Taiko Voices Journal: The Introduction

Photograph by Lisa Duncan Photography.


This is the first in a series of posts by Heidi Varian, Project Coordinator for Taiko Voices, the 50th Anniversary Song Commission sponsored by TCA that earned a highly competitive Creative Work Fund grant  in October of last year.

JANUARY: The Introduction

Taiko Voices was conceived by San Jose Taiko (SJT) General Manager and TCA Board Member Rome Hamner to honor fifty years of kumidaiko in America.

Rome did an amazing job in a short period, working with Ben Pachter and Tamiko Ooka  to outline a grant proposal on behalf of TCA for the Creative Work Fund that would create an copyleft piece of music inspired by the unique styles of three pioneer ensembles of Taiko: San Francisco Taiko Dojo, San Jose Taiko, and Kinnara Taiko. The project is to encompass performances, workshop, and teaching opportunities. Each pioneer leader chose the composition team member to represent the vision of the pioneer group in the composition process. Artistic Director Franco Imperial of San Jose Taiko was chosen as lead artist, Kate Meigneux was chosen to represent Kinnara Taiko and Ryan Kimura was the composer chosen for San Francisco Taiko Dojo.


When I first drove down from the North Bay to San Jose for the inaugural rehearsal between Franco, Kate, and Ryan, I was nervous. I mean, sure, we are all colleagues, but this project—a copyleft composition honoring fifty years of taiko in America— has a lot of implications for the future of taiko. Since the new Taiko Voices team had been collaborating by phone in advance (not to mention being deeply involved in the taiko community for decades) everyone immediately had an amazing rapport, stimulated by Franco’s always remarkable enthusiasm and coordination.

As project coordinator, I see my contribution as providing support to the composers to make this project a reality, to facilitate the creation of a copyleft piece that represents the spirit of taiko in America, omiyage from the pioneers and composers to be shared with thousands of American Taiko players.

So, yeah, I was nervous. I want to be responsible to the pioneers, to the composers, to the sponsors, to the taiko community. What I forgot was that the taiko community is a family, already a team. Members of the community may have different visions about the trajectory of taiko in America, different methodologies, but we all come together at annual gatherings – concerts and festivals and conferences – we discuss and debate, we collaborate, we honor traditions, and we build toward the future, together.


Indeed, SJT’s studio that morning was warm and inviting despite the January chill. Franco made the gathering feel casual and supportive and free, a comfortable environment to nurture creativity. But the rehearsal was not just a jam session, it was built around a predetermined structure that included a fair amount of discussion. The structure gave the lead composer the ability to share his beliefs and methodology about composition, to reach out to the contributing composers about their unique perspectives, and to support Kate and Ryan by honoring those perspectives, ideas, and skills.

As both a teambuilding exercise and to begin choreographing the composition, Franco asked each artist to create a movement inspired by their unique taiko tradition, to start the conversation about creating a uniquely JA Odori. And it begins.