Get to Know Garden Glow: River City Taiko

River City Taiko Drummers

An enchanting new experience will brighten nights at Maymont this fall as the Japanese Garden becomes a mesmerizing, illuminated landscape for “Garden Glow.” Get to know some of the events’ entertainers in this mini blog series!

The following post is by Alasdair Denvil, Director of River City Taiko.

Tell us about River City Taiko.

River City Taiko was founded in 2011. It grew out of the University of Richmond Taiko Ensemble, which was formed a year earlier. Today, we have about a dozen members who play taiko, doing performances mostly around Richmond.

Describe taiko – what exactly is it?

“Taiko” is the Japanese word for “drum,” and it also refers to a style of drumming where taiko is the lead instrument. Most of the taiko are barrel-sized and played with oak sticks. The drummers strike both the hide of the drum and the rim, creating a stark contrast in sounds. There’s an important movement component for the drummers, too, so they’re basically performing as percussionists and dancers at the same time.

When and where did taiko originate?

Taiko originated in Japan several centuries ago, with many of the instruments being derived and developed from those in the area of China and Korea. There are now hundreds of groups around the world, and they typically play a mixture of new compositions as well as arrangements based on traditional festival (“matsuri”) music.

What is the cultural significance of taiko?

Different parts of Japan have their own distinct festivals, and taiko is often featured. The songs are usually unique to the area. Historically, taiko have also been used in other Japanese art forms (e.g., kabuki theatre). Taiko today is one of the Japanese cultural contributions that have gone worldwide, in part thanks to touring groups like Kodo.

What’s the biggest takeaway you’d like for people to know about taiko?

It’s not as difficult as it looks. It can look intimidating, but it’s like most any other art or craft: if you practice regularly, you layer on more achievements and start to learn even more quickly. For people of most any age, it’s good exercise, it’s mentally challenging (because you’re learning new songs and choreography), and, socially, it puts you in touch with a lot of people from a wide variety of backgrounds who you might otherwise
never have met.

How has your organization been involved at Maymont before this event?

River City Taiko and the UR ensemble have played in the Japanese Garden before, and River City Taiko also played at an event at Maymont a few years back, I believe with Clave Unidos and Greater Richmond Pipes & Drums.

Get your tickets to Garden Glow to see the Japanese Garden in lights and enjoy Japanese cultural activities and entertainment. The event runs nightly from 6-10pm, October 27 – November 11 (closed on Halloween night, October 31).

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