Ondekoza visits Prairie du Chien, WI

By Shigeyo Henriquez

A short drive from Dubuque we arrived in Prairie du Chien Sunday afternoon. After we settled into the hotel we drove to Cafe Hope (a place I will visit often this week) a few blocks away for a welcome reception. Christine Panka, Terri Connell, Mayor Dave Hemmer, School board and community members waited for us. I was here in Prairie du Chien last fall with Manhu Chinese ensemble and am very familiar with every one as a result. Christine arranged for two high school students to play flute and clarinet accompanied by piano as a welcome for us all. What a pleasant way to start the week. Mayor Hemmer presented a proclamation stating the week of February 19-24 as Japanese Music and Culture Week in Prairie du Chien.

Mayor Hemmer presents the proclamation of Japanese Music and Culture Week.
Mayor Hemmer presents the proclamation of Japanese Music and Culture Week. All photos by Shigeyo Henriquez.

The weather has not been cooperative. Monday we arrived at Seneca school, 30 miles away, and found that the school would dismiss early because of potential icy roads, but we had enough time for short workshops. As we set up the Taiko in the gym, K-3rd grade children came in. They have never seen such big drums and they thought it sounded like thunder. “Whah!” they shouted.

Powerful Taiko drumming.
Powerful Taiko drumming. Masashi raises the sticks high and hits the drum in split second.

It is so much fun to drum!
It is so much fun to drum!

It was the high school band's turn to play for Ondekoza.
Arts Midwest World Fest is a cultural exchange. It was the high school band’s turn to play for Ondekoza!

High school band members had extra session to really experience the Taiko drumming.
High school band members had extra session to really experience the Taiko drumming.

The principal at PCD Middle School enjoyed drumming Taiko.
The principal at PCD Middle School enjoyed drumming Taiko. He commented that Taiko drumming is very physical.

We visited 3M, a major sponsor of Arts Midwest World Fest. Employees were pleased and interested to have Taiko drummers from Japan visiting. The employees gave the group a standing ovation at the conclusion!

Group photo at 3M.
A photo with Shelly Gruber, 3M Human Resource Director (third from left), Plant Manager Steve Kleist (center back) and Christine Panka (third from right) at 3M.

Christine Panka, president of PDC board of education, has been involved in and overseeing the construction of the new performing arts auditorium set to be completed this fall. Prior to the Ondekoza concert, she gave a sneak preview to concert-goers. It’s apparent Prairie du Chien use a larger auditorium because children, parents, and grandparents streamed into the current theater until it was beyond full with audience members standing against the back wall. Following a welcome from Christine, the stage curtain remained closed, house lights went dark and a deep quiet settled into the auditorium. Then we could hear Yoshi, the lead taiko drummer, taking a deep breath. Suddenly BANG and bright light lit the largest Taiko in the center of the stage as the performance began. The audience was stunned by the powerful sounds of Taiko and the movements of drummers which are like dance performers. The concert was a great success.

Anticipating the powerful Taiko at the concert.
Tranquility of the sounds of shakuhachi, anticipation of powerful Taiko at the concert.

Sound of Taiko, drummers' movements are all in unison.
Sound of Taiko, drummers’ movements are all in unison.

Standing ovation at final performance.
Thank you! Bowing to the standing ovation audience.