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Mount Shasta Herald, August 6, 2014

Taiko Experience

Dear Editor,

Generally, people go to concerts to hear music. But this is not entirely true with the Japanese art form known as Taiko.

One does not hear Taiko. You experience it. You feel it viscerally. It touches you someplace between your gut and your soul. And it's not just the heavy drumming that touches you. The softest flute notes stir as deeply as the giant drumbeats.

This was exactly what happened in Shastice Park this past weekend when Shasta Taiko hosted ShastaYama - Taiko Summit.

This concert featured Taiko Grand Master Seiichi Tanaka and San Francisco Taiko Dojo, Kenny Endo Ensemble, Masato Baba, Michelle Fujii, Toru Watanabe, and Shasta Taiko with Russel Baba and Jeanne Mercer.

Each of these groups and individuals put on extraordinary performances. But what made this a remarkable concert overall was a segment of the audience not usually seen in large numbers at Taiko concerts: children, youth and teens.

Shasta Taiko reached out specially to attract these new Taiko fans. This outreach expanded the cultural horizons of young people who otherwise might not have experienced this soul-stirring art form.

How do I know how young members of the audience felt? I asked some young friends who worked as parking assistants. They got the opportunity to see a good portion of the concert. It was one of them who said, "This isn't music like we're used to. It's like you feel it inside. You don't just hear it."

Thank you Russel, Jeanne, and producer Mario Rubino for bringing Taiko to our community and to our community youth.

Will Newmand
Dunsmuir, CA

Superb event

Dear Editor,

There are those moments where when the blessings of where we live and the talented people that make up our community truly shines forth.

The ShastaYama Taiko Concert this year was certainly one of those.

To be able to attend a gathering of the premier American taiko performers without driving off to some distant city, to relax in beautiful Shastice Park and witness that level of talent and creativity, to participate in the energy and joy of these amazing musicians was a highlight of the summer.

You gave us a unique concert worthy of any venue on the planet, and it was right here under our mountain.

Many thanks to Jeanne Mercer and Russell Baba for their dedication and effort to bring us such a superb event each year.

Timothy Doyle
Mount Shasta, CA

Taiko draws new and long-time fans

Mount Shasta Herald, July 30, 2014
by Deborra Brannon

Taiko drumbeats and melodies rose into cloudless skies at the base of Mt. Shasta last weekend at the ShastaYama Taiko festival.

ShastaYama 2014 drew a large enthusiastic crowd of long-time, first time, and "hey I couldn't wait to come back again" taiko fans to Shastice Park on Saturday evening.

Shasta Taiko and its directors Jeanne Mercer and Russel Baba have been producing the event for about a decade.

This was ShastaYama volunteer Aaron Cena's sixth year on the festival security staff.

"It's so nice to see the event growing every year. This looks like the biggest crowd so far - or at least a match to it," Cena said.

Asked what draws him back year after year to volunteer, he said he "really likes the people who put it together - Jeanne and Russell."

And what draws him to the music?

"I love the precision," Cena said.

This year's event brought together some of the most renowned taiko musicians from the west coast and Hawaii, including Grand Master Seiichi Tanaka, with whom Mercer and Baba first studied years ago in San Francisco.

Tanaka performed with members of his San Francisco Taiko Dojo and with other performers during the evening's grand finale. Some Dojo members wearing costumes, masks and wigs; at other times wearing nothing buta a groin strap.

Dunsmuir resident Vern Spikes has been a taiko fan since he first heard the music while serving in the U.S. Navy years ago.

"I was stationed in Japan and used to go to this little club to hear taiko. I love the music," Spikes said.

Videographer and taiko fan John Cumming has attended every outdoor ShastaYama festival and his production company, Silicon Sorcery, has filmed all but the first one. He connects deeply with the power and the passion of taiko drumming.

"The drumming is like the heart beating. It's a primitive element that reaches your soul," Cumming said.

The upper field at Shastice Park was already densely populated in front of the stage a half hour before the show began. Long lines of parked cars radiated out along the streets near the entrance to the park.

First time festival attendees Brandi Barnett and Aaron O'Brien drove up from Redding "just for the excitement."

Ryan and Michele Rider and Rene Orum also drove up from Redding for the show.

This year's festival was their second taiko event.

"The music is soothing and relaxing and fills you with good energy," Michele Rider said.

Orum said she had surgery a few weeks ago but still insisted on attending.

"I'm actually still recovering but I came anyway - that's how much I wanted to bear this music again. It energizes my soul," she said.

The evening's program included performances by Taiko Master Kenny Endo, with his Taiko Ensemble from Hawaii and other special guests.

Masato Baba, a member of the On Ensemble and the Taiko Project, and his wife Courtney Deguchi, a member of Taiko Project, came to the ShastaYama stage from Los Angeles.

Like Masato Baba, ShastaYama performer Shoji Kameda grew up in Mount Shasta, is a founding member of On Ensemble, and has gone on to stardom in the wider world of taiko.

Near the end of Saturday's show, Kenny Endo praised Shoji and Masato for "taking taiko to new heights." He referred to Shoji as "an amazing artist," and called Masato "a major talent...great composer, performer and teacher."

Michelle Fujii and her husband Toru watanabe, founders of Unit Souzou in Portland, traveled from Oregon to perform.

Berkeley resident Fran Mullen sat close to the stage with her grandson and one of his friends as the music began Saturday evening.

Mullen had already planned a visit to her Mount Shasta area home for the weekend, and a friend had told her about the taiko festival.

"To tell you the truth, I didn't know what taiko drumming was. But from the poster, it looked like something 13-year-old boys would love," she said with a smile.

As the music filled the air with powerful rhythms and the stage lights began to pulse with rainbows of color, it seemed likely she was right.

Note: Look for more photos of ShastaYama 2014 and video clips at: mtshastanews.com




ShastaYama 2014 Special Offer for Local Children & Youth

ShastaYama 2014 has a special offer for children and youth who attend local schools - Mount Shasta, Dunsmuir, Weed, and McCloud areas.

Proof such as a recent student body card or report card or some official school identification must be presented at the ShastaYama Gate at Mount Shasta's Shastice Park on the day of the event, July 26.

A child who attends a local elementary or middle school and accompanied by a paying adult will be admitted free - one paying adult, one free child. A local high school student will pay only $10 for a ticket, and recent graduates will also be included.

Offer is only available at the Gate.

ShastaYama 2014 Guest Artists:

ShastaYama 2014 will be a special gathering of many of the leading artists and pioneers of taiko. Each year, ShastaYama is making history with the presentation of taiko's outstanding artists. ShastaYama 2014 will showcase a wide variety of music and art with original creative work that honors the traditions.

Grand Master Seiichi Tanaka is one of the most influential individual in the development of traditional and modern taiko. Tanaka Sensei is considered the "Father of American Taiko." Grand Master Tanaka has been honored for artistic excellence and authenticity and recognized by both American and Japanese governments. He and his troupe, San Francisco Taiko Dojo, have toured worldwide spreading the spirit of taiko.

Master Kenny Endo has been influential in introducing America to Japanese classical and festival drumming and is recognized worldwide for the use of taiko in contemporary compositions. Endo Sensei is the first American and foreigner to receive a "natori" (stage name & master's license) in "hogaku hayashi" (Japanese classical music). Master Endo has inspired new directions for taiko and is a recognized American taiko leader.

Masato Baba, Michelle Fujii, and Toru Watanabe are recognized as leading influential taiko artists and are perennial favorite guests at ShastaYama. They represent the new generation of taiko artists.

Master Kenny Endo and Shasta Taiko's Jeanne Mercer and Russel Baba started taiko training with Grand Master Tanaka. Masato Baba started taiko with Shasta Taiko and later trained and toured with Master Endo.

Michelle Fujii is the Artistic Director for Portland Taiko and with Toru Watanabe, Portland Taiko is influencing taiko's development with their extensive backgrounds in Japanese folk dance.

ShastaYama 2014 will be a gathering of a very special taiko family and a celebration of the taiko spirit.

SEE Calendar Page For MORE ShastaYama 2014 DETAILS

SEE Feature Page For MORE INFORMATION on ShastaYama 2014 GUEST ARTISTS