Soh Daiko

Soh Daiko

New York City, New York, United States

Founded 1979

Basic Information

    affiliated cultural group
    New York Buddhist Church
    Elected officers: Chairperson, Treasurer, Secretary, Practice Leaders, Practice Committee
    Development of taiko music, musicians to highest level.

Background Information

Group's Mission and Motivation

Soh Daiko Charter

We are Soh Daiko. We were organized in December 1979 under the guidance of the New York Buddhist Church. Among our beliefs, objectives, and purposes are:
- An appreciation of Japanese and Japanese American heritage.
- A belief in the oneness of the universe.
- A desire to promote and propagate an understanding and love for taiko music.
- The development of our taiko skills.
- The development of Japanese-American taiko music.
- A desire to learn about the history, tradition and values of taiko.
- As our name implies, the development of a spirit of togetherness, oneness and fellowship within our group.

Structure and Philosophy
Describe the ensemble's organizational structure and philosophy, including leadership structure, membership policy, and instructional process.

The group has elected officers: Chairperson, Treasurer, Secretary, Practice Committee and Practice Leaders plus working committees. Major decisions are made by consensus. The group regards every member as a leader. Membership is open to everyone regardless of background or religion though preference is given to church members. Recruitment and initial training, when openings occur, lasts 6 months. Training for members lasts a lifetime. Instruction is given by senior members and by visiting expert drummers and others from outside the group.

Group History
Describe how, where, and why the ensemble was founded. What was its inspiration?

From the West Coast, Rev. Kodani's Japanese American Buddhist Taiko was spreading eastward through Chicago where the youth of the NY Buddhist Church saw the Midwest Buddhist Temple taiko group perform at an EYBL (Eastern Young Buddhist League) convention. Inspired, the NYBC youth felt wanted to do something similar. Mamoru Funai, membership chairman of the NY Buddhist Church, saw this as the best way to reactivate the Young Buddhist Association and bring the youth back into the church. The church Obon drummers agreed to serve as adult advisors. The YBA was reactivated September 1979 and joined in the drum building with drum-building instructions from the Chicago and Kinnara taiko groups and David Matsushita. The church board provided seed money, and the NY Buddhist Church Taiko Group wrote its Charter in December 1979. However, the youth group, discouraged by the year-long effort to produce one barrel drum, left.
Asking Reverend Hozen Seki for a name that would mean "peace, harmony, working together," the group received "Soh" which in pre-Buddhist times carried those meanings. The name reflects the spirit of dedication and cooperation which enabled the group to flourish from its beginnings with no teacher, virtually no experience, and with garbage cans, discarded tires and wine barrels serving as practice instruments.
The reorganized adult group, operating as a collective, had as new members primarily young activist Asian Americans. Taiko was the perfect music form to help combat the quiet tea-ceremony, flower-arranging, Zen meditating Asian stereotype, especially for Asian women.
The group gained early instruction from taiko players, Reverend Ron Miyamura of Chicago and Reverend Masao Kodani of Los Angeles about drum building, basic taiko techniques and philosophy. Russel Baba, a musician and a former member of the San Francisco Taiko Dojo, helped the group to understand what taiko could be and encouraged the group to seek more advanced instruction from Sensei Seiichi Tanaka of the S.F. Taiko Dojo. With funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, Soh Daiko conducted two intensive week-long workshops with Tanaka-sensei. These workshops dramatically changed Soh Daiko's style and repertoire. Instruction from the Tachibana Dance Group and visiting taiko players, especially members of the Kodo taiko group, proved inspirational. This friendship resulted in a unique joint concert, "Kodo/Soh Daiko: A Taiko Celebration" at the Japan Society in 1987. Shortly afterwards, Soh Daiko took its first trip to Japan, highlighted by a stay with the Kodo group on Sado Island with hosts, Kodo.
The group's current membership numbers about twelve, with diverse backgrounds and professions. Soh Daiko is the first taiko group on the east coast. It has steadily increased its varied repertoire to include traditional compositions from the Shinto music tradition, pieces adapted from existing taiko compositions and original compositions/arrangements by members of Soh Daiko. In addition to drums, the group incorporated accessories such as bamboo flute, brass bells, conch shells and gongs. Much more than mere percussion, there is always the visual element of movement and choreography, requiring physical strength, endurance and energy, that makes taiko such an exciting performance experience.
They have received critical acclaim from the New York Times, been featured on National Public radio and public TV's Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow. In the New York area, they have performed at Carnegie Hall, the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Musuem of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Lincoln Center, and Jacob's Pillow. Their performances have taken them further afield as well... to the Walker Arts Center, Minnesota, the Morikami Museum, Florida; the USA-JAPAN Taiko Festival, San Francisco; Birmingham, Alabama, United Kingdom, Puerto Rico, and Canada.

List of Founding Members

First group: New York Buddhist Church Taiko Group: Mamoru Funai, James Moran, Alan Okada, Merle Okada, Toshiko Bliss, YBA members including Lisa Tsufura, Miki Magome, Kay Magome, Betty Magome, Brian Funai, Craig Funai.

Reorganized as Soh Daiko with slightly revised and more inclusive Charter: Mamoru Funai, James Moran, Alan Okada, Merle Okada, Sandy Ikeda, Janice Sakamoto, Teddy Yoshikami.

List of Current Members

Charles Huang, Chika Kawada, Lorraine Kikuchi-Gates, John Ko, Heather Larson, Junko Nakagawa, Alan Okada, Merle Okada, Midori Yasuda, Teddy Yoshikami, Hana Yoshikawa

Membership Composition
(i.e. ethnicity, generation, average years of experience, musical backgrounds, and motivation for playing)

Chinese American, Japanese, Philippino/Japanese American, Korean American, European American, Japanese American. First-, second-, third generation. Group average years drumming: 15. Motivation: love of taiko art form, cultural connection, community involvement.

Description of the group's community - regional, ethnic, social, etc.

Japanese-American New York Buddhist Church base reaches out to broader New York and tri-state communites.

Biggest Changes
Describe two of the biggest changes that have characterized the group's development since its founding

More commercial jobs.

Performances, Recordings, Publications

List a selection of your regular performance venues (for example, Denver Sakura Matsuri, Seabrook obon, business conventions, Manzanar Pilgrimage, Maui Marathon, etc.)

Brooklyn Botanic Garden's Sakura Matsuri
New York Obon Festival
Seabrook Obon Festival
Hiroshima Nagasaki Memorial
assorted commercial venues

Instructors, Teachers & Mentors
List the instructors, teachers and mentors who have worked with the ensemble.

Operating as a collective, the group received early instruction from many visiting American and Japanese taiko players including Reverend Ron Miyamura of the Chicago Taiko group (1980)who helped to build drums and stands; Reverend Masao Kodani of Los Angeles's Kinnara Taiko group (1981) who provided Japanese American Buddhist Taiko philosophy; Sado Onidaiko folkdancers and drummer(1982); Johnny Mori(1984); Linda Fujie (lion dance and music, 1986); Tamagawa Taiko (1989) and Eitetsu Hayashi (1984, 2002). Kenny Endo (1986, 1989, 1991, 1993, 2003) gave invaluable instruction about taiko, fue, philosophy and more and provided a link to Japan's resources during his years there. Russel Baba(1981), a musician and former member of the San Francisco Taiko Dojo, helped the group to understand what taiko could be and encouraged the group to seek more advanced instruction from Master Drummer Seiichi Tanaka of the San Francisco Taiko Dojo. With funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, Soh Daiko conducted intensive workshops over a period of two years with Tanaka-sensei (1982, 1983). These workshops dramatically changed the group's style and repertoire.

Member Teddy Yoshikami received a one-year NEA grant to study with folkdance and music groups in the Tokyo and northern Japan area and was given permission to teach and bring Sansa Odori to the United States (1987).

Instruction from the Tachibana Dance Company (since 1982) and members of the Kodo taiko group (since 1982, 1985, 1987) of Sado Island, Japan, proved inspirational. This friendship with Kodo resulted in a unique joint concert, "Kodo/Soh Daiko: A Taiko Celebration" at the Japan Society in 1987. Shortly afterwards, Soh Daiko took its first trip to Japan, highlighted by a stay and workshops with the Kodo group on Sado Island and workshop with former members of Oedo Sukeroku group (1987). Other instructors we have gotten brief instruction from include: Tosha Kiyonari, Tomonari Hasegawa, Nosuke Akiyama (lion dance, Kyosuke Suzuki (lion dance).

Taiko Collaborators
List a selection of taiko players or groups that have collaborated with the ensemble.

Kenny Endo

Non-Taiko Collaborators
List a selection of non-taiko players or groups that have collaborated with the ensemble.

Tachibana Dance Company
Yas Hakoshima

Audio & Video Recordings
List a selection of publicly accessible audio and/or video recordings featuring the ensemble.

Soh Daiko, Lyrichord Discs, 1991

List a selection of articles, master's theses, dissertations, or other publications written about the ensemble.

Samuel Fromartz's "Anything But Quiet", Natural History magazine, American Museum of Natural History, March 1998.

Linda Fujii's "Traditional Japanese Museic in New York State", New York Folklore, Vol. XIV, Nos. 3-4, 1988.

"Made in America", Chamber Music magazine, Chamber Music America, p. 10, June 2004.

Paul Yoon's "She's Really Become Japanese Now!": Taiko Drumming and Asian American Identifications, American Music, Winter 2001

Jany Sabins's "Taiko, Soh Daiko Style", Modern Percussionist magazine, March-May 1987.

Musical & Performance Styles
Describe the ensemble's musical and performance styles.

Living traditional, contemporary traditional

Signature Works
Please include title, composer, date of composition, special reason(s) for composition, and what the work represents to the group.

Yuudachi (Evening Rainstorm)
Sandy Ikeda, 1984
The shifting moods of this composition, evoked by fue (bamboo flute) and violent taiko drumming, represent the passing of a sudden Summer evening storm. A key element is the festival pattern, Chichibu Yatai Bayashi of the Chichibu, Saitama region, northwest of Tokyo.

Ronin Bayashi (Wandering Rhythm)
Jennifer Wada and Peter Wong, 1985
Three drummers, surrounded by ten taiko, journey from rhythm to rhythm. Their point of departure, inspired by the traditional rhythms of the Suwa Grand Shrine in Nagano Prefecture, combines drum beats with the clacking of drumsticks.

Hachidan-Uchi (Eight Drum Sides)
Composed by Jennifer Wada and Peter Wong, 1984
Based on the dynamic movement and double-drumming style originated by the Sukeroku Taiko School of Tokyo. Seiichi Tanaka, master drummer of the San Francisco Taiko Dojo, studied with the Sukeroku School and passed on the elements to Soh Daiko, who infuse it with a unique "New York" energy.

Matsuri Daiko (traditional)
An original 1983 Soh Daiko circle of drums arrangement of traditional festival music offers members of the group a chance to solo in the spirit of joyful celebration.


Merle Okada
332 Riverside Drive, New York NY 10025
718-939-1546; 212-769-5775


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