Big Drum: Stuart Paton's Personal Story of Taiko, Japan and Vermont

February 16, 2012 at the Lawrence Memorial Library in Bristol.

The story behind the wildly popular Burlington Taiko Group will be revealed at this month’s program for the One World Library. Stuart Paton, founder and artistic director of Burlington Taiko, will present Big Drum: Stuart Paton’s Personal Story of Taiko, Japan and Vermont.

At the program, Paton will share his personal story about studying and playing Taiko as an American who grew up in Tokyo, and his experiences as a “Gaijin” (outsider) in Japan, in Taiko, and in a way, in the United States.  He will also discuss the history, styles, current trends and changes in Taiko. 

Taiko—Japanese for "big drum"- is a relatively modern revival of ancient Japanese drumming traditions. Taiko became part of Japanese culture around 500 AD, and was used by spiritual healers to dispel evil spirits and drive insects from the rice fields. Samurai also employed Taiko to instill fear in the enemy and courage in themselves. Villagers used Taiko in their prayers for rain and in thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest. Over time, many areas developed unique choreography and rhythms celebrating festivals or re-creations of historic events.

In modern times, Taiko has emerged as a performing art. Taiko was introduced to North America over forty years ago by Grandmaster Seiichi Tanaka, who founded the first Taiko group in North America (San Francisco Taiko Dojo). His seminal leadership and passionate style of play are largely responsible for the popularity of Taiko in North America today.

Paton, who spent most of his childhood in Japan, began his formal study of Taiko in 1984 during a summer apprenticeship with Grandmaster Tanaka, and he founded the Burlington Taiko Group in 1986 not long after settling in Vermont. Paton Sensei has established an artistic style for Burlington Taiko that combines movement, rhythm, voice, and the efficient and graceful movement of chi, or "energy," from the player to the drum. His affection for the group dynamic of Taiko is evident both when he performs at the most advanced level, and also when he instructs the least experienced players.

Since 1987, Burlington Taiko has been mesmerizing audiences with the powerful, spellbinding and propulsive sounds of the Taiko.

Burlington Taiko Group estimates it has introduced over half a million people to the power of Taiko through over 200 public performances including feature performances at the International Taiko Festival in San Francisco, the 100th running of the Boston Marathon and annual performances at Burlington's First Night.

Paton is also deeply involved in hand-drumming, something that has become another life-long pursuit for him. He started studying congas in eighth grade when he was in Japan and remembers teaching congas in Lincoln and Bristol in years past.  In addition to the Burlington Taiko Group, Paton co-founded and is the artistic director of Compaña Dancers and Drummers (Cuban-Haitian), Orchestra Guayoyo (Cuban-Haitian), and was also the co-founder and musical director for Sambatucada (Brazilian). He has played with Kilamanjaro (jazz), Jeh Kulu Dance and Drum Ensemble (West African), San Francisco Taiko Dojo (Japanese), and the Sklar-Grippo Jazz Sextet.