Valley Village resident co-leads Japanese drum group LA Matsuri Taiko

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lisa-shotBY LISA EKBERG HOPGOOD

Valley Village resident Chiaki Toda is a serene, quiet woman.  Calm and unruffled under pressure, she moves with the grace of the dancer she once was.  Loud and wild gestures are unknown to her.  That is, unless you’ve seen her perform with her Japanese drum group LA Matsuri Taiko.

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Valley Village resident Chaiki Toda co-leads Japanese drum group LA Matsuri Taiko.

Chiaki Toda, who is co-leader of the group, along with Yuki Inoue, is a strong and intense presence. When Chiaki performs Taiko, her face is animated, her shouts are visibly audible, and her athleticism is on full display.  It is electrifying to watch.

Taiko (which literally means “drum” in Japanese) is the name given to both the kind of drums used and the ensemble groups who play them in performance.  Taiko concerts showcase everything from enormous drums requiring multiple players to synchronized group movements while hammering out hypnotic rhythms.  All done while in traditional costume.

In 1977, Etsuo Hongo formed LA Matsuri Taiko and remains the group’s Sensei (Master or Instructor.)  Mr. Hongo is currently working with new Taiko groups in Chile though he returns to LA Matsuri Taiko when he is able.  The group is composed of 16 current members, some as young as 12.

Chiaki joined the group about 10 years ago after attending a summer Taiko festival here in the United States.  As a child growing up in Tokyo, she had no interest in any of the traditional Japanese arts.

“I never cared for flower arranging or learning the tea ceremony or Taiko.  I thought of myself as a modern girl.  It was only after I had been living here for a number of years and I went to that festival that I felt a connection and wanted to learn how to play.”

Chiaki had performed as a theater dancer (modern jazz style) while still living in Japan and after marrying her husband Toshi (who is also an actor and performer,) and moving to New York, she continued on the stage as a dancer and singer in musicals.  She fondly remembers the time she went on a national tour for six months in the company of “The King and I” with Rudolf Nureyev in the title role.

“We had not been married that long, but Toshi said ‘this one is worth going on the road for,’ and he was right about that, it was a great experience.”

This year, Chiaki challenged herself additionally by running in her first LA Marathon in May.

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Taiko concerts showcase everything from enormous drums requiring multiple players to synchronized group movements while hammering out hypnotic rhythms. Photo: Lisa Ekberg Hopgood.

“My 14 year old son was planning to run in it and I thought that I should push myself to try it as well.  It took me about a year of training to be able to participate.  I’m not sure if I will do it again, but I feel I proved to myself that I could do it.”

It is no surprise then that when it came to Taiko, Chiaki took to not only the performing aspect, but also the hard work and dedication necessary to become an accomplished Taiko drummer and co-leader of the group.

LA Matsuri Taiko has been invited to some of the largest and most prestigious Taiko events in the United States, including the International Taiko Festival and the International Taiko Conference.  They have also performed at the U.S. Sumo Open, Tokyo City Cup at the Santa Anita Racetrack, the Los Angeles Marathon and many other local venues.

The group practices twice weekly downtown at the Nishi Honganji Temple in Little Tokyo and welcomes anyone interested to train with them and become members.  They are open to performing at both private and public events.

For information about training or becoming a member of LA Matsuri, email Evelyn Goto gotoes@aol.com.

LA Matsuri will be performing at the MATA Expo@ Ontario Convention Center November 13 an 14. Tickets $5 www.matoexpo.com.  Upcoming public events include the L.A. Marathon on March 21, 2010 and the Tokyo City Cup (Santa Anita Race Track) on March 27, 2010.  LA Matsuri Taiko always has a full summer program of events as well, which usually includes the Obon festival.  Contact information is available at www.myspace.com/lamatsuritaiko.  

Lisa Ekberg Hopgood is a 17+ year resident of Studio City. She lives with her husband John and two sons Justin and Aidan.

About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.