Meet Sandra – My Tsukasa Taiko: Member Testimonial Series 001

We’ll be starting a new series of articles called My Tsukasa Taiko, which will feature our members’ testimonials about Tsukasa. We’ve collected number of responses to the three key questions pertaining to Tsukasa members’ time and experience shared in our group, and will be taking everyone’s ideas into consideration for upcoming projects and opportunities we pursue. Look out for testimonial “teasers” that are shared first through our emails. And if you’re not on our mailing list, join today by clicking here!

To kick off our series, we have Sandra from our Arashi class/COOL LADIES unit sharing her Tsukasa story:

  1. Why did you choose Tsukasa Taiko?

I grew up in San Jose, California, and as a child I loved watching San Jose Taiko at local festivals; I used to dream of playing taiko. When I moved to Chicago for graduate school, I missed being a member of the Japanese American community, which was an integral part of my identity in California. After finishing my studies, I resolved to become more involved in the Japanese American community in Chicago, and I joined the Japanese American Service Committee (JASC). Through the JASC, I learned about taiko classes offered by Tsukasa Taiko. I had seen Tsukasa Taiko play in the Taiko Legacy performance at the Museum of Contemporary Art, so I was very excited that I could perhaps fulfill a childhood dream to play taiko.

Even though I was excited at the prospect of taking taiko lessons, I had some serious reservations about starting taiko at my older age, especially with no musical background besides tortured obligatory piano lessons and grammar school clarinet as a child. After the age of 12 years, the only musical experience that I could claim was singing in the car—rather badly. I was also quite sure that decades of experience working with cadavers would not benefit me musically; it was going to be a serious challenge learning taiko. I knew that at least my musical expertise could only go up from there; I had that going for me.

Most of my anxieties went away quickly when I found that Tsukasa Taiko and Tatsu Aoki Sensei offer a very supportive and encouraging educational environment. Aoki Sensei is enthusiastic, knowledgeable, fun, and has a contagious passion for taiko and preserving Japanese arts. We also have other excellent Sensei, Noriko Sugiyama and Kioto Aoki, who are equally dedicated to the arts as Aoki Sensei. They are all excellent teachers because they are compassionate and understand that we’re going to make mistakes; they always encourage and inspire us to play better taiko. We know our class will never be Kodo, but we’re close– we’re the “Cool Old Ladies”.

What I also love about Tsukasa Taiko is that Aoki Sensei teaches us something other than playing catchy, toe-tapping, beat-driven percussion on taiko. The way he teaches us to play taiko is really more of an art and cultural experience– we’re taught a story, and we learn to convey the nuances of the story through traditional Japanese music, choreography, and dance. Or at least we try!

Tsukasa Taiko’s way of teaching allows me to better appreciate the art of taiko, and I feel more connected to the Japanese soul of the pieces that we play. Traditional taiko transcends time, and I believe that playing taiko allows this California-grown Sansei to have an authentic experience from another culture and period in time; the experience connects me to my ancestors in Japan.

Most importantly, what I discovered through Tsukasa Taiko is that even if the adorable 4-year-old kids play taiko better than you, it is never too late to challenge yourself or follow a new passion.

  1. Please share your most memorable Tsukasa moment.

There are so many memorable moments with Tsukasa Taiko, that it is difficult to select just one. My class had many performances this year with Tsukasa Taiko at various community events, but one experience that stands out in my mind was an interaction that we had with an audience member after a performance at the International House at The University of Chicago. A man introduced himself and told us that we had an international following in England. When we wrinkled our brows and looked confused, he told us that he was a tour guide, and that he frequently took his tours to see us perform. He told us that some of his visitors to the United States even arrange their visits to coincide with our performances so that they can see us play. We were truly surprised and flattered, and I felt honored to represent not just Tsukasa Taiko, but also the great cultural diversity that we have in Chicago and the USA.

I’ve also developed wonderful friendships through Tsukasa Taiko, and every lesson is memorable in the sense that we challenge ourselves and each other, and of course, we always have a good laugh at ourselves.

  1. What do you look forward to doing with Tsukasa in the future?

There are several goals I have with Tsukasa Taiko. I look forward to continuing to learn more and for Aoki sensei to continue to challenge us in Taiko; I am especially excited to learn new pieces and to improve my playing form as well as develop better expression of the art of taiko. I also look forward to more performances with Tsukasa Taiko; I feel that performances are a way of giving back to community and enriching the wonderful cultural diversity of Chicago. Plus, they are tons of fun! Lastly, I’d like our “Cool Old Ladies” class to become a global taiko sensation; regardless of age, it’s always important to continue to reach for the stars!