Miyoshi Taiko Biography - Mark Miyoshi, owner and principal craftsman at Miyoshi Daiko, is a third generation Japanese-American born and raised in Colorado. He started making taiko for Denver Taiko in 1976, one of the earliest taiko groups to form in North America of which he is a founding member. Mark began making drums professionally in 1982 and has worked full time at his craft since 1987. In 1989 he was selected by the National Endowment for the Arts and awarded with a U.S./Japan Friendship Commission fellowship, which allowed him to visit and study taiko making in Japan.


Mark in front

His drums are now played by (a partial list): San Jose Taiko; P.J. and Roy Hirabayashi; Russell Baba, Jeanne Mercer and Shasta Taiko; Kenny and Chizuko Endo; Denver Taiko; Soh Daiko; Hawaii Matsuri Taiko; Shasta Abbey; Portland Taiko; Ondekoza; Katari Taiko; Watsonville Taiko; Fresno Gumyo Taiko; Stockton Taiko; Janet Koike; Toni Yagami; Taishoji Taiko; Seattle/Kokon Taiko; Stanford Taiko; Dallas Kiyari Taiko; Fort Worth Taiko; as well as other groups in the U.S., Canada, U.K. and Germany.

History - Mark Miyoshi has been making taiko since 1976. His interest in taiko and innovative drum making techniques are intertwined with the development of taiko in North America. In the years since Sensei Seiji Tanaka introduced taiko in America, this unique musical form has steadily grown in numbers of players and groups. In the last ten years the numbers have mushroomed to a level where taiko has once again become an integral part of many Japanese American communities across the U.S. and Canada. Wherever it is presented, taiko is also well received by the general public.

The style of American taiko has evolved in as many directions as there are groups. Most groups have started without the guidance and help of an experienced teacher and have been greatly influenced, by both necessity and choice, by the wealth of cultural influences in America. This has created a uniquely American look and sound that mirrors the experience of Japanese people and culture in America.

The evolution of taiko making in America parallels the development of the music of North American taiko. Over the years groups and individuals who made taiko tried to achieve the "sound of taiko" in the absence of traditional teachers and materials. Mark Miyoshi has helped define American taiko making as a unique craft. He strives to attain the highest level of skill and refinement while honoring the value of native materials and non-traditional techniques.

Mark has been involved almost from the beginning with the development of taiko making in the U.S. He helped found Denver Taiko in 1976, the fourth taiko group to form in North America. As with other groups in the early days of taiko Denver was forced to make their own drums. These first drums were very crude - little more than wine barrels with their ends cut off and rawhide loosely stretched over each end.

San Jose Taiko developed the basic technique for making "barrel taiko" and laid much of the foundation for the music and style of North American taiko in their first five years. They generously shared their discoveries and information with Mark, Denver Taiko and any other group who would bravely attempt to make their own drums. Mark refined these techniques to help Denver and other groups to build increasingly better sounding and more durable drums.

In 1982, Denver Taiko gave Mark Miyoshi his first commission, which was for a large okedo. This was the first okedo to be made in this country and it is still used by Denver as one of their big drums. Mark continued to make drums for other groups on a part time basis, continually developing and refining technique and adding to the many skills needed to produce several styles of Japanese drums. These skills include forging, forming and welding steel to make the kan (handles) for nagado daiko and rings for okedo and shime; large diameter lathe work; and bending staves with fire (cooperage). Mark was the first taiko maker in North America to laminate staves with fingerjoints. These staves are then joined with splines to create a large cylinder, from which the nagado daiko is turned. Mark was also the first in North America to carve the interior of nagado in order to enhance the sound and sustain.

The heads on a taiko to a large extent determine the sound of that drum. Currently there is no source in the U.S. that can consistently supply whole cowhides of the quality necessary for taiko. For this reason Mark learned to process fresh cowhides to obtain the strongest and best sounding heads. Miyoshi Daiko is currently the only North American taiko shop to process their own heads as well as perform every other process necessary for the making of taiko.

In 1989 Mark was selected by the National Endowment for the Arts and awarded a U.S./Japan Friendship Commission fellowship, which allowed him to visit Japan and study taiko making. While in Japan, Mark was able to learn the traditional method of sewing shime/okedo heads and the exact method of pulling nagado heads. One of the most important lessons he learned was that many of the techniques that he had already been using are the same as those used in Japan.

Mark continues to acquire new skills, try new techniques and experiment with other native materials, always with the hope of making taiko that sound better, live longer and have a stronger spirit.

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