Meet Helen – My Tsukasa Taiko: Member Testimonials Series 002

Last year we started our Tsukasa testimonials project, collecting testimonials from our longtime members. They have all been posted on our website but we thought we would feature them on our blog in case you missed them. Because along with our supporters, without our dedicated members we would not be where we are today.

Today, meet Helen from the Cool Ladies / Kazan group!

1. Why did you choose Tsukasa Taiko?

I had just moved to the area and noticed an educational program called “Different Drummers: Heartbeat of Mother Earth and Rolling Thunder of Identity” organized by the Chicago Japanese American Historical Society and the American Indian Center that was part of the Field Museum’s Cultural Connections program. We learned about Powwow drumming and ensemble taiko drumming, and feasted on homemade American Indian and Japanese food. Tatsu Aoki gave a presentation with two taiko drummers and demonstrated how songs are learned aurally. It was a great experience. I had always loved the taiko sound since my time spent in Japan from age eleven to eighteen, and had even joined an excruciating afternoon workshop on taiko drumming while pursuing graduate studies, but I had not found the time or opportunity to continue learning over an extensive period. When I heard there would be a Tsukasa Taiko course for beginning students, I leapt at the chance. I never looked into any other options. Today, I feel so fortunate to have “found” Tsukasa Taiko. It fulfills a great nostalgia I have for the traditional rhythms and joyful energy of taiko, and at the same time it is something challenging, playful, and immensely satisfying (especially when we complete a song or perform well). I cherish having it in my life. I spend a lot of time looking for ways to bridge cultures and introduce “things Japanese” to my students in America. Being a member of Tsukasa Taiko, however, allows me to not only help bring taiko music to our American audience, but also to support local Japanese American and Asian community interests in a tangible way.

2. Please share your most memorable Tsukasa moment.

Drumming as the sun rose over Lake Michigan in early summer to cheer on the half marathon runners is my favorite memory. The clouds slowly faded, replaced by brilliant sunshine that made the lake sparkle and distant Chicago skyline bright. We were cheering on the runners, but they also cheered for us. Some two hours of continuous drumming with members rotating off and on, and jumping in for different parts all while feeling the morning breeze give way to the warmth of the sun…this was great, exhilarating fun. I got sunburnt on my forehead above and below my hachimaki, but this did not stop me from volunteering to do it all over again in the fall.

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

I have enjoyed our various community performances. In fact, I am getting to know Chicago through taiko drumming and the memories of our performances in places like Hyde Park, Millennium Park, the Chicago Cultural Center, St, James Cathedral Plaza, Chicago History Museum, Margate Park Fieldhouse, Oak Park, Mitsuwa Marketplace in Arlington Heights, or the Morton Arboretum are making me very fond of Chicago. I look forward to what I expect will be continued opportunities to interact with diverse communities. I look forward to continuing to support the Japanese-American and Asian communities, Perhaps most importantly, I look forward to developing or growing a taiko-loving community.