Welcome to our very first TCA Member Spotlight! We couldn’t think of a more perfect person to spotlight than Dr. Wanda Kurtcu on this, May the 4th. Join us as we sit down with Wanda to hear some of her taiko story. Thank you for being a passionate, dedicated member of the Taiko Community Alliance – May the 4th be with you, Wanda!
When did you first find taiko? Is this the same time that you started playing taiko?
I first heard taiko played at a New Year’s ceremony at my Buddhist temple about 50-ish years ago. The drumming kept tempo for chanting. My second ‘discovery’ was at a performance at my Buddhist community center by a group of young women about 20 years later. I was really impressed but really didn’t think about joining a group. My last exposure to the art was 17 years ago, after seeing KODO during a KQED PBS fundraiser. A friend bought me a dvd of their performance and I was so excited! After watching them play, I was compelled to want to play along with the dvd. So, my friend suggested that I look around to see if I could join a local group. I found out that one of my colleagues at work belonged to a local Taiko group, Emeryville Taiko. Sadly, they were not accepting new students. However, I was encouraged to contact Wadaiko Newark. When I called, I said I was concerned that I wouldn’t be allowed to participate because I was 50 years old. The person on the other end, Sue Eustice, laughed and said to come to the class anyway. Little did I know that Wadaiko Newark has some very mature players! I visited my first class and was hooked! I’ve been with them for 17 years.
I love playing Taiko because I am encouraged to push myself. Learning songs with difficult rhythms and memorization of multiple parts is very intense. There are times when I am frustrated but once I get the rhythm of a song, especially a really hard song, I am so jazzed! It gives me great joy to perform for an audience. Of course, the trick is to make any song look easy and enjoyable, right?
What has your taiko journey looked like?
I’ve only played/performed with Wadaiko Newark. I was a single mother when I joined and didn’t have the opportunity to branch out to other groups. Very quickly I was promoted from apprentice to senior student and then asked to participate as a performing member. Our group performed, pre-pandemic, at local charity events, schools, colleges, farmer’s markets, and private parties. In 2009 Wadaiko Newark had the privilege of being asked to play two taiko musical sound tract scores for the movie: “Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon”. The original film score and Title Song was nominated by both Hong Kong Film Awards and Asian Film Awards for “Best Original Film Score”.
Why did you become a member of TCA?
I feel it is important to have membership in an overarching organization that represents community. I understand the scope behind the idea of a separate identity that is distinctive to the United States. American taiko is creating its own style. Cultural traditions and roots are important. But we are identifying and celebrating what our uniqueness within the World of Taiko and that is why it is important to have TCA. I participated in the organization’s development in 2013 and became a life-long member.
What is your favorite post-practice meal?
IHOP pancakes, especially Red Velvet if it is on the menu and bacon!!!! Bacon takes me to my happy place.
Do you have other passions and/or hobbies outside of taiko?
I am a Science Fiction/Fantasy geek! I wrote a script for Star Trek: Next Generation, in the 80’s and was presented with an award from the Writers Guild of America, West, for one of the best scripts written for a TV series. Building LEGO models is another one of my passions. I would love to be a LEGO engineer! I also do fiber arts with a focus on cross-stitch, knitting and crochet.
Last, but certainly not least: How many taiko tees do you own?
Shime or Odaiko?
Both. They have unique sounds and make me happy!
Run for Exercise or Literally Anything Else?
Anything else – I don’t like running. I did that when I was in Officer’s Training School and hated it.
Phone Call or Text Message?
I love texting! I can send pictures and emojis that reflect my state of mind at the time!
What’s worse: Laundry or Dishes?
Laundry. Takes too much time!!!!
Coffee, Tea, or Red Bull (or, you know, another energy drink, I guess)
I love coffee in all its forms!!!! Yay!
Perform in incredibly cold weather or incredibly humid weather?
Cold weather! One can always bundle up. You can’t remove your skin in hot weather.
Record your practice and study the footage or fly free on the feeling?
I like to see how I look and if I’m making ‘form’ mistakes.