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Spokane library hosts Taiko drumming event for AAPI Heritage Month

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Spokane library hosts Taiko drumming event for AAPI Heritage Month

News Story by Nina Culver | FāVS News

The Spokane community took advantage of the many events hosted by the Spokane Public Library in celebration of Asian American & Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month. One featured a well-known local drumming group Saturday (May 25).

The Spokane Taiko Japanese-style drum group, known for performing at community festivals and special events, performed at Liberty Park Library. Those who attended got a chance to try out the drums for themselves.

Longtime group member and co-director Mari Haworth said the group was started decades ago by teachers at the Mukogawa U.S. Campus (formerly Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute), a branch campus of the Mukogawa Women’s University in Nishinomiya, Japan. About 15 years ago the original group disbanded, and Aaron Mark received the drums on the condition that he keep the group going. He did and is still a member, though he has stepped back from a leadership role in his retirement.

Haworth said she jumped at the chance to join when she heard Mark had taken over the group. As a member of the Spokane Buddhist Temple, she was familiar with the style of drumming.

“I had always been fascinated by it and didn’t think there was a way to do it,” she said.

Taiko drumming has been used in Japan historically mostly in Buddhist temples, Haworth said.

“When it came to America it became an ensemble group and became an art form in the United States,” she said.

Though most of the drummers in the group are not Japanese, they make a concerted effort to remain true to the Japanese cultural roots of Taiko, Haworth said.

“We sincerely study the Taiko way,” she said.

None of the group members are paid, she said.

“Like a lot of the cultural groups in town, we are all volunteers,” she said. “Any money we raise goes to maintaining the drums.”

Haworth, who is retired, said playing the drums keeps her active.

“It keeps me young,” she said. “It’s really good for your brain, it’s really good for the body.”

‘It creates a real sense of belonging’

Taiko is a very physical form of drum playing that often includes large, sweeping movements. It takes time to learn not only how to play the music, but how to recreate those movements in sync with the other players, said co-director Mark Bedell.

“When you get it and play together, it creates a real sense of belonging,” he said. “Music is one of those core elements of the human experience.”

Unlike many group members, Bedell has a background in music. In addition to playing several instruments, he was a drum major in his high school marching band. But his background is unusual among the other drummers in the group.

“It’s a community-based group and we bring members in with a variety of musical experience,” he said. “The majority of our group has never played an instrument before joining this group.”

Classes for beginners

Every so often the drumming group puts together a class for beginners. Instructors lay out the basics and there is three hours of practice each week. How long it takes to learn depends on whether or not drummers practice on their own outside of those three hours, Bedell said.

“Everybody learns at their own pace,” he said.

Even after members become proficient on the drums, there’s no requirement that they take part in public performances, Bedell said.

“We have some members who just show up to practices and bang on the drum for mental health benefits,” he said. “It’s very therapeutic.”

Membership in the Taiko group has risen and fallen over the years and is currently rebuilding after the COVID-19 pandemic. Those interested in joining can send an email to [email protected].

One more event in celebration of the month will be on May 28. Seattle writer Tessa Hulls will speak to local author Sharma Shields about her new graphic memoir titled “Feeding Ghosts” from 6 to 7 p.m. Auntie’s Bookstore will be on hand with copies of the book to purchase.

Visit Spokane Public Library’s website for a list of suggested books to mark Asian American & Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Nina Culver
Nina Culver
Nina Culver is a freelance journalist and North Idaho native who has called Spokane home for the last 30 years. She started working at The Spokesman-Review in 1995 as a work study intern while still a journalism student at Gonzaga University and stuck around for the next 22 years, covering everything from religion to crime. She has an adult daughter and two grandsons who keep her hopping and if she has any free time she likes to read.

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