Kellie Yada Takes on the Art of Taiko

Kellie Yada performs with Daion Taiko at their semi-annual cultural celebrations held at the Orange County Buddhist Church.

Kellie Yada performs with Daion Taiko at their semi-annual cultural celebrations held at the Orange County Buddhist Church.

Cynthia Le, Features Editor

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At the young age of four, Kellie Yada became a member of the Orange County Buddhist Church (OCBC). As an avid member of the church, Yada attended every traditional and exhilarating cultural celebrations that the church held in the spring and summer.


At these celebrations,, Yada discovered the world of taiko – a style of percussion that originated from ancient Japan and was often used for religious rituals. Over time, specific drums were crafted to accommodate this special style of drumming. Taiko was later brought to the United States and became a symbol for the Buddhist church. Taiko drums were perfect for Yada; it was only a matter of time before she joined Daion Taiko, OCBC’s taiko organization.


With her father being an instructor and her sister also being an active member of Daion Taiko, Yada’s decision to join the taiko program was inevitable. “It just seemed so natural for me to [join],” said Yada. “Not joining wasn’t even something that I considered as an option.”


By the time she reached fifth grade, Yada had already committed herself to attending the two-hour long weekend practices at OCBC.


Yada started off with the beginner’s workshop, which was taught by her father. Through his coaching and the amiable environment of the group, Yada fell even more in love with the art of taiko.


Rather than focusing on the competitive aspect of taiko, Daion Taiko spends more time on developing a strong camaraderie between the group members. To start their practices, the group plays an icebreaker to get closer with one another. Instead of spending hours upon hours practicing a music piece until perfection, Daion Taiko pays attention to the social aspect of the group. “We reflect on how practice went, the dynamic within the team, how everyone’s interacting, and how we can improve. Obviously, there is the performance aspect that we need to consider, but we do focus more on building that relationship with each other instead,” states Yada.


In three short years, Yada has worked her way up to the advanced group and is currently serving as an apprentice.


However, her journey to advanced was anything but smooth.


Going into taiko, Yada had no prior musical experience and did not know how to read music. This did not hinder her growth since taiko notes are not the traditional written music notes, but instead verbalized patterns of dons and kas. Thus, Yada faced a different challenge than originally anticipated. She had to be able to memorize each pattern to perform the songs, which took a lot of dedication and practice to master. “You don’t have that much time to go over the lines and learn the new lines [during practice]. So it’s on you to practice throughout the week and remember them […] You just kind of get used to it after a while,” says Yada.


When Yada started the advanced level, she encountered one of her most difficult obstacles. Yada was never taught one of the performance songs on the setlist, and there was no time set aside during practice to teach her the song. If Yada was unable to master the song on her own time, she would have been exempt from the performance.


She was unwilling to forfeit her performance, so Yada took on the challenge to learn the song on her own. During her free time, Yada asked people to help her with the song so she could master it for the performance. She asked everyone she could, even those who were younger than her. To Yada, mastering this song was more important to her than her pride, and she was willing to ask for assistance and show her weaknesses to her peers. “By the time the performance came around, I was actually able to perform in that song. I was really proud because I had to go out of my way to learn the song,” states Yada.


Yada has proved time and time again that commitment will lead to success, no matter how difficult the challenge. As an apprentice, she is now helping compose songs that will be performed at later performances with her taiko group.


Despite the challenges that Yada had to overcome throughout her journey, Yada’s dedication and passion for Taiko never dwindled. Her father, Frank Yada, comments, “Taiko has given her experience in music, commitment, responsibility, self-awareness, and presentation. Kellie really enjoys playing Taiko and it is apparent through her expression while she plays [that] she lets the sound of Taiko be her voice.”


Now, as a junior, Yada is still an active member of Daion Taiko. Her dedication to the art makes it difficult for her to imagine her life without it, and thus continues with the program despite the academic challenges that she encounters throughout her junior year.  She plans to stay with the program until she graduates and has intentions to return to Daion Taiko to become a mentor for future generations.

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