In February 2016, the very first European Taiko Conference took place in Devon, England. Conceived and instigated by Jonathan Kirby, founder of Kagemusha Taiko, the four day event saw players from ten European countries, Japan, and the United States come together to celebrate the art form in Europe.
There was also an appetite to better understand taiko players in Europe – who are we? How do we learn taiko? How long have we been playing taiko and why do we play it? As part of my doctoral research, I asked these questions by surveying participants. You might be surprised by the findings …
1. Taiko can be found across Europe in both rural and urban settings
Players from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the four countries of the United Kingdom attended the European Taiko Conference. They came from major metropolitan cities such as Budapest, Paris and Hamburg, yet also from smaller towns and villages such as Lecco in Italy, Crickhowel in Wales, Voiron in France, and Totnes in England. Some had links to other groups in the Republic of Ireland, Serbia, Austria, Greece, and The Netherlands, suggesting taiko has no geographical boundaries.
2. Most players in Europe play taiko because of its use of the body and health benefits, and not due to a connection to or interest in Japan.
No survey participants discussed Asian ethnicity or heritage as a motivating factor for playing taiko. Instead, European taiko players are motivated to play by the interconnectedness of the mind and body through playing taiko as well as its use as a form of physical exercise. One participant summarised this by stating “It is holistic. Mind, Body and Spirit are engaged. Music and Movement make me happy.”
3. Japanese groups tour across Europe, inspiring new players along the way.
Most of the survey participants were first exposed to taiko through a performance by a touring Japanese group in their local area, suggesting Japanese groups reach all corners of Europe while on tour. A much smaller number saw performances by locally-established groups. Both proved to be sources of inspiration for players.
4. European taiko players train internationally.
60% of survey participants had undertaken a workshop in their country of residence with an international teacher (overwhelmingly Japanese), and a third had undertaken training in Japan within the past three years.
5. Taiko groups in Europe collaborate and are set to do so even more.
43% of players had participated in activities organised and delivered by other groups in their countries of residence (such as workshops and festivals including the UK Taiko Festival), suggesting relationships among groups and their members. Since the European Taiko Conference, relations have both grown and intensified with participants collaborating on performances, delivering workshops for players in other countries and designing new curricula for groups.
Taiko is a vibrant art form in Europe that reaches across the continent. Players from a range of European countries have already completed the TCA census, ensuring their distinctive voices are included in telling the story of global taiko in 2016.
Kate Walker is a PhD Student, Department of Music, University of Sheffield and a member of Tsuchigumo Daiko, Glasgow
Photographs courtesy of Ben Pachter of TaikoSource.
A more detailed report examining the results of the European Taiko Conference survey can be viewed here.