with workout clothes and a dream and here we are today!


What has your taiko journey looked like?

I am extremely honored to have spent the first five years of my taiko life at San Francisco Taiko Dojo. Sensei Tanaka and all of the senpai there effectively transformed someone who had never played any form of musical instrument, couldn’t read music, and didn’t know any Japanese into a taiko nerd like none other. I also discovered that I could indeed do more than 50 pushups if I tried!

In all actuality, I like to say that taiko did make me the person I am today, because I came to taiko at a really difficult time in my life. I had just moved across the country to a new job and house pretty much sight unseen, and wasn’t loving it. But the family I made at Taiko Dojo really helped me push past the limitations I had set for myself, physically and mentally, and gave me great purpose (and a huge bunch of like-minded friends!). True story, I had a friend from Dojo as my emergency work contact for several years—because I really felt that I could trust them with my life.

But as for my actual taiko playing experience, feel free to insert 80s-style-training-montage here. It was literally building myself up from zero, and it was so HARD! I actually got blisters so bad people asked if I had a bike accident. But one bonus of the Dojo system is that you can track your progress pretty clearly. Essentially, the harder you work, the more you’re going to get out of it—go to more practices, and you’ll start learning more drills, newer pieces, and playing more physically demanding styles. I’ve also had the amazing opportunity to perform with world-class performers both domestically and abroad, which is definitely something I never thought I’d do!

One of my favorite things about Taiko Dojo though is that I was able to assist with teaching beginning students, both adults and children. I like to say their enthusiasm really kept me going when I was feeling burnt out or stressed—watching them master renshu or matsuri, or make a really clean hit, or do a perfect spin was so exciting and helped me remember exactly why I love taiko so much in the first place, so I have to say a huge thank you to anyone who took a class with me!

Once again though, life has taken me to a new taiko haven, Los Angeles! I am thrilled to be a part of the LATI community and so thankful to be able to play at the beautiful Asano facility in Torrance. Despite being extremely different from my previous experience, the teachers, staff, and students were so friendly and welcoming, it has been a true joy to have landed here. (And getting to play on incredibly beautiful drums all the time is a total bonus!)

Why did you become a member of TCA?

TCA is so incredibly important, as both a community hub and help. I appreciate that they are preserving the art form of taiko while making it accessible to anyone who wants to participate. Taiko is such a community-oriented art form and I think it’s great that we can come together and share our experiences, no matter what our taiko backgrounds may be. One of the great things about American taiko especially is the free exchange and flow of ideas, allowing us to create something new while still honoring the past, and that’s where the framework provided by TCA comes in! Also, the events have been great especially during this past year. It’s amazing how connected I feel despite having holed up in my apartment all of last year!

What is your favorite post-practice meal?

There’s nothing better after a hard practice than an ice cold beer and a huge burrito. It’s like the law or something. I can’t explain the science but I literally need it. Burgers work too—anything cheesy and slightly greasy + beer = perfection.

Do you have other passions and/or hobbies outside of taiko?

I always call taiko my second job that I pay to do, but I also like to dabble in tabletop gaming and Magic the Gathering in my free time. (Being more honest, it’s more like continuously sorting Magic cards? Why are they always in a pile?) I also like to take photos while I’m out exploring SoCal—my Midwestern roots still can’t quite believe fully-blooming flowers in mid-February. If you’d like to follow along I’m @kdraps on Instagram.

Last, but certainly not least: How many taiko tees do you own?

This was such a scary question but I only have 30! Not too bad. I did NOT count my hoodies or tabi socks, which I’m sure veer into “omg why” territory.

Shime or Odaiko?

Odaiko all the way! There’s just something incredible about hitting such a huge instrument and owning that sound – and feeling it resonating throughout your body.

Run for Exercise or Literally Anything Else?

Literally anything else, I am the worst runner. Plus I’m used to doing a lot of body weight exercise so I think I gravitate naturally to that, although I am really loving Pilates lately!

Phone Call or Text Message?

Text message, sorry friends.

What’s worse: Laundry or Dishes?

Dishes for sure, for some reason I’m totally cool with blood blistery hands but once I have to scrape off food I just ate I can’t do it. 🤣

Coffee, Tea, or Red Bull (or, you know, another energy drink, I guess)

I used to say tea but I’m pretty much addicted to iced vanilla lattes these days.

Perform in incredibly cold weather or incredibly humid weather?

I would say cold—you can always layer up but you’ll be sweaty already, why add humidity!?

Record your practice and study the footage or fly free on the feeling?

I’m not really used to practicing with video replay so I generally don’t. There’s something really special about the emotions you’re creating every time you play. However, I can appreciate the value!

Do you know a TCA member who you would like to see spotlighted? Send an email to Sarah Gilbert at sarah@taikocommunityalliance.org to nominate the TCA members in your life for our next spotlight!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *