Odaiko New England Celebrates 23 years with Young Audiences Arts for Learning! News


Odaiko New England Celebrates 23 years with Young Audiences Arts for Learning!

Sep 9, 2022

Young Audiences Arts for Learning of Massachusetts is excited to reflect on 23 wonderful years with Odaiko New England and their dynamic program Taiko Thunder on the YAMA roster. 

Founded by Elaine Fong in 1994, Odaiko New England is a collective of people passionate about the ancient tradition of Taiko drumming, as well as sharing knowledge about the art form across New England with classes, workshops, and performances.

YAMA Staff members had a great time connecting with Juni Kobayashi, a brilliant Taiko drummer, originally trained in classical percussion, who joined Odaiko New England in 2000.

What is significant to you about performing for young people?

It’s the first time that a lot of these young people, young students, are seeing Taiko. It’s a privilege and an honor to be the first Taiko group that they see.

Over the years, we’ve had different people performing the show, and they’re not always Asian. I think it’s really important for them to see that you don’t have to be of that culture or of that race to do an art form that’s from a different culture. Elaine Fong, who started the group, is Chinese-American. She always says, ‘You don’t have to be Japanese to do Taiko drumming.’ Also, I think it’s important because if there are Japanese students, they get to say, ‘Hey! That’s part of my heritage and my culture. That’s really cool.’ They can feel a lot of pride in that regard. 

It’s good to have students when they’re really young because their minds are still open. They don’t have a lot of preconceptions about things, they can just be more accepting and entertain the idea of maybe doing it themselves. I’ve had students say, ‘I want to do that!’ It’s really exciting when you can touch them in that way.

Can you share a fond memory of doing a YAMA performance?

It was really fun to do the Zoom performances actually. My favorite part was actually the Q&As where the kids got to ask questions, and I could actually see them on the monitor. . .being able to answer their questions, seeing them very closely on the screen, that was actually really fun!

I also remember not too long ago, we could see this little boy, you know, sitting and bopping up and down. He was just so engaged, and he just kind of stood out. He was sitting in the front, and after our show, he said, ‘You did a good job! [Gives a big, double thumbs up]’. It was just so adorable. I just loved it.

Other times when we’re packing up and the kids are lined up to leave, they would say things like ‘That was the best day of my life!’...Comments like that just really warm my heart. I just feel like we really created a nice memory for them and for me, too. My favorite part of our live show is when we bring up the students to come and volunteer to play Taiko with us, the enthusiasm…the whole room erupts. I just love that part.  

What is your wish for the future of arts education?

I would like to see more studies done in ways that we can use the arts to help learn other subjects. I’d like to see, obviously, arts just being part of the curriculum and being funded and having as much importance and regard as sports and math and science and reading and writing. I think maybe the arts haven’t been taking as seriously in some ways because it’s fun or entertaining, but I think that’s where the power is. If you can make something fun and interesting and entertaining as part of the learning process, you can do that with music. I think it’s easier to memorize something if you put a melody to it or a rhythm. There are creative ways to use the arts to help students learn more deeply.

Taiko is kinda cool just as an art form. If you had to choose having PE or music as part of your curriculum, Taiko can be like both. With Taiko drumming you’re using your whole body, you have to work out and build endurance and stamina and strength…You’re working on coordination, physical coordination and also it’s musical. You work to play music together, you work on listening skills, you work on musical skills. It combines both physical aspects and musical aspects and teamwork aspects. It’s really fun and it’s very accessible to all ages and all genders. It’s got a universal appeal I think.