Portland Taiko

Portland Taiko

Portland, Oregon, United States

Founded 1994

Basic Information

    Non-Profit Professional Organization

Background Information

Group's Mission and Motivation

Mission Statement: Through innovation in and excellence in taiko, Portland Taiko affirms Asian American pride, inspires audiences, builds community and educates about our culture and heritage.

We believe that there is a synergy between artistic excellence and progressive community work. Our cultural work in the community is only effective to the degree that our art is of high quality. Likewise, our artistic work is made stronger and more relevant due to its grounding within the Asian American community - our art becomes more informed. This conviction that there is not an either/or choice between artistic excellence and community commitment is one of the things that makes Portland Taiko unique.

Culturally-based performing arts like taiko have a unique power. Like all performing arts, taiko can move and inspire audiences. But in addition, taiko can bridge cultural gaps by sharing Japanese and Asian American cultures and traditions with people across community lines. Taiko combines the inspiration of excellent performance with cultural sharing, resulting in a deep and lasting connection between the audience and Japanese and Asian American cultures. In this way, performance becomes a medium for inspiration and a language for communicating about other cultures to people of all backgrounds and walks of life. Portland Taiko has seen this at work countless times; at inner-city elementary school assemblies; at concerts in rural Oregon; among inmates in prison; and before sold out crowds at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts. Portland Taiko's work is motivated by this impact that taiko performance can make on people's lives.

This synergy between art and community is central to Portland Taiko's philosophy.

Aesthetic/Programmatic Framework:
Portland Taiko's artistic expression is guided by a desire to inspire audiences and transform the way they think about culture. We aim to present audiences with an exciting and varied collection of original, innovative works, including creative and well-executed taiko music, humor, and performance art exploring Asian American history and community. We believe that Portland Taiko's educational and community goals depend on the organization continually striving for the highest artistic standards.

Portland Taiko strives to create a unique voice as an innovator with a foundation in the contexts of both the U.S. and Japan. We recognize that in order to innovate, we need deep roots. We must delve more and more into taiko traditions even as we create new works that push the art form in new directions. While maintaining a clear focus on the taiko art form, we support the exploration by Portland Taiko performers of traditions from their respective cultural backgrounds. Also within this focus on taiko, we fuse American and Western cultural influences with the taiko art form to create a uniquely Asian American sound. In this way, we can continue to broaden our artistic base. While still respecting and incorporating the traditions of taiko, we hope to push the development of the art form in North America in new directions and to new heights of artistic excellence. This balancing act between tradition and innovation is at the crux of our artistic vision.

We would like taiko to be taken seriously as an art form as complex, rich, dynamic, and multifaceted as jazz or contemporary dance. At the same time, we would like the taiko that we play to remain strongly rooted in community - something that is increasingly difficult to do as the art form's popularity increases. We want to continue to take the art form in new directions while pushing the artistic level of our group and, by extension, the art form. We will continue to be involved in the leadership of North American taiko and the Portland Asian arts community by building relationships and supporting other taiko groups and other Asian American artists. And we aim to continue to create groundbreaking, community-rooted Asian American art of the highest caliber.

By building a stronger home base for Portland Taiko, one that sustains its artistic and community work in a long-term way, Portland Taiko hopes to serve two communities: (1) the Asian American community and (2) the broader Portland community. The Asian American community will continue to be a major focus for Portland Taiko. Affirming Asian American pride is central to our mission, so it is critical that we reach Asian American audiences. Also the Asian American community is our rock, our foundation - so when we want to build and grow, we will build and grow thanks to that foundation.

We also plan to continue to help transform the broader community. Ultimately, we want to enrich society through our artistic and cultural work. We plan to do that by inspiring people and by moving people with our performances. This is one of the ways in which our social change work manifests itself. We aim to increase the broader Portland community's awareness, understanding, exposure and appreciation of high-caliber Asian American performing arts.

Structure and Philosophy
Describe the ensemble's organizational structure and philosophy, including leadership structure, membership policy, and instructional process.

Portland Taiko has two performing groups (in addition to its youth group, Tanuki Taiko). The Ensemble leads the organization in composition and creative work, and consists of the Co-Directors, the two other artistic staff, and 2-3 non-staff performers. The Community Group, consisting of the Co-Directors and about 8-12 non-staff performers, plays a critical role in performing large group taiko pieces and also provides an important connection to the community. Together, the Ensemble and the Community Group make up the Full Performing Group of Portland Taiko.

A Board of Directors makes the major decisions concerning the organization and administration of Portland Taiko. Co-Directors Ann Ishimaru and Zack Semke are joined by 6 other board members, including at least one active community group performer.

Programs, Services and Activities
-Creating and refining original works in Portland.

-Commissions, original works, and collaborations with other artists of multiple disciplines and art forms.

-A home season with 5-8 events per year. The annual fall home concert takes place at the Newmark Theater of the Portland Center for the Performing Arts and shares the group's newest works, full complement of drums, and full performing group with 3000 members of the local community. Events in the spring range from family concerts and presentations of local Asian American performing artists, to intimate 'live house' performances highlighting cutting-edge works and Composer Spotlights events and open rehearsals.

-A community-based creative process.

-Workshops and classes for both adults and children interested in taiko drumming.

-Performer Training - An ongoing process of providing training opportunities for PT staff, performers, and students such as workshops from visiting taiko teachers, participation in regional and national taiko conferences, workshops from other Asian American artists and in related disciplines, and opportunities to attend concerts and events (taiko and other related forms).

-School Performances (ongoing) - over 300 assemblies to reach over 120,000 students.

-Solidarity Performance Outreach Project (ongoing) performances which (1) build bridges between diverse communities; (2) share Asian American performing arts with underserved audiences; and (3) draw communities together around values of diversity and cultural awareness.

-Tanuki Taiko Youth Performing Group - classes and performances.

-Nationwide Touring - The 2004 touring season included 42 concerts and performances in 14 states for 28,000 people, from Florida to Vermont.

Group History
Describe how, where, and why the ensemble was founded. What was its inspiration?

Portland Taiko is led by Co-Directors Ann Ishimaru and Zack Semke, who both started playing taiko in 1992, when Ann helped found Stanford Taiko, a prominent collegiate taiko group.

Ann and Zack, having moved to Portland after graduation from Stanford, were interested in continuing their study and performance of taiko, and inquired with people in Eugene about taiko in the area. They were introduced to Valerie Otani and June Schumann, who along with other Japanese-American artists and activists, had desired for many years to start a taiko group in Portland. Initially Valerie, June, and those interested in taiko in the Portland area had received workshops and training from Shasta Taiko via the Kurabu Japanese immersion summer camp.

Portland Taiko was born in 1994 as a volunteer endeavor with the arrival of Ann and Zack and critical leadership from June and Valerie. In August, Portland Taiko held its first rehearsal in a park with tire drums complemented by one taiko drum.

Thanks to tremendous support from the Portland community, the group rapidly developed the potential of becoming a professionally-run organization. With group approval Ann and Zack became part-time staff in September 1997.

Portland Taiko gained 501(c)(3) non-profit status in 2001.

List of Founding Members

Ann Ishimaru, Kyle Kajihiro, Lynn Nakamoto, Ellen Markham, Howard Nakanishi, Valerie Otani, June Arima Schumann, Zack Semke, Kenji Spielman, Kimi Yamashita.

List of Current Members

Performing Members:
Maki Aoki, Dan Chin, Rachel Ebora, Krista Ede, Teresa Enrico, Michelle Fujii, Dane Fujimoto, Miriam Hodara, Ann Ishimaru, Kazuyo Ito, Kristy Oshiro, Valerie Otani, June Arima Schumann, Zack Semke, Kenji Spielman, Yuko Spofford, Lisa Tamura, Karen Tingey, Yumi Torimaru, Mari Uchishiba, Robin Van Tine, Chad Williams, Toyomi Yoshida.

Membership Composition
(i.e. ethnicity, generation, average years of experience, musical backgrounds, and motivation for playing)

Portland Taiko includes members of Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Pacific Islander, Western European, and Eastern European ancestry. Members significantly range in age (early twenties to 55+) and musical background (no prior experience to extensive experience). Regarding years of experience in taiko, each staff member has approximately ten or more years of experience playing taiko. The newest members of the ensemble have approximately two years of experience playing taiko.

Description of the group's community - regional, ethnic, social, etc.

Portland Taiko most often performs at concerts, events, and presents educational outreach throughout the Pacific Northwest, but particularly focuses on the greater Portland area (approximately one million people), which has a vibrant Asian American community (roughly 35,000).

Biggest Changes
Describe two of the biggest changes that have characterized the group's development since its founding

Teresa Enrico and Michelle Fujii will assume artistic co-director positions in September 2005.
Michael Griggs will assume the executive director position during this period.

Performances, Recordings, Publications

List a selection of your regular performance venues (for example, Denver Sakura Matsuri, Seabrook obon, business conventions, Manzanar Pilgrimage, Maui Marathon, etc.)

Newmark Theater (annual Fall concert)
Mochitsuki Japanese New Year (Oregon Buddhist Temple, Portland State University, Portland Community College)
Oregon Nikkei Picnic (Oaks Park, OR)
Parkrose Theatre

Instructors, Teachers & Mentors
List the instructors, teachers and mentors who have worked with the ensemble.

Russell Baba and Jeanne Mercer, Kenny Endo, Hanayui (Chieko Fujima, Yoko Fujimoto, Mitsue Kinjo), PJ and Roy Hirabayashi, Kodo, Oedo Sukeroku Daiko, Suzuki Kyosuke, Tiffany Tamaribuchi, Seichii Tanaka, Kiyonari Tosha, Yoichi Watanabe.

Taiko Collaborators
List a selection of taiko players or groups that have collaborated with the ensemble.

Kenny Endo, Sacramento Taiko Dan, Uzume Taiko, Zanpa Ufujishi Daiko

Non-Taiko Collaborators
List a selection of non-taiko players or groups that have collaborated with the ensemble.

Akira Hiraguri (upright bass), BodyVox (contemporary dance), Chisao Hata (contemporary dance), Courtney Von Drehl (accordion, saxophone), Eth-Noh-Tec (Asian/Asian American storytelling-theater), Dmae Roberts (playwright), Dariush Dolat-shahi (Persian lute), Fear No Music (contemporary music ensemble), Israel Annoh (African percussion), Jeffrey Peyton (Western percussion), Lawson Inada (poet), Minh Tran & Company (contemporary dance), Mitch Iimori (oboe, shamisen), Obo Addy and Okropong! (African percussion), Sahomi Tachibana (Japanese classical dance), Smt. Sivagami Vanka (Bharatanatyam dance), Toshi Onizuka (flamenco guitar)

Audio & Video Recordings
List a selection of publicly accessible audio and/or video recordings featuring the ensemble.

Making Waves (CD, 2000)
Big Bang! (CD, 2003)
TaikoKinesis (DVD, 2005)

List a selection of articles, master's theses, dissertations, or other publications written about the ensemble.

"Portland Taiko Roars into Caldwell, Sold-out Crowd Ends Caldwell Fine Arts Season". May 10, 2002. By Michelle Cork, Idaho Press-Tribune. http://www.portlandtaiko.org/press/review-caldwell.html

"Portland Taiko Drums up a Rhythm That Cannot be Beat". September 10, 2000. By James McQuillen, The Oregonian. http://www.portlandtaiko.org/press/review-portland-taiko-drum.html

"Bang the Drums Loudly: Portland Taiko Adds Modern Touch to Ancient Art". January 22, 2004. By Amanda Parry, Concord Monitor.

"Boom! Times" September 23, 2004. By Gigi Rosenburg, The Oregonian.

"Taiko Drums are a Big Hit" March 19, 2004. By Lily Schatz, The Oberlin Review.

"Tradition and Innovation: A Decade of Portland Taiko" September 21, 2004. By Josephine Bridges, The Asian Reporter.

Musical & Performance Styles
Describe the ensemble's musical and performance styles.

Through traditional Japanese and contemporary styles of taiko drumming, Portland Taiko explores the Asian American spirit. Programs and compositions often involve taiko in combination with diverse artistic influences such as contemporary dance, Japanese folk dance, jazz music, theatre, and storytelling. Portland Taiko also incorporates a wide range of Western and non-Western instruments, ranging from the violin to the Filipino kulintang.

Signature Works
Please include title, composer, date of composition, special reason(s) for composition, and what the work represents to the group.

Amaterasu - By Ann Ishimaru and Zack Semke, 1993. Only lively taiko and antics can coax the Japanese sun goddess, Amaterasu, out of her dark cave ... and celebrate the return of the sun!

From the Village - By Naoko Amemiya, Teresa Enrico, Ann Ishimaru and Zack Semke, 2003. In November, 2001 the three-woman ensemble Hanayui hosted members of Portland Taiko for a series of workshops at Kodo Village on Sado Island in the Sea of Japan. Moved by Hanayui's artistry, generosity and magic, Portland Taiko ensemble members wrote this piece and dedicate it to Yoko, Chieko, and Mitsue. The piece begins with the children's song Machi de, with harmony arranged by Yoko Fujimoto.

Ha! - By Kristy Oshiro and Karen Tingey, 2002. Ha! Is one of the many sounds that are used as kiai, or centered shouts used in taiko to encourage one another and bring the 'ki' of the group together. A high-power celebration of the visceral sound of the drum.

Soliloquy - By Rachel Ebora, 2003. Early morning in LA, a lone fue player fills the empty plaza with entrancing melodies. Soliloquy is inspired by George Abe of Kinnara Taiko.

TaikoKinesis - By Teresa Enrico, Ann Ishimaru, and Zack Semke, 2002. This signature PT piece embraces the power of taiko to be a catalyst for transformation.

Salmon Ghost Song - By Zack Semke, 2003. Salmon Ghost Song was written in memory of Zack's dad, Dick Semke, and his partner Ola Marsef. The house, garden and life that Dick & Ola created in the forest at their Salmon Ghost Ranch embodied peace, community, and love for the earth.


Ann Ishimaru
3230 NE Columbia Blvd., Portland OR 97211


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