A performance art that engages the entire body, Taiko (the Japanese word for “drum”)  combines dance, percussion and vocals to create a visually and musically stimulating spectacle. 

Bowdoin Taiko, now under the name “Shirokuma Taiko” after the Japanese word for “polar bear”, is a group devoted to learning, teaching and performing Taiko on campus and in the community at large. 

Founded in 2002, the group plays Kumi Daiko, or “ensemble drumming”, which involves beating drums (taiko) with cylindrical drumsticks (bachi) while performing coordinated movements (taiko baka). 

Unlike many other Taiko groups, Shirokuma Taiko is completely student-run. 
“Each leader and each member develops their own technique and their own individual style,” said club leader Tomas Donatelli Pitfield ’16. 

“We’re very self-driven,” said club leader Steve McClelland ’16. 
According to Pitfield, most members come in with little to no drumming experience. Both Pitfield and McClelland were new to Taiko when they joined in their first year. 

According to them, the welcoming environment of the group is conducive to hosting an eclectic mix of students. 

In addition, this year, the group consists of more female members than it’s had in four years. 
“It’s very inclusive,” said club member Indre Altman ’18. “It was nice to join a group that used instruments without needing to have a background in music.”

Group practices are held twice a week and involve a combination of warm-ups, stretching and fundamentals followed by rehearsing pieces for upcoming performances. 

Additional practices open to members of the Brunswick community are also held every Saturday morning.

The group has performed at various events both on and off campus, ranging from Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School to the Asian Students Association Fashion Show. 

The group has also attended the East Coast Taiko Conference, a conference of professional and other collegiate Taiko groups, where the members gained insight and received feedback from expert Taiko performers as well as audiences. 

“People who play Taiko or who have been around Taiko growing up know that the audience isn’t a passive observer,” said Pitfield.

Audience engagement is a crucial component to any Taiko performance; the energy on stage feeds off of the energy from the crowd. According to member Luis Rico ’17, the intense vocal element of a Taiko performance must be matched by crowd involvement. 

“The important part about screaming is that it brings energy to the show and gets the crowd more involved,” said Rico.

“In the beginning, people are really afraid of screaming,” said Pitfield.

According to Pitfield, this shouting, often done in conjunction with a hit on the drum, makes Taiko not just a vocal practice, but also a form of catharsis. 

“To me, it’s really grounding just to play a song,” Pitfield said. “You have to get into a stance, but you can still adapt as it’s happening.”

“For me, it’s been a practice in focusing,” said Altman. “A lot of good drummers very much zone in on the beat and only think about that.”

As a group performance, the coordination involved extends beyond a performer’s individual drum. 

Members have the responsibility of constantly listening and watching out of their peripherals to make sure their form stays synchronized with the group’s movements. 

“Part of the learning curve is being able to focus on what you’re doing but at the same time trying to make sure you’re matching up with people beside you,” said Pitfield. 

Unlike in past years, this year’s group strives to provide a context for the songs it performs, emphasizing each song’s narrative and meaning and how it informs the physicality and aesthetic of the performance. 

“Each song has some story it’s trying to tell and also a story behind how it came to be,” said Pitfield.

The leaders hope to leave a strong legacy this year, building up the future generation of Taiko drummers. 

“There’s a pervasive and omnipresent goal of making sure that Taiko doesn’t die when we leave,” said Pitfield.  

Shirokuma Taiko will perform during Common Hour on Friday at 12:30 p.m. and on Saturday evening in Morrell Gymnasium in celebration of Family Weekend.