Beat the drum with conviction, or hang your head in shame

MONDAY, 13 FEBRUARY 2017

This morning I watched a program titled Heart of Taiko, about the traditional Japanese drum. The program follows three Malay-Japanese teenage girls who had established a taiko group in Penang. They are invited to attend a workshop at a legendary manufacturer of taiko drums in Japan. They meet three of the country’s top female players, who will teach them technique and correct conduct. At the end of the few days it is expected of the group of teenagers to perform with the Japanese professionals in front of a select audience.

The younger of the three Japanese drummers take the lead in the young students’ training. She is critical from the start. The girls don’t play together. They show a lack of commitment. She gives them packs of magazines wrapped in paper to practice on, and she wonders the next day why the packs are not in shreds. She looks at their hands. Why are they not bruised? Why are there no blisters? She takes them to a windy beach where they have to stand with their legs apart while holding heavy drumsticks above their heads as they scream something. This while a strong wind is blowing at them. They do okay, but still leave their instructor unimpressed.

The next day they go to a monastery to meditate – they sit quietly on pillows, staring at a white wall. After the session, one girl describes it as a very helpful experience. She says she learned that you have to be fully present in the moment.

They go back to the training centre. They train harder.

The next day they again play their drums for their teacher – the young, professional taiko master. This time she smiles. They still make a lot of mistakes, she says. There’s a lot they still have to learn. But, and this she says with great satisfaction – she could see more dedication in their eyes. She also sees it in their arm movements, the arms being lifted high and brought down hard on the drum skin. And their screams were loud and full of energy.

And they learn: Technical mistakes are one thing; we work on them. Everybody makes mistakes at the beginning. Mistakes can be forgiven. What is unforgivable, what is in fact a great embarrassment to all concerned, is lack of dedication.

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