Ondekoza on a roll in Red Wing, MN

By Shigeyo Henriquez

Ondekoza arrived Thursday Feb 1st, Super Bowl weekend and the Minnesota/St Paul Airport was bustling. Ken Carlson waited for us in the cell parking lot. As Ondekoza members came through the US customs, Ken drove up and we shoved the luggage into the van and drove directly to Red Wing where we would spend our first week of residency. A beautiful mansion built in 1915, the Anderson Arts Center House, is our home for the week. We loved the house, a big kitchen, traditional living and formal dining room. We cooked every meal and sat in the formal dining room just as Anderson family did 100 years ago.

In front of Anderson home in Anderson Arts Center.
Ondekoza in front of Anderson home in Anderson Arts Center. All photos by Shigeyo Henriquez.

Ondekoza’s normal routine starts at 6am with a 6 mile run. Friday morning was still dark and the temperature was extremely cold at -14.8ºF, -26ºC. The members of Ondekoza had never experienced quite such cold weather before and didn’t realized how dangerous it could be, but jumped out of the warm bed anyway and went running. When they returned Catherine, one of the members, had bad frost bite on her earlobe. After that incident, they signed up at the local fitness center and exercised daily.

Monday February 3, Ondekoza’s first workshop at Sunnyside Elementary school, we loaded the taiko into the gym and set them up in the middle of the floor of the gym. The students entered the gym with amazed faces and sat around the taiko. They have never seen such drums or heard such big sounds from drums either. They were told to cover their ears if it’s too loud. After a few songs it’s time for the students to play the taiko. They were asked to hit the taiko as hard as they could for one minute. After only one minute they were exhausted, out of breath. They realized Taiko drumming is very physical and requires lots endurance.

Sunnyside Elementary School
Ondekoza challenges students to see how long they can drum for without stopping!

We visited the juvenile correctional facility. Security was tight and IDs and Passports were required. Ondekoza set up the taiko as we had done at schools. Each facility resident entered the room and sat in designated seats. When the first strike of taiko was so loud, everyone stared in amazement. In the middle of the workshop, some residents were allowed to participate in drumming. They got up from the seats and smiled, excited for this rare opportunity. Each was given two drum sticks. Yoshi asked them to follow the rhythm. Yoshi hit the drum once, they hit once. Yoshi hit multiple times and they followed exactly. This was followed by a question and answer period. Residents were instructed to tell their questions to the staff and the staff would then pass the questions to us, but residents asked such thoughtful questions that staff allowed them to continue directly. One of the questions was “How could I join Ondekoza?” Catherine answered “Anyone can join, but you must follow daily routine. We get up 6:00 am and run six miles every morning, we eat breakfast together at 8:00 am, clean the house and practice till noon then lunch. After lunch we practice individually for a few hours followed by group practice. Dinner is 8:00 pm and then we clean the kitchen. After that some personal time. This is the daily routine, seven days a week, no holidays except New Years.” Everyone listened quietly. The workshop ended and they were told to leave the room quietly. They lined up and thanked each member of Ondekoza and offered a hand shake. The staff, volunteers and guards were very pleased.

Ondekoza works with Hastings High School students.
A workshop usually starts with one piece of music and followed by history of Taiko, the explanation of different types of Taiko and bamboo flutes called Shakuhachi and Nohkan. When it’s time for the students to try, almost all students raise their hand to volunteer. First they follow Yoshi’s simple rhythm and progress to more sophisticated rhythm. They are music major and had no trouble following Yoshi’s tempo, but 1 minute of constant hard drumming was not easy. They realized how difficult Taiko drumming can be.

Ondekoza visits Deercrest Senior Living Home.
We visited Deercrest Senior Living Home. Many attendees use canes, but they stood up and played drums. One lady was in tears with such a joy and thanked us for the visit.

Ondekoza introduces Taiko to young students at local Montessori school.
This was at the local Montessori elementary school ages from 4 to 6 years old. First they were a bit scared by the sound of Taiko and covered their ears, but they listened to the story and enjoyed playing the taiko.

Ondekoza performs in the lunchroom at 3M, a major sponsor of World Fest.
3M is a major sponsor of World Fest. We visited the plant and set up the Taiko in the lunchroom. Ondekoza offered a short performance during the lunch hour for the employees.

The night of the public concert at the Sheldon Theatre was another cold night, but people came and filled the house. There were not only the local residents, but people drove from Minneapolis-St. Paul area too. The stage was lit in dark blue and suddenly loud taiko drumming starts, then bright lights hit the center of the stage where two drummers stand in front of a large taiko playing with maximum speed and power. The audience was mesmerized by the sounds and dance like performance and offered a standing ovation in the middle of the performance and then another long ovation at the end. The first concert was a great success.

Ondekoza's public performance at the Sheldon Theatre.
Ondekoza performs for the public at the Sheldon Theatre.

Reception at Sheldon Theatre.
We were greeted by the local leaders and Sheldon Theatre patrons at the reception. Many of Ondekoza members speak English. Yoshi walked up to the board member and introduced himself.

Thank you to Bonnie, Jennifer, Russell, and Natalie for your work. Red Wing was a great place to start the first week of a 5 week tour.