As I entered the car park I saw a group of people waiting with someone unloading these large black cylindrical cases from the boot of the car. I was already intrigued. What were these Taiko drums going to be like? I had done some research on YouTube, but I knew the sound would be nothing like the real thing. After all I knew this from my experience in playing the didgeridoo for the last 25 years.
I got out of the car and greeted the teacher, who had a wonderful smile and was full of energy. I knew this was going to be a great experience and felt a lot less nervous already. I’m sure you will agree that with anything new that we try where we put our skills to test we are always a little apprehensive.
The best thing I believe about this experience is that I had absolutely no knowledge about the instrument or the culture around it. Yes, it is true that ignorance is bliss sometimes. I think that my ignorance heightened the intensity to learn everything about it. I was simply drawn to the energy it transmitted.
I offered to help carry a drum into the community centre where we were going to have the workshop, immediately realising that they were not light: I was even more intrigued at this point to understand what they were made of.
Entering the room, I noticed that the other participants were equally apprehensive. This helped me relax a little, but then also made me wonder why we get nervous when we try something new. Well, in my opinion society has modelled us to fear rejection, failure, scrutiny, and most importantly, not looking cool. Yes, this is true. We all want to do things well from the start and can’t bear the fact that we totally suck at something. We have forgotten that when we were kids we didn’t know about any of these situations. This is because we were always told how successful we were, how we could be free to do pretty much anything we liked as we were so cute and adorable (I’m talking about the early years readers), and above all how cool we were.
So we want to do our best. We feel self-conscious about making the slightest error and so we are over-cautious when we do anything. This seemed incredibly ironic when faced with an enormous drum. The child in me was immediately released! From that moment on until the end of the class I couldn’t stop smiling (which the teacher noted regularly mirroring my enormous smile). The thought of being able to freely beat on an enormous drum as loud as I could without being told to stop was too good to be true. I was in seventh heaven.
We started with introductions and why we were here, which helped everyone immensely. We all felt a sense of unity at that moment and smiles became less nervous. We unpacked the drums and it was at that moment that I got to see what I was about to connect my kinetic energy to. Wow! They were bigger than I thought, had this amazing shine to them, and a wonderful skin which was nailed into the drum. They immediately gave off this strong vibrant energy that can only be felt if you are standing in front of it. This was truly a powerful instrument.
We completed the introductions and then moved on to some stretching exercises. You see, this wasn’t just a drum. It was a whole art where your body is aligned with the instrument. It needs to move freely and not like a robot: without stiffness. I was already warming up and feeling even more intrigued about what we had let ourselves into.
After a few minutes, we began our first attempts at playing the drum. It wasn’t easy and quite quickly we all began to relax and enjoy ourselves as we learnt that we were standing in front of something which required respect and honour to play. We played in sequence, one after another, and then together with the teacher. She gave us different rhythms to play, which we followed at times, and sometimes just completely going off beat. The best thing was that we were all connected while we were doing it. We were all totally focussed on following the beats and wanted to do our best to be in tune with everyone else.
She was very supportive and congratulated us on our dedication and efforts. We all felt motivated and the intensity of the lesson was increasing by the minute. At this point she felt it was time to go a step further and present us with a more complex rhythm. As she used the sticks to initiate the beat and help us follow it, she did something different. She made a noise with her lips sealed as one of the beats, like a pause. This completely threw us all of balance and quite soon everyone was playing their own rhythm, resulting in uncontrollable laughter and the need to stop.
Time passed quickly and the session had come to an end. We bowed to the group and said a phrase in Japanese to end the session. This was to give respect and honour to the culture, the instrument, and the people involved in making it happen. It was a magical moment.
We all thanked the teacher for such a great lesson. We went home with a shared sense of bewilderment, joy, and curiosity for this new art we had just experienced.
As I write this, my whole body aches. However, my arms, my shoulders, my legs ache more. Nonetheless, it’s an ache with a certain amount of pleasure and satisfaction. This because I put all my energy and effort into this wonderful session, only reflecting the energy projected from the teacher and the others in the room.
Thanks for reading.
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