Grab your coats – and hats, and warm socks, and mittens, and Kiribai Kairo hand warmers, and fleece leggings – because we’re heading up to the “North” in North America to visit Paula Midori-Nieckar in Alberta, Canada. And if you don’t have a hat, no worries; Paula wears so many “hats” in her exciting adventure called life that we’re sure she has a few to spare.
When did you first find taiko? Is this the same time that you started playing taiko?
I first discovered taiko at the Edmonton Heritage Days festival in the 1990s, and I spent the whole day sitting and watching the drummers and missed the rest of the festival! I grew up in a small rural community where there was no opportunity to learn taiko, so it wasn’t until a couple of decades later when I was living in Calgary and pregnant with Baby #2 that I re-found taiko and began my apprenticeship with Midnight Taiko Kai.
What has your taiko journey looked like?
I began with Midnight Taiko in 2010. Because I was pregnant when I started, I had to take a short break after the birth of my daughter Abby in Oct 2010. I remember my very first performance was in March 2011 at a fundraiser event for the Japan earthquake and tsunami relief.
In 2015, I began to add solo performance work to my personal practice at home. I bought my own chu from Mr. Kato in California and started learning new repertoire over video and the internet (Fun fact: this is how I learned Jack Bazaar from Kris!). Little did I know how valuable this experience would be later on in my taiko journey! I began performing under the name Yama no Oto. (Fun fact: this was originally the name of a blog I used to write, and eventually it just became my taiko performance name that I still use today!).
In 2016, I was offered a teaching position at the Mount Royal University Conservatory, to create and develop a new taiko program. The program developed to include adult, teen, and child taiko classes, as well as directing the resident performing ensemble: Rocky Mountain Taiko Ensemble. Before COVID, I had on average about 35 students at a time.
2017 into 2018 was a rough year, as I was teaching a full schedule at MRU, performing as Yama no Oto, and had accepted the Artistic Director role with Midnight Taiko. Along with my young family and my day job in laboratory medicine, I realized that my stress levels were far too high and made the tough decision to resign from Midnight Taiko.
COVID forced the MRU program to move online, and we finished the year virtually. When MRU closed its doors for the 2020-2021 academic year, I decided to continue teaching and performing independently as Yama no Oto, until the future of the MRU Conservatory was more certain.
2020-2021 has been very busy with virtual performances and recording projects. Teaching has also been busy; I was lucky to retain about ⅓ of my students and am currently teaching twice a week.
Some highlights along the journey:
- Teaching odaiko to the Harvey the Hound mascot when the Calgary Flames bought a huge odaiko
- Playing in a music video with an opera singer, hip hop, and circus artist
- Hana Hachijo Intensive with Chieko-san, where I met Yuta and the ATUS family. This inspired me to explore a greater taiko journey beyond my community group.
- Helping the Consulate-General of Japan in Calgary bring Eitetsu Hayashi and Eitetsu Fu-Un no Kai to Calgary for a special workshop that brought all the Alberta taiko groups together in the same room for the first time in my knowledge
- My kids taiko group invited to perform for the Mayor’s Lunch for Arts Champions
- Concert at the Bella Concert Hall with Yuta and David, and Alberta taiko friends
- Playing at Centre Ice in the Scotiabank Saddledome (NHL arena) twice for Multicultural Night with Rocky Mountain Taiko Ensemble
- Full house standing ovation at the Winspear Centre
- Backstage hangouts and onstage performances at IluminASIA lantern festival with the sake guys, magician, and the headliner Kenichi Ebina who had just won America’s Got Talent.
- Playing Shunpuu with Paul and Puna Taiko!
Why did you become a member of TCA?
This is a short answer: to meet and connect with other taiko people! When I first started playing, I had no idea that there was this greater community of awesome people who love taiko as much as I do.
What is your favorite post-practice meal?
Does popcorn count as a meal? Bubble tea?
Do you have other passions and/or hobbies outside of taiko?
Yes! I have been a classical musician far longer than I have been a taiko player, and I play oboe with the Civic Symphony in Calgary. I am also a trained ballet dancer (although, not so much these days), and I love gardening. I live in a beautiful place and absolutely love hiking and paddleboarding in the beautiful nearby Rocky Mountains.
Family doesn’t really count as a hobby, but definitely a passion. I have 2 awesome kids who have some special needs, and I love them to bits. They are absolutely amazing, and teach me every day about being a mom and being a human.
Last, but certainly not least: How many taiko tees do you own?
My taiko tee count is probably only outnumbered by the number of tabi socks.
Shime or Odaiko?
Run for Exercise or Literally Anything Else?
ANYTHING BUT RUNNING
Phone Call or Text Message?
Probably text. I have a slower processing speed and anxiety, so sometimes texting takes away some of the pressure of responding immediately to people.
What’s worse: Laundry or Dishes?
Coffee, Tea, or Red Bull (or, you know, another energy drink, I guess)
None of the above? We have good Coke Slurpees in Canada.
Perform in incredibly cold weather or incredibly humid weather?
Did I mention I was Canadian? The humidity where I live is pretty much zilch, so I have never really experienced it. Played plenty in the cold though.
Record your practice and study the footage or fly free on the feeling?
2020-2021 has been waaay too much recording and scrutinizing. Looking forward to when I can play a little more freely!!!
Do you know a TCA member who you would like to see spotlighted? Send an email to Sarah Gilbert at firstname.lastname@example.org to nominate the TCA members in your life for our next spotlight!