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Tempe Academy Encourages World Music Experiences with Special Japanese Drum Presentation

Post Date:01/31/2019 3:45 PM

Two women playing Japanese drumsTaiko is the Japanese word for “great drum.” This ancient musical art form originated centuries ago in Asia. The resounding beat of the massive drums, ranging from one foot to six feet in diameter, could be heard over great distances and historically was used as a means of communication

On January 22, Tempe Academy of International Studies had a special visit from Fushicho Daiko Dojo, a Taiko Japanese drum ensemble. The two performers were Eileen Morgan, Fushicho Daiko Dojo owner and lead instructor, and sixth-grade Tempe Academy Language Arts Teacher Lise Spangenthal. This is Spangenthal’s third year studying and performing with Morgan at the studio. As part of a special Friday assembly, Tempe Academy students were able to take part in this unique musical experience!

Dressed in a Happi coat and two-fingered Tabi shoes, authentic Japanese Taiko attire, the two performed on a multitude of Japanese drums, most handmade by Morgan herself, as well as on various carved wooden frog-shaped instruments called Guiro, which croaked like frogs when played. The Guiro all had varying pitches, depending on their size, with the largest ones croaking the lowest and the smallest ones almost chirping. When all were played simultaneously, it sounded like a rain forest!

Women wearing traditional Japanese taiko costume playing Japanese cymbalMorgan demonstrated the difference in sound between Japanese cymbals and Chinese cymbals, explained how the Japanese bow to their instruments before they play, and also spent time explaining the importance of respect to the spirit of the instrument to students. Morgan would also chant certain words which indicated how the performer should play the drum or tap the drumsticks. Some of the students and the teachers even had a chance to come up and play the drums and guiro!

“Tempe Academy is an International Baccalaureate school and studying world cultures is part of our curriculum,” said Spangenthal “I think it's important for our students to learn about Non-Western cultures and integrate that into our music classes.”

Taiko could be used to signal distant villages, such as to warn of the approach of an advancing enemy or an impending disaster; or to signal troops on the battlefield. In shrines and temples throughout present-day Japan, Taiko can still be heard, although today its purpose is more spiritual and celebratory, often occasioned by village festivals. Only in the last 60 years in Japan and approximately the last 45 years in North America has taiko evolved into a powerful performing art.

Woman instructing three students playing Japanese guiro wooden instrumentsThe Fushicho Daiko Dojo will be performing for the general public soon at Arizona Matsuri, an annual festival celebrating Japanese culture and heritage at Heritage Square in downtown Phoenix on February 23 and 24.

You can follow them on Instagram: @taikoarizona and on Facebook: @taikoaz and on their website:

Woman instructing teachers playing Japanese drums