Pierre, SD welcomes Ondekoza!

By Shigeyo Henriquez

The distance from Prairie du Chien, WI to Pierre, SD is 530 miles. We split into two days of driving. We arrived in Pierre, SD in the early afternoon on Monday. Barb Wood, the President of Short Grass Arts Council, met us at the hotel lobby and led us to Northridge Plaza mall. We brought a few taiko drums and set up in the walk way of the mall. Tony Mangan introduced the Mayors of Pierre and Fort Pierre, local sponsors, and Short Grass Arts Council. Matsuda started playing “Amazing Grace” with his shakuhachi. Calmness and peacefulness of Shakuhachi drifted through the mall, and was followed by powerful Taiko bursting into the air. Many shoppers stopped by to see what was happening. The local singer-songwriter, K.C. Hughe, sung his original songs with a guitar to end the reception. It was not typical reception, but it was a great PR for the public performance on Sunday.

Reception at Northridge Plaza
Reception at Northridge Plaza, shoppers stopped and were intrigued by the sounds of Shakuhachi and Taiko. All photos by Shigey Henriquez.

We visited South Dakota's Capital, completed in 1910. It's a magnificent building.
We visited South Dakota’s Capital, completed in 1910. It’s a magnificent building.
From left to right: Yoshimitsu Matsuda, Naoto Kinoshita, Takahiro Yoshida, Masashi Matsui, Catherine Tsao Kuo, and Shigeyo Henriquez.

Workshop programs:
Workshops start with the greeting words in Japanese. Students are asked to repeat “Ohayou gozaimasu,” (good morning) or “Konnichiwa,” (hello). Catherine introduces Ondekoza and it’s brief history. To young children, she warns the loudness of taiko drums and asks to cover their ears. Then Yoshi hits Taiko just once. “WOW!” students shout. They look at each other and smile. Ondekoza plays a few songs first and Yoshi explains the two types of Taiko as Catherine translates. One type is called Oke-daiko, which is bound by rope and can be tuned. The larger taiko is called Wa-Daiko, a trunk of large tree is hollowed out and thick cow hides are tacked on both sides. It weighs 140 lbs and costs $20,000. During the workshops students are asked to try out Taiko drumming. Students enthusiastically raise their hands. A dozen students are then picked and given two sticks. Yoshi tells them to take a deep breath and hit only once. They follow. Yoshi reminds them of the importance of breathing, to coordinate the timing. Yoshi asks students to hit Taiko with their greatest power, and they start hitting as hard as they can for just one minute. It’s the longest one minute! When the time is up they all shake their arms, expressing the difficulty of drumming. They realize the Taiko drummers’ extreme endurance to play for hours. Questions and answers follow after the drumming experience.

Students sat in circle and observed Taiko performance at Kennedy School.
Students sat in circle and observed Taiko performance at Kennedy School.

Pierre High School students and their music teacher enjoy playing Taiko.
Pierre High School students and their music teacher enjoy playing Taiko.

Yoshi explains the two types of Taiko.
Yoshi explains the two types of Taiko.

Students often asked questions:
“How long it took them to play at this level?”
Daily training, 7 days a week, 4-5 hours a day practice, 6 mile run everyday.

“Why bare feet to play Taiko?”
In order to play properly it requires low and well balanced form. Shoes and socks make them slide.

“When was Taiko invented and when Ondekoza was formed?”
Taiko was found about 1500 years ago and used for mostly ceremonies and festivals, but Ondekoza pioneered Taiko as performance art and formed the ensemble about 50 years ago.

“Do you ever accidentally hit yourself?”
Yes, they have. Naoto injured his face with a broken stick and needed stitches.

Over 600 students participated in Ondekoza's workshop at Georgia Morse Middle School!
Over 600 students participated in Ondekoza’s workshop at Georgia Morse Middle School!

Dr. Price, the Superintendent of Ft. Pierre School District, enjoys drumming Taiko.
Dr. Price, the Superintendent of Ft. Pierre School District, enjoys drumming Taiko.

The public concert was Sunday afternoon. We arrived at T.F. Riggs Theater at 8:30 in the morning. Barb was excited to finally see the largest taiko drum, 4’ diameter. Carried by three people, the largest Taiko was put on the center of the stage. The weather was getting bad as icy rain started to fall, but people still came to the concert. We had the largest attendance of over 600 people. One of the acts was Yoshi playing Kendama, a Japanese wooden toy, by tossing the red ball in the air and catching it with the wood cup and repeating. We had an another great successful week in Pierre, SD.

Early morning interview at KCCR radio station.
Early morning interview at KCCR radio station.

Residents of Parkwood Senior Living enjoy the performance.
Residents of Parkwood Senior Living enjoy the performance.

Yoshi plays Kendama, a Japanese toy. He has won the Kendama contest in Japan in the past.
Yoshi plays Kendama, a Japanese toy. He was champion in a national Kendama contest.

Ondekoza's Public Concert at T.F. Rigg's Theater in Pierre, SD.
Ondekoza’s Public Concert at T.F. Rigg’s Theater in Pierre, SD.