Mountain River Taiko was founded in 2011 in Williamsburg, MA by founding director Olga Ehrlich. Following our 10th Anniversary Concert in 2022 (delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic), Mountain River Taiko transitioned to a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and now practices at the Bombyx Center for Arts & Equity in Florence, MA.

Taiko means ‘drum’ in Japanese. When used to describe contemporary taiko, it usually refers to the ensemble of players on drums and other accompanying instruments. While the drums themselves have ancient origins in Japan, group taiko playing is relatively modern, having been popularized in Japan in the 1960s, and around the world beginning with the famous marathon-running taiko group Za Ondekoza in the 1970s.

The mission of Mountain River Taiko is increasing intercultural awareness by sharing the joy of playing taiko drums. Expanding our understanding of peoples who share our Earth is foundational to living in peace and respect, our highest ideal. Working cooperatively as we learn taiko music and prepare for performance or offer workshops in the community fosters our respect for those with whom we share this dynamic percussive art.

Initially, Mountain River Taiko only played songs from Japan, passed down to us from various taiko teachers. These included the renowned song composed by the grandfather of modern taiko drumming, Oguchi Daihachi, founder of Osuwa Taiko, “Hiryu Sandan Gaeshi,” learned from Annette Kearl, a music therapist who founded the original taiko group in Moab, Utah. Other songs from Japan making up the group’s repertoire include, “Kawamoto,” brought to the USA by Phoenix Taiko Kai player, Rebecca Reimers, with permission of the high school students who taught her during her stint as their English teacher; “Shutsujin,” “Silk Daiko,” and “Hyakunin,” all taught by Esther Vandecar, who had learned and performed taiko while living in Matsuyama and Hiroshima.

Recently, Mountain River Taiko has expanded our repertoire. Members have collaborated to compose songs using rhythms learned in technique workshops, incorporating flute and dance. Such pieces include our signature, “Matsuri Daiko”, or “Festival Drum Song” and “Premonition”. We have also been visited by contemporary taiko professionals who introduced modern original compositions into our repertoire. Tiffany Tamaribuchi, founder and director of Sacramento Taiko Dan and Jo Daiko, and World Champion Odaiko Player, has taught her compositions, “Kitsunebi” (“Foxfire”) and “Joy Bubble”. Kenji Furutate, solo taiko performer from Tokyo, has introduced two of his songs into the repertoire, “Can” (“You Can Do It!”) and “Yama Arashi” (“Mountain Storm”). And Takeru Matsushita, former lead taiko player for the renowned group, Yamato Drummers of Japan, shared his composition called “Step By Step”.

Whether members of Mountain River Taiko play or perform traditional or contemporary songs from composers in Japan or the United States, a critical value of the group is respect for the peoples and cultures from whom the compositions have originated. When beginner students enroll in a class session, they are introduced to Japanese phrases and customs which reflect taiko drumming traditions. A signature component of Mountain River Taiko performances is sharing the names of composers, teachers and regions from which the songs come. We feel obligated to preserve these elements of a cultural tradition shared with us. We also believe that artists should be credited for work when it is used by others.

SInce our inception, some of the ways that MRT has shared Japanese cultural art forms and taiko include: school workshops at Longmeadow and Hampshire Regional schools, performing taiko at Greenfield High World Culture Night, and leading the 5 Colleges Taiko Ensemble at Smith College.

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