Bristol-area students get a bang out of taiko drumming

BRISTOL — Busloads of elementary students arrived at Mount Abraham Union High School Thursday to watch a performance from Burlington Taiko, led by master taiko drummer Stuart Paton, and then take taiko drumming workshops, a few classes at a time.
The performance was part of the annual Addison Northeast Supervisory Union Fine Arts Festival (see story here).
Taiko means “large drum” in Japanese and the students were mesmerized by the dramatic sounds of Paton’s playing and were literally spellbound, laughing and jumping out of their seats when he put on a wooden lion trailed by a flowing green body and danced through the audience, the lion’s wooden jaws chomping on each eagerly outstretched hand.
“It was cool. It was really cool,” said one boy from a grade 5/6 class at Bristol Elementary about the shishimai lion dance. “It walked all around and if you got pinched by it, he said it would give you good luck.”
Added a girl from the same class, “I liked that it was very Japanese. And I liked how we were being exposed to more cultures and stuff.”
Watching Paton get 30 to 40 kids onstage, each at their own drum, sticks in hand, watching him and then learning to play a complicated taiko drumming pattern was itself a master class in effective teaching. Each group learned to take a broad stance “with a beach ball between your legs.” Following Paton, they would strike the drum and say “Don!” with each boom to the middle of the drum with the right hand, “Kon!” with each boom from the left, and then “Ka!” “Ra!” as they made two sharp raps on the rim.
“Sensei (teacher), I will watch you with my eyes,” the students repeated after Paton. And they did.
Kids had an especially fun time at the end of the taiko workshop when they followed Paton playing “follow the leader,” walking, jumping, skipping and pounding up and down the rows of drums. Paton also answered students questions about taiko drumming and about growing up in Japan and taught the students a few Japanese words such as “hai” for “yes” and “domo arigato” for “thank you very much.”
“It’s wonderful,” said Bristol Elementary 3/4 teacher Cathy Smith, watching her students during the workshop. “It’s a wonderful opportunity. Stuart is a master, so he really knows how to introduce this music to the children in a way that they’ll remember and take it home.
“They’re getting to do movement, they’re learning about different cultures. They were really excited about the taiko drumming. We did a little bit of research on it. They knew what the drums looked like. They knew what they would sound like. And they were very excited to have a turn to try them.”
   STUART PATON, ARTISTIC director of Burlington Taiko, works with Bristol Elementary School students during a workshop at the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union Spring Fine Arts Festival at Mount Abraham Union High School last Thursday.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell

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