This January, we brought in the new year with a virtual Soh Daiko celebration in place of our annual mochitsuki event. Mochitsuki is a traditional New Year’s celebration where mochi is made by steaming rice, pounding it with a large mallet in a stone bowl (called the usu), and molding the fresh mochi into edible bites complete with fillings and toppings.
At past mochitsuki, we invited former Soh Daiko members to the New York Buddhist Church for a day of drumming, singing, making mochi, and eating. Although we were unable to gather in-person this year, we took this time to catch up with one another and revisit old memories over Zoom. We even put together a virtual board of all the things our Soh Daiko family wishes for the group in the year ahead, some of them sillier than others but all reflective of our love for Soh Daiko.
Looking forward, our current members are already hard at work strengthening our technique, rehearsing our repertoire, and preparing for future live performances. We are keeping safe and social distanced with virtual practices, and we wish you all a safe and happy year ahead.
As this year comes to a close, we are happy to announce our two newest performing members, Keiko Yamamoto and Jennifer Jia! Both Keiko and Jennifer joined our trainee program last fall and have practiced with us virtually throughout this past year, showing exceptional dedication and progress despite the year’s challenges.
Keiko has played taiko for five years and was previously a member of the group New York Taiko Aiko Kai. When she’s not playing taiko, Keiko works at UNICEF and enjoys outdoor activities, arts and crafts, and musical theater.
Jennifer is a recent graduate from Stony Brook University where they were a member of the group Taiko Tides. Outside of taiko, Jennifer works as a radio-frequency engineer in New Jersey and enjoys spending time working on their Miata.
We are excited to see how Keiko and Jennifer grow as performing members in both the virtual environment and when we are able to practice in person again. Please join us in offering them your full support!
This fall marks the beginning of our 2020-2021 season, and it is one that looks very different from years past. We have kicked off our virtual rehearsals by focusing on three key areas – developing our minds, building core strength, and refining technical skills. This includes reading articles and watching videos on relevant themes, daily exercise routines, and practicing on drum pads or air-drumming so we will be ready to perform together as soon as it is safe to do so.
As we move forward through this challenging environment, we are extremely thankful for all of the individuals who make up our current and past membership. It takes a lot of hard work to maintain a taiko group, and everyone who has been a part of Soh Daiko has dedicated their mind, body and spirit to produce music that moves people.
We are very excited to have three promising probationary members who continue to practice with us regularly, but we are also saddened to say that a couple of beloved members are moving on to new chapters in their personal, professional, and taiko lives. Though we will miss these incredible individuals in the season ahead, we wish them only success and happiness in their future journeys!
Sarah Gilbert has been with Soh Daiko since 2016 and an incredible force in the organization, both in terms of her playing and her leadership. Though known for her strength and intricate rhythms, Sarah also managed the tech, video, and archival duties in Soh Daiko, dedicating her time to documenting and sharing our performances and rehearsals. Sarah was also instrumental in developing our online communications and social media practices, helping us to better connect with our communities. This fall, Sarah is taking the long road trip from New York to Los Angeles, where she is pursuing new opportunities in the world of taiko, such as her new Operations Manager position for the Taiko Community Alliance. Thank you, Sarah, for all that you have contributed to Soh Daiko over the past 5 years – we are sure we will be seeing you soon!
Claire Huang, a member for just one full year, brought an incredibly fun and welcoming warmth to Soh Daiko. Having come to Soh Daiko as a trainee in 2018 with no prior taiko experience, Claire quickly took to the art form, combining her musical skills with her physical coordination from years of Tae Kwon Do to become a powerful and promising taiko player. Although Claire’s time with the group was short, we wish her the best of luck as she begins her master’s in Environmental Science and Management at Duke University. Thank you, Claire – we hope you rejoin the world of taiko soon!
Additionally, Yue Qiu and Nick Loh, members since 2015, are taking a temporary hiatus from the group in order to focus on their careers. Still in NYC, Nick is currently in his second year of law school at Fordham University and Yue works in environmental consulting. Since joining the group, both Nick and Yue have embodied the spirit of Soh Daiko with their passion, skills, and leadership. Both have been driving forces in Soh Daiko and will surely be missed this season. We eagerly look forward to their return!
Although our season did not end with the usual Obon festivities that mark our final performances of the year, we have given many heartfelt, virtual farewells and look forward to future reunions. The Soh Daiko family is always shifting and growing, and we are so grateful to everyone who has joined us in the dojo over the past 41 years. Though we know very little about what the year ahead will look like, we are excited to find new ways to share, connect, and play together!
We are heartbroken and angry. We recognize that the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery are among the latest in centuries of violence against Black lives. Soh Daiko stands in solidarity with the Black community, in support of protesters seeking justice and reformation, and in commitment to the call for systemic change.
Our name was derived from a core belief of peace, harmony, and working together. In the words of Yuri Kochiyama, a true ally through her life of dedicated social justice activism, “Remember that consciousness is power. Consciousness is education and knowledge. Consciousness is becoming aware.” As we seek to unite people through our music, we are committing to recognizing the intersections of our communities, acknowledging the ways that the Asian American community has benefited from the activism of the Black community, and ultimately listening and making room for new ideas and actions for realizing equality.
To this end, we are continuing to educate ourselves on how to be active and informed allies to the Black community. Resources that we have found to be helpful starting points are listed below.
Further, we encourage our followers to step up for your local community by supporting Black-owned businesses, and by getting involved in the fight for justice in any way you can. For our neighbors in NYC, we have included lists of Black-owned businesses among our resources below.
In an effort to give space for Black voices, we have postponed the rest of our virtual Soh Daiko on Tour series. We look forward to a time when we can perform for you all in person and raise our voices, together, in the fight for equal justice.
This past weekend, Soh Daiko road-tripped to the University of Connecticut for the 2020 East Coast Taiko Conference. We attended workshops led by professionals in the community, taught a workshop on our version of the Miyake playing style, and opened the ECTC Final Concert with our arrangement of Matsuri Daiko. It is always so exciting to reconnect with old friends and meet new members of the community, all while celebrating and exploring the traditions and evolution of this art form we’re all so dedicated to.
The weekend started early on Friday as current and alumni members of Soh Daiko attended and assisted in hosting a welcome luncheon by the Taiko Community Alliance. Many attendees had arrived the night before to attend a concert by DRUM TAO on campus, and the luncheon proved to be a wonderful opportunity for everyone to catch up and relax together before jumping into the flurry of conference activities ahead. Hosted in UConn’s Asian Americans Cultural Center, a highlight of the event for us was learning from staff and students about the history of Asian American presence at UConn through an incredible timeline mural in the Center; we also heard how supportive their organization has been of Kodama Taiko and their efforts to bring our community together this weekend. If you’re ever in the area, we highly recommend you stop by to see the mural for yourself!
During the conference, we had the privilege to lead a workshop on Miyake, a style of taiko playing founded on Miyake Island and popularized by the group Kodo. Soh Daiko was first taught Miyake by members of Kodo when they visited New York City on tour in the 1980s. Over the years, Soh Daiko members have taken workshops with the Tsumura family, who originally taught the style to Kodo. At this year’s ECTC, we taught participants the basics of our Miyake stance, technique, and rhythms, emphasizing core elements that ring true for all variations on the Miyake style. And, of course, we demonstrated our own arrangement of Miyake, influenced by our early training with Kodo and with our unique New York flair.
At every ECTC, a full day of workshops culminates with the Final Concert in which collegiate, community, and professional taiko artists alike perform for the East Coast community. This year, we opened the show with one of our signature pieces, Matsuri Daiko. Although many taiko ensembles play a version of Matsuri, our arrangement’s choreography and rhythms are unique to Soh Daiko and allow us to share our true spirit with our audience.
Another ECTC staple is the opportunity to attend discussions by pioneers and activists in the taiko community. On Sunday, one of our founding members, Alan Okada, presented a comprehensive and engaging “Taiko Talk” about the history of taiko and its journey from early Japan all the way to the present-day east coast of the United States. As a member of the Taiko Community Alliance’s Advisory Council, Alan is highly involved in documenting, developing, and leading the North American taiko community forward. One of Alan’s recent achievements has been creating a timeline documenting the founding years of all taiko groups on the East Coast, demonstrating the art form’s rapid expansion in the last few decades.
As a student-run and volunteer-driven event, we were happy to support the ECTC organizers’ goals by contributing to UConn Kodama Taiko’s crowdfunding initiative in the weeks leading up to ECTC, and we thank everyone who donated to our team fundraising page! With everyone’s support, Kodama Taiko surpassed their goal and raised over $6,000, all of which contributed to bringing together talented artists and building community at this extraordinary event. As a part of the crowdfunding initiative, Kodama Taiko teamed up with Asano Taiko U.S., who generously donated several prize packages in order to give back to those who contributed to ECTC’s fundraising efforts. We’re excited to report that our team completed the campaign as the top fundraiser, allowing us to take home a beautiful brand new katsugi okedo from Asano Taiko U.S.!
We’re so proud of all the teams in our community who fundraised and helped the ECTC organizers reach this goal, and of the many individuals who contributed their time with volunteering, their resources with equipment loans, and their spirits to energize the weekend. A big shout-out goes to UConn’s Kodama Taiko for the immense work put into hosting this year’s conference. We’re honored to have been a part of ECTC 2020 and are already looking forward to the next ECTC, hosted by Gendo Taiko at Brown University!