Celebrate the heat of summer with Moab Taiko Dan

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By Sharon Sullivan (Moab Sun News)- Moab Taiko Dan, a group that practices the Japanese art of Taiko drumming, is presenting Moab Natsu Matsuri – Japanese for “summer festival” on Saturday, July 22, at the Moab Valley Multicultural Center.

“We’re celebrating the peak heat of summer with music, food and community,” Taiko drummer Karen Garthwait said. “We hope to make it an annual event.”

Admission is free, with music happening most of the time during the five-hour event. There will be guest solo performances, as well as the Taiko Dan group performing both traditional Japanese and original songs. Lessons in the art of Japanese drumming will also be offered throughout the day. Local businesses have donated an array of door prizes.

When the group performs, babies jump up and down, and grown men are mesmerized, said Michele Blackburn, a Taiko Dan member for 17 years. The Moab group was founded 23 years ago.

“It resonates with a lot of different people,” she said. “It’s for children of all ages.”

For $10, festivalgoers can partake of an array of Asian foods that will be prepared and donated by various local restaurants, including Singha Thai, Mandarin Szechuan, China Café, Arches Thai and 168 Ramen.

“Each have donated hand-held tasty bites such as egg and spring rolls, and edamame,” and other Asian specialties, Garthwait said.

Taiko Dan means “drumming group” and although it’s percussive, performances can involve flute and/or dance elements, Garthwait said. At this year’s Memorial Day performance, the group added kazoos.

“Drumming has long been a component of village life (in Japan),” Garthwait said. “It’s used for ceremony, special events. Recently, it’s become the ensemble performance art that we know it as. It’s a very vibrant art form.”

The group, of which there are currently eight members, intends to teach beginner classes in the fall. Garthwait, who works at Arches and Canyonlands national parks, has been in the group for six years. She said she knew immediately that she wanted to be part of it when she saw a performance for the first time after moving to Moab.

Taiko Dan has been practiced in Japan for thousands of years, and was a sacred instrument in its temples, Blackburn said.

The group’s sensei – or mentor – Tiffany Tamaribuchi, comes to Moab twice a year from Sacramento, California, to teach workshops and songs that she composes.

“It’s been a high level of spiritual practice for me ever since,” first taking a class with Tamaribuchi, Blackburn said. “You set your intention of what you want to vibrate in the world.”

The Moab ensemble purchases some of the drums they use, while others they make from wine barrels, cowhides and steel, Blackburn said.

Taiko Dan member Margaret Hopkin, a retired educator and superintendent of schools, composed a song called “River” – one of the group’s favorites, Blackburn said.

For more than a year, Moab Taiko Dan has been meeting at Grand County Middle School to practice. The group is looking for a new, more permanent space, however, that it can rent or purchase.

“We’re also interested in collaborating with other organizations in town, to go together on a space to fill with art, and music,” Garthwait said. “We’re open to all possibilities.”

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