Fri, Feb 04, 2005 - Page 13 News List

Beating a path to the New Year

Four acclaimed percussion groups will entertain the masses during the New Year holiday at Tainan's 2005 Taiwan International Drum Music Festival

By Gavin Phipps  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Lunar New Year vacation is a time of rest for the vast majority, but for a select group of percussionists from the US, Japan, Korea and Taiwan, the week-long public holiday will be an exceptionally busy time as they entertain the masses at the 2005 Taiwan International Drum Music Festival (2005台灣國際鼓樂節).

Now in its fifth year, the festival will once again be staged in and around Tainan's historical Eternal Golden Castle (億載金城), will begin at the stroke of midnight on the first day of the Year of the Rooster and will come to a rousing climax on Feb. 13.

Organized by the Tainan City Government (台南市政府), Ten Drum Arts Percussion Group (十鼓擊樂團) and the Taiwan Percussion Arts Association (台灣鼓術協會), this year's festival differs somewhat from those of previous years.

It's the first time the festival has taken place during the Lunar New Year period and this year's event has been condensed from its initial month-long format into a one-week celebration of world percussion.

"We had complaints from some of the international groups in the past in regards the weather. Last year several members of the ensembles found the heat in July all too much and had to be taken to hospital with heatstroke," said Ten Drum Arts Percussion Group director and founder Ken Hsieh (謝十). "We opted for the New Year period because with the week-long public holiday more people would have an opportunity to enjoy the festival."

The festival created a storm last year and entered the Guinness Book of World Records after 1,899 drummers playing 1,951 drums set a new rhythmical record when they formed the world's largest drum ensemble.

While no such attention-seeking shenanigans are planned this year, visitors will still be able to enjoy performances by four international percussion groups and one local group.

"It was difficult to whittle the short list of twelve international groups down to four, but we chose the best and audiences will certainly not be disappointed," said Hsieh. "All the groups blend music with dramatic actions and are of a very high standard."

The most internationally renowned of the groups that will perform is the group representing the US. Founded by master taiko drummer Seiichi Tanaka in 1967, the San Francisco-based Taiko Dojo is one of the oldest and most celebrated Japanese-style drum ensembles outside of Asia.

The group boasts 200 students ranging in age from four to 64 and has a very strict training regime. All of the students follow the school's rigid code of discipline, which combines taiko with martial arts and spirituality, which, according to Tanaka, "is necessary in order to create a sense of respect and unity among the group's members."

In defense of his military-like regimen Tanaka was once quoted as saying, "Big muscles can produce a big sound." It might sound outlandish and over the top but over the past 39 years the group has certainly made its presence felt both on and off stage.

The Taiko Dojo has performed and collaborated with a wide and varied lineup of musicians, that includes lounge crooner Tony Bennett, soul/jazz vocalist Bobby McFerrin and jazz drummer Art Blakey. The group has also been featured in several motion pictures, including blockbusters such as Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now and George Lucas' Return of the Jedi.

The high school taiko drum group, Miyabi Daiko, will be representing Japan. Based in Syugakukan High School, Yatsushiro City, on the island of Kyushu, the group has been performing since 1991. While its international performances pale in comparison with its San Francisco-based taiko peer, the group has built up a large following in its homeland.

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