Emeryville Taiko Group Moves to W. Oakland Due to Noise Complaints

November 28, 2012
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Emeryville Taiko, a Japanese drumming group, has been without a set practice place for years due to noise issues. The group’s latest home is Soundwave Studios in West Oakland. 

By Samantha Masunaga

 

 

Drums boomed from every corner of the West Oakland studio. At the front, a small drum called a shime tapped out a rhythm, setting the beat for the six other drums in the set. At the back, a large drum called an odaiko was suspended in midair by a wooden stand, two drummers pounding furiously on either side, framed by a black backdrop and some velvet curtains.

Emeryville Taiko

With a red floral carpet underfoot, six women and one man pounded out a happy rhythm with relatively serious faces.

“Smile!” Susan Horn, director of the group, called out to her players.

Her players obliged, with embarrassed grins.

Taiko, by its nature, is a loud activity. Players are encouraged to use their entire bodies to produce a clean, crisp and reverberating sound. Even the process of learning songs is auditory—kuchi shoga, or the phonetic, repeat-after-me method used to teach taiko, is the only way music is taught. Nothing is written down, only spoken. Big hits on the drum are called dons and small hits are called tsukus.

 

Ironically, it is this auditory aspect of taiko that gets the group, Emeryville Taiko, in trouble.

For the last three years, the Japanese drumming group has moved from place to place, searching for a permanent home that is both large enough to store their many drums and remote enough to avoid noise complaints from neighbors. Emeryville Taiko holds classes on weeknights and Saturday mornings, so disgruntled neighbors from nearby apartment buildings would sometimes report that early morning drumming bothered them.

The group has practiced in churches and high school gymnasiums, and now plays at Soundwave Studios in West Oakland. This, too, is a temporary location—the room they use at Soundwave is slated to become a nightclub.

Every time they move locations, they lose members. Emeryville Taiko currently hovers at 30 members, a number on the lower end of their membership spectrum, Horn said. The group teaches all ages.

“People organize their lives so that they can take classes, so when there’s a change, they have to rearrange their schedules,” she said. “It’s the instability—not knowing from month to month where you’re going to be, and the stress and the worry of how you’re going to get a roof over your head to keep this going.”

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One Response to Emeryville Taiko Group Moves to W. Oakland Due to Noise Complaints

  1. ken bukowski on November 29, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    The reason they had no where to play is because the City would not allow them to use a building which they bought for that purpose. It was a real shame. the City decided they needed to enfiorce up to date codes on the building. Part of the issue was the lack of a fire exit in the rear of the building. the city could have easily allowed them to put in an emergency door which would could open on city property. The fire station is right behind the building. The requirements by the city were too stringent, and they were not allowed to use their building on 64th St. noise complaints were not the issue. The creation of the North hollis utility district would have caused them to lose their property, had it moved forward It was a real sad story which I had hoped to help with.

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