Many interesting sounds can be heard throughout the CSUN campus on any given day. There is the muffled chatter between groups of people sitting outside the Arbor Grill; squirrels obnoxiously wrestling for a scrap of food by the Matador Bookstore; or the chiming of the campus clock each hour. Rarely, however, does a sound stand up to the power, penetrating tone and intense volume of Taiko.
The thunderous yet rhythmic drumming of CSUN’s Jishin Taiko Ensemble can be heard from nearly every location on the CSUN campus during the group’s outdoor performances. Not only is the sound pleasantly piercing, but seeing the performers in action, all drumming in unison, is a remarkable experience.
“Taiko is a way of life,” said Joel Mankey, who is the current faculty advisor of the ensemble and former president of the club from 2001 to 2006. Now Mankey teaches the Taiko class on campus.
“Everyone in the group lives near each other and they bust their asses at practice,” Mankey said, adding that the group’s work ethic and drive constantly improve their Jishin Taiko performances.
The Jishin Taiko Ensemble of CSUN has been around since 1995, but Mankey said that that first incarnation of the club only lasted for four years, dispersing in 1999.
During the initial years of Jishin Taiko, the group was associated with the Nikkei Student Association as opposed to being affiliated with CSUN, according to Mankey. And it was Mankey who restored the Jishin Taiko Ensemble with the help of CSUN’s music department, making it an official CSUN club. A class was also created to teach the Japanese art of Taiko at CSUN.
Blaine O’Brien, the 22-year-old co-external director of the Jishin Taiko Ensemble at CSUN, said that the club now has 13 members — or much less than the group had last year, before many members left at the end of Spring 2009 semester and moved back home to Japan. The group is made up of a mixture of CSUN students as non-students; many enroll in the Taiko class that is taught on campus but may others do not. While a student i.d. is not required, there are other requirements: many hours of practicing and observing the other members of the group.
Johnny Mori, a well-resgarded Taiko drummer of 40 years currently performing with Kinnara Taiko said that he has known the Jishin Taiko Ensemble from the creation of the club in 1995.
“They have raised the level of their artistic ability since the club first joined,” Mori said. “I was impressed when I saw them the last time.”
Although Taiko is entertaining to watch, it takes a lot of time and dedication to learn and become an official member of the ensemble.
O’Brien was a drummer in high school and had experience performing in marching band, but when he got involved with CSUN Jishin Taiko two years ago, he did not realize how challenging it would be.
O’Brien explains Jishin Taiko as, “A good combination of dance and drumming.”
Taiko is not as common in the United States as it is in Japan, but there are several groups that practice Taiko and perform across the United States. O’Brien said that most Taiko groups performing in the U.S. blend Japanese Taiko with a more Americanized drumming style.
“I saw a show and really wanted to check it out myself,” O’Brien said of becoming aware of Taiko for the first time. “These drums, man — they shake the room.
“The concept, visual clarity and visual oneness,” O’Brien said, is what drew him into Taiko and made him want to learn more.
Before having learned Jishin Taiko, O’Brien said he thought it would be easy, what with him having previous drumming experience. But he admitted afterward that it took him several rehearsals and a lot of time to really understand the movement and rhythm of Jishin Taiko.
“Taiko is not something that you can just walk in and pick up,” he said. “It is more like an apprenticeship where I had to sit down, shut up and learn something.”
From a cocky high school marching band member with no Jishin Taiko experience to a humble two-year veteran of the CSUN Jishin Taiko Ensemble, O’Brien says that he has developed a real patience and appreciation for Taiko and is still learning from the art form. He plans on continuing to practice Jishin Taiko for years to come.
“I don’t feel near the end yet,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien and the rest of the Jishin Taiko Ensemble will be performing on the CSUN campus Sept. 18-20 during a Comic-Con Festival hosted by the CSUN Anime Club.