Taiko performance takes Ballico-Cressey drum club to Disneyland

02/06/2014 6:01 PM

02/06/2014 6:03 PM

In the Ballico and Cressey areas, they march to the beat of a different drummer.

Members of the Ballico Taiko Club’s performing group will be demonstrating their unique drum-playing talents later this month at Disneyland. It’s an effort that has involved many members of the community and enriches arts education in the Ballico-Cressey School District.

Taiko are centuries-old percussion instruments used to produce Japanese-style drumming. Taiko is the Japanese word for drum. In the United States, people refer to taiko as ensemble-style drumming done on Japanese-style drums.

Nineteen members of the Ballico Taiko performing group will be performing a 30-minute set Feb. 17 at the Hollywood Backlot Stage at California Adventures.

Christine Kubo, a fourth-grade team teacher at Ballico School, said the Southern California entertainment venue is possibly the largest venue the group has performed at. They previously performed at the North American Taiko Conference in 2011 at Stanford University and the Northern California Girl Scout Centennial held in 2012 in Sacramento, along with community festivals in Stanislaus and Merced counties.

Kubo taught at Ballico School for 26 years but now teaches there part time and leads the taiko classes.

“I grew up hearing taiko during festivals as I was growing up in Japan,” Kubo said. “When I came to the United States, I saw a performance in San Jose by San Francisco Taiko Dojo. It was the most electrifying, exciting program. It was not only dynamic but there were women playing taiko, not something you saw in Japan very often in the 1960s.”

Ever since then, Kubo wanted to play. When she moved to Merced County to live on the Kubo family farm and raise children, she was finally able to realize her dream of playing taiko with a Buddhist church group in Stockton.

“I’ve shared my love for taiko with my own children and their friends, both at church and at school for over 10 years, and now I get to share this love with the students in our school,” Kubo said. “You could say that all drums can have a thundering sound when there are many drums played together.”

At Disneyland, the Ballico Taiko group will perform four songs, “Tomodachi,” “Flower Petals,” “Korekara” and “Jan Ken Pon,” along with two transition pieces, “Gion Matsuri” and “Okedo Procession,” Kubo said.

Bryan Ballenger, Ballico-Cressey School District superintendent, said taiko was in its infancy when he was hired.

“I was blown away the first time I saw them perform,” Ballenger said. “All I could think was this is an outstanding program and I need to get my children involved. Since then the program has grown in numbers with groups at both Ballico School and Cressey School. Chris and Dan Kubo along with the students do such a great job. They work extremely hard and it shows.”

Ballenger said taiko is such a positive force in the schools and community that he and the governing board felt they needed to make sure they did everything they could to keep the program going. Two years ago, the district was able to purchase 10 new taiko drums of its own.

“We are extremely proud of the hard work our students, parents, and staff members have put in to get us to this point,” Ballenger said. “This group has performed up and down the state and really is something special to watch. Hopefully we can continue to grow our program and provide more students with the opportunities to learn and play music.”

Kubo said there are traditional Japanese rhythms as well as Afro-Cuban and Latin-style tempos incorporated into taiko songs.

Expenses for the Southern California trip, involving about 50 people, total about $10,000, including a taiko workshop at the Los Angeles Taiko Institute, Kubo said. More than $3,000 had been raised through a takeout dinner and other fundraising efforts.

Kubo said the Ballico group went through an auditioning process of sending in video of their previous performances. Now they are practicing the program, raising funds for the trip and finalizing their costumes.

“Ballico Taiko started in 2008 as a club for students,” Kubo said. “At the time we started, taiko was an alternative music program that was available to our students. It is now the only music program we have.”

There are 70 students taking taiko classes, which include a weekly 45-minute session for kindergarten through second-grade students; a weekly 60-minute session for third- through fifth-graders; and a two-hour session for the performing group consisting of veteran players, mostly sixth- through eighth-graders with a handful of second- through fifth-graders, Kubo said.

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