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Fort Wayne Taiko drummers studied craft in Japan, will perform some of what they learned Sunday

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Cultural exchange

What: Members of the Fort Wayne Taiko drum group will play a song they learned in Japan this summer, along with many others, during the group's Knock on Wood performance. When: 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: North Campus Auditorium, University of Saint Francis, 2702 Spring St.
Cost: $15, adults; $12, ages 12 and younger. For tickets, call 424-6574 or buy at the door.

Thursday, October 31, 2013 - 12:01 am

When you are asked unexpectedly to perform, sometimes you have to improvise.

That's why four members of the Fort Wayne Taiko Japanese drumming group performed at a school, community center and a couple of other locations in Japan — in pajama bottoms.

The drummers went to Japan from June 22 to July 15 for study and training with taiko experts, said Allison Ballard, Fort Wayne Taiko founder and director. They will share some of what they learned at their Knock on Wood concert at 2 p.m. Sunday in the North Campus Auditorium at the University of Saint Francis, 2702 Spring St.

The group will perform one song they learned in Japan and will try to portray the trip in the other songs performed during the show, Ballard said. The performance, which is built around the theme of water, also will feature the local Towns of Harmony women's barbershop-style vocal group and classical guitarist Dan Quinn of Fort Wayne.

“It is just a chance for us, because we do a lot of things in schools and at festivals, … to show what we can do in a theater setting,” Ballard said.

Taiko, which means “big drum,” is a traditional Japanese art that blends the playing of music with movement between the drums being played, Fort Wayne Taiko said in an announcement about the show. The group is affiliated with Fort Wayne Dance Collective.

“We had been talking about going (to Japan) for several years, but it seemed overwhelming,” Ballard said.

They would need a formal introduction to able to visit a taiko dojo, or school, she said. They also would need someone who knew the language and culture who could act as a translator and also make sure Fort Wayne Taiko members didn't commit any etiquette no-nos.

Then Esther Vandecar of Kalamazoo, Mich., came to their 2011 Knock on Wood performance.

Vandecar had studied taiko drumming for more than seven years in Japan before spending about 19 years teaching taiko and performing in Arizona, it said on www.taikomichigan.com, the website of the Michigan Hiryu Daiko taiko group she founded in Kalamazoo after moving there in May 2011.

Vandecar, who still has taiko contacts in Japan, offered to help arrange this summer's trip, Ballard said.

They spent the first three days in Kyoto, where their mainly tourist itinerary included visiting Asano Taiko, one of the world's top suppliers of taiko drums and equipment.

They then traveled to Matsuyama, in southern Japan, where they studied with a group that performs a taiko style native to that area, Ballard said.

“We thought we would be in lessons every day,” she said.

But their hosts took them to perform at a school and community center. They were happy to play, Ballard said, but they didn't have any performing clothes. So they all wore black, capri-style pajama bottoms.

When they were leaving Matsuyama, one of the local male taiko drummers gave them a whole packet of taiko music.

He thanked them for coming, Ballard said, and added, “'We want you to have this music. We want this music to be played.'”

While based in Matsuyama, they also took a side trip for what they thought would be a chance to see a taiko show and to visit with a group of drummers Vandecar knows, Ballard said. After arriving, they discovered locals had invited in regional taiko groups for a performance at which Fort Wayne Taiko was the featured group.

From there, the Fort Wayne group traveled slightly north to Hiroshima, where they studied mornings, afternoons and evenings for 10 days, Ballard said.

The taiko school there focused mainly on playing several songs, some of which are 800 years old, as a way to preserve the taiko art form, she said.

Ballard said the trip did more than just help them with their taiko.

The four women who went didn't know each other that well outside of their drumming, she said. The experiences and living together for about four weeks brought them closer together.

“The better you know each other, the better you are able to play together,” she added.