Big Bang of Taiko in Dubuque, IA

By Shigeyo Henriquez

On the first workshop day in Dubuque, Dennis Williams, board member of Dubuque Arts Council, led us to Seton Elementary School. K-5th grade students entered the gym and sat on the gym floor quietly. Catherine explained the workshop and how loud Taiko could be, and then Yoshi banged the smaller taiko drum once. The students screamed “Whoa!” Catherine continued, “It’s OK to cover your ears. You can still hear it with your body.” Some of them cover their ears right away, but as the workshop went on they were so engaged and no longer covered their ears.

Ondekoza prepares to perform for students.
Everyone sits and listens as Ondekoza prepares to perform for students. All photos by Shigeyo Henriquez.

Kids cover their ears in preparation for the intense sound of Taiko drumming.
Taiko gets very loud. Catherine instructs students, if they want, to cover their ears. Some do cover, but eyes are focused on Taiko drumming.

The reception at Dubuque was at the University of Dubuque Heritage Center. Tom Robbins, Special Assistance to the President and Executive Director of Heritage Center, welcomed each guest in attendance: the University of Dubuque President, a board member of the Iowa Arts Council, Ondekoza, and a taiko ensemble from Des Moines called Soten Taiko. Debra Alleyne, the Arts and Cultural Affairs Coordinator of the City of Dubuque, welcomed Ondekoza and read the Mayoral Proclamation. The Mayor of Dubuque designated the week of Feb 12-17 as Japanese Music and Culture Week.

Debra Alleyne, Arts and Culture Affaires Coordinator, introduced herself in Japanese and presented the proclamation.
Debra Alleyne, Arts and Culture Affaires Coordinator, introduced herself in Japanese and presented the proclamation.

Each day each board member of Dubuque Arts Council escorted us to the upcoming workshop. Dubuque Arts Council not only covers the city of Dubuque, the out reach program extends to the communities 20-25 miles away. One morning we drove 30 minutes to Farley Elementary School. The students, teachers and staff were excited for the rare opportunity to see this extraordinary performance that they have never seen or will never see otherwise. I’m always impressed by how well students follow their teachers’ instructions, but once the music starts they cannot sit still. Their bodies, heads, hands and legs start to move and tap as they sit on the floor. It’s a natural reaction to the sounds of Taiko drumming.

Students get a chance to play the taiko drums.
“I’m gonna hit hard. I’m gonna hit for a whole one minute without stopping!” But many of them take a break in between.

"This is the best assembly."
“This is the best assembly.”

Students raise hands to bow and say thank you and good-bye to Ondekoza.
The end of the workshop at Resurrection Elementary school, Catherine teaches a few Japanese words, “Arigatou,” (thank you), and “Sayounara,” (good-bye). Everyone raised their hands and bowed to say thank you and good-bye.

Wednesday February 14th was Valentine’s day, so after supper we brought out some sweets. Ondekoza members usually keep the sweets away in their diets, but Valentine’s day was an exception. Chocolate covered strawberries and red velvet cupcakes were too hard to resist.

Catherine holding a delicious Valentine's day cupcake.
Wednesday, February 14th, Valentine’s Day. Catherine dressed up and we exchanged the sweets!

The public concert at the Heritage Center was well received. I recognized some faces from meeting them during the week. In the green room before the concert, Ondekoza stood in circle and stretched for 10 minutes. Tom Robbins made a speech before the show. Ondekoza waited in the dark behind the curtain. Tom walked off the stage and the house and stage lights went down. Suddenly taiko sounds thundered and a bright light hit the largest Taiko on the middle of the stage. The show started dramatically. 90 minutes without stopping hard, strong, furious Taiko drumming mesmerized the audience. The audience gave a long standing ovation when it ended.

Stretch before the show.
Streching before the show.

Ondekoza's public performance in Dubuque, IA.
Ondekoza’s final performance. Their soul and Taiko as one, the most natural formation of Taiko drumming was evident.

Long line of audience members waited for autographs on the DVD.
Long line of audience members waited for autographs on the DVD.

The third week of the residency is Prairie du Chien, WI. It’s only a 1.5 hour drive away. I relaxed in the morning, but Ondekoza members run 6 miles as they do every morning whether rain or cold.