Stanford Taiko is not your average Stanford student group, or even your average taiko ensemble. The 23-year-old student group is the only collegiate taiko ensemble to perform at prestigious festivals in the US, the UK and Japan — and it’s not hard to see why. This past Saturday night, Stanford Taiko filled Bing Concert Hall with both a packed audience and the echoes of their traditional drums. The concert, titled “From the Hearts of Trees,” included pieces composed and arranged by Taiko members, as well as a guest appearance by Talisman a capella.
Taiko picked the perfect program opener, immediately creating an engaging atmosphere with the fast-paced piece “Issho,” in which, according to the program, a “group of friends take the stage, ready for an impromptu break dance battle.” The members were all smiles as they took the stage, projecting a confidence and ease that spoke to their excitement to perform. In addition to maintaining high energy in all of their elaborate movements and beats, the members displayed an impressive precision in their synchronized strikes, such that the audience heard only a single, magnified boom, rather than each member’s individual strike.
Before the applause for “Issho” had even died down, three new Taiko members came out on stage for a different kind of performance. While other members prepared the stage for the next song, the three students played monkey in the middle solely with drum sounds, throwing an imaginary ball back and forth with only movement and periodic drum hits imitating the bouncing of a ball. These creative skits would continue through the night, bringing smiles and chuckles to the audience during normally quiet stage transitions.
The next piece illustrated Taiko’s versatility, from creating a fusion of modern pop and traditional taiko to including new instruments in the premiere of “Progression.” The student-composed work began with the mellow sounds of a marimba and gave the audience a break from the booms and intensity of the first piece. It soon picked up speed, incorporating traditional taiko drums as well as cymbals from a drum set in a cohesive blend of rhythms.
Following the intermission, Talisman took the stage with two songs, “Hosanna” and “Be Like Him,” before Taiko resumed its program with a visually captivating piece. “Tatsumaki” began in dim, ultraviolet lighting, which transitioned smoothly into bright light as the piece grew. The synchronization during this piece was especially memorable, as not all members could watch each other to coordinate their drum strikes, but their strikes were still perfectly synchronized.
Taiko’s next piece, “Sprint,” resonated deeply with Stanford students, as it was “inspired by the mad dash that is the quarter system.” Three Taiko members ran onto stage to perform, just having fun and bouncing on their feet, a marked change from the controlled and choreographed movements of other pieces. The members traded off with solos, maintaining an upbeat and lively mood throughout. Reflecting the work’s inspiration, the members concluded the piece and staggered off stage with smiles, as though they had just finished a marathon.
Taiko concluded with “Nanamedley,” a “hide-and-go-seek” of several different songs. All Taiko members performed onstage together for the first time that night, and sound truly filled Bing. The spotlight shrank and grew, emphasizing Taiko’s varied dynamic range and energy levels. In a fitting conclusion, as the last beat echoed throughout the hall, each member was perfectly poised, pointing his or her drum stick toward the audience. A full house came to Bing to see Taiko, and clearly, Taiko delivered.
You can contact Serena Wong at serenaw ‘at’ stanford.edu.