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THE ALTERNATIVES | CRASH COURSE

Primal music to soothe the soul

March 11, 2004|Duane Noriyuki

In ancient Japan, the taiko provided communication between villages or armies, or between mortals and deities. But the thunderous drums are gaining popularity in the United States as a form of self-expression.

The Rev. Tom Kurai, a Zen Buddhist priest at Sozenji Temple in Montebello and founder of the Taiko Center of Los Angeles, says there were only two taiko groups in North America in the late 1960s, and now there are about 200.

"It's music that reaches the soul," says Kurai, 55. "Taiko, as opposed to most Western contemporary drums, is made of natural materials. It's very primal. It goes back to the mother's womb. The first sound you hear is your mother's heartbeat. It sounds like a drum." The Taiko Center offers beginning and intermediate classes throughout the area, and two of the eight-week sessions begin Saturday.

Japanese Americans became interested in the instrument as a means of connecting with culture, but the lessons of taiko are universal, Kurai says. Classes, open to adults and children 7 or older, attract all ethnicities.

The center's four instructors teach technique but also the ways in which the taiko allows expression of the ki (heart, mind and spirit).

"The performer is not separate from the instrument and not separate from the audience, so that they're not playing drums and playing music," he says, "but they are expressing themselves, their spirit, through the taiko, and they become one with the instrument and one with the sound."

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Taiko classes, $85 for eight-week session. (626) 307-3839 or www.taikocenter.com. Starting this Saturday: 10:30 a.m. at Sozenji Buddhist Temple, 3020 W. Beverly Blvd., Montebello; and 2 p.m. at the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute, 1964 W. 162nd St., Gardena. Classes begin March 30 at UC Riverside.

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