Stanford Taiko celebrates 30th anniversary with master Kenny Endo

May 8, 2022, 8:24 p.m.

After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the rumbling rhythms of Stanford Taiko filled Bing Concert Hall on Saturday night. “Harmonic Convergence,” the group’s first in-person performance since 2020, celebrated 30 years of Stanford Taiko and featured guest artist and taiko master Kenny Endo, who was belatedly celebrating his 45th anniversary in the artform.

“We’ve wanted to have Kenny perform at Bing since it opened in 2013 and this was the perfect opportunity to realize that goal,” wrote Steve Sano, professor of music and co-faculty advisor of Stanford Taiko. “This is also Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and it was very special, indeed, to contribute to the celebration with last night’s event.”

The first half of the concert showcased Kenny Endo and his Contemporary Ensemble, featuring Kaoru Watanabe, Sumie Kaneko, Abe Lagrimas Jr. and Chizuko Endo. They performed a variety of Kenny Endo’s original compositions utilizing several Japanese and Western instruments. The compositions ranged from traditional pieces to arrangements with inspirations from other cultures and improvised jazz melodies.

The concert opened with a piece called “Clarityand was followed by “Yume no Pahu,” a piece inspired by Hawaiian and Tahitian music. After completing an intense 10-year taiko training in Japan, Kenny Endo moved to Hawai’i, where he learned about the issues faced by the native population. He dedicated this song to “support their struggle to control their destiny.”

Kenny Endo's Contemporary Ensemble performing on stage
Stanford Taiko performed on Saturday. The performance was a stop in Kenny Endo’s tour celebrating 45 years in taiko. (UJWAL SRIVASTAVA/THE STANFORD DAILY)

The ensemble presented “Sounds of Kabuki,” a traditional piece, followed by another Kenny Endo composition, “Sunflower,” dedicated to Ukraine. They wrapped up the first half with “Symmetrical Soundscapes,” a fast-paced, improvised percussion composition with influences of Brazilian samba, and “Jugoya,” a song about the full moon.

Kenny Endo’s stop at Stanford is part of a larger tour celebrating his 45 years of taiko. Although this anniversary was in 2020, the tour was postponed due to COVID-19. In all his years of playing, Kenny Endo said his biggest takeaway from taiko is that “there is never an end to learning.” 

“It always keeps you humble, because there is so much more to learn, and so much more to create,” Kenny Endo said. 

In the second half, Stanford Taiko performed a variety of traditional and fusion pieces, creating an interactive environment as they invited the audience to clap along and participate with them. 

The group opened their segment with “Rites of Thundering,” composed by Kenny Endo, and followed with four Stanford Taiko compositions: “Amaterasu;” “Unburden;” “Reverberations,” which featured piano; and “Tales of a Balloon.” In between performances, Stanford Taiko members performed playful interludes, including a combination of taiko and tap dance.

“I’m so thankful for everyone who came and stayed throughout our show, and I think we had a successful performance yesterday,” wrote Rachel Wang ’24, a second year in Stanford Taiko. 

The night culminated with a joint performance featuring Kenny Endo and his group as well as current Stanford Taiko members and alumni, who played “Tatsumaki,” a Stanford Taiko favorite. 

“It is our signature piece that we perform on the most important occasions and one of the first pieces written by a former member after [Stanford Taiko’s] founding,” Wang wrote. “Our song captain, alum Mark Nishimura [’16 M.S. ’17], arranged the piece so that everyone ended up on stage together, which makes me tear up every time. I think this arrangement encapsulates precisely the spirit of taiko performing — we’re a community of Japanese drum lovers who want to share the strength, charm and inclusivity of this art form far and wide.”

This year represents a year of rebuilding for the club, as many students are playing taiko with the group on campus for the first time. 

“Out of 16 members this year, nine of them are first years,” Wang wrote. “Only Vianna Vo [’21], a fourth year and an Artistic Director, has done a spring concert, three years ago before the pandemic. Therefore, Vianna has contributed tremendously to our group’s rebuilding efforts this year, taking up so many responsibilities a normal member would never be expected to carry.” 

Sano acknowledged the challenge of having three classes of pseudo-frosh and commended the efforts of Stanford Taiko alumni who have dedicated their time to coaching new members.

Members of Stanford Taiko playing their instruments while performing a song
Members of Stanford Taiko perform a song as the audience watches on. The performance was a commemoration of Stanford Taiko’s 30th anniversary. (UJWAL SRIVASTAVA/THE STANFORD DAILY)

“It was such a joy to see Stanford Taiko return to an in-person performance in Bing,” Sano wrote. “One of the best things was welcoming master taiko artist Kenny Endo and his Contemporary Ensemble as collaborators on the concert, and seeing so many people from the greater taiko community at the concert coming out to support the artists and the art form.”

“I’ve had a long relationship with Stanford Taiko in the music department here,” Kenny Endo said. “And I really appreciate their support for what I do. I like to try to support what they do and this collaboration is a really great result.”

Wang shared a similar sentiment about the importance of the taiko family. 

“[Our] 30th year not only marks our establishment for three decades but also serves as a witness to the friends and mentors we’ve made along the way,” Wang wrote. “We’re so happy to be back at the Bing stage, sharing our music with the local communities. To me, most importantly, I feel so lucky to have become a part of this family.”

Ujwal Srivastava '23 is from Palo Alto, Calif. He is a Science & Technology Desk Editor interested in the intersection of healthcare and technology. He is majoring in Computer Science on the Biocomputation track. Contact him at usrivastava 'at'

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