Garrison honors Asian-Americans, Pacific Islanders
June 6, 2014
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (June 5, 2014) ‐‐ The rhythms of the taiko drum filled the Pavilion on Friday as Fort Meade observed Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
Mark H. Rooney, a professional taiko drummer and instructor, shared the history of the taiko, which means drum in Japanese. He also performed several Japanese songs and improvised a drum performance with the help of a few drummers from the U.S. Army Field Band's Concert Band.
The U.S. Army Field Band and Fort Meade's Equal Opportunity Office hosted the 40-minute event.
"I think it was awesome," said Sgt. 1st Class Donnel Cabanos of U.S. Army Cyber Command. "It was very educational, learning about the different songs and the physical involvement. You have to give everything you have to play the drum."
At the start of the event, the Field Band's Soldiers' Chorus sang the National Anthem, which was followed by the invocation by acting Garrison Chaplain Lt. Col. David E. Cooper.
A catered lunch of spring rolls, chicken dumplings and vegetable sushi was provided by Angela's Catering in Halethorpe.
On May 1, President Barack Obama signed the proclamation declaring May as Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
Emcee Sgt. 1st Class Rose Ryon, a soprano with the Soldiers' Chorus, read aloud the proclamation.
"Generations of Asian-Americans, native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have helped make this country what it is today," she said. "They have also faced a long history of injustice. ... With courage, wit and an abiding belief in American ideals, Asian-Americans, native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have challenged our nation to be better."
Rooney, who is of Japanese and Scott-Irish descent, said taiko drumming dates back about 1,000 years ago to Japan.
In Japan's Buddhist tradition, the taiko is played during meditative prayers. It is also played during traditional dances, court music and festival music.
To begin his performance, Rooney played a modern festival song on the taiko and explained that his shouting different sounds during the performance is a way of communicating ki, the Japanese word for energy.
"Taiko is full-bodied drumming," Rooney said. "We need that energy to keep us going as we drum."
The taiko, he said, had been used in battles to encourage the Samurai warriors and to give signals.
Rooney then performed a song that told the story of a lonely and sad Samurai who was exiled on an island and played the taiko all day long
After the song, Concert Band drummers Sgt. Maj. William Elliot, Sgt. Maj. Tom Enokian, Sgt. 1st Class Brian Spurgeon and Staff Sgt. Andy Emerich joined Rooney in an improvised ensemble performance on several taikos.
"That was fantastic," Rooney said to the audience.
"It was fun," Elliot said later. "I consider this the martial arts of drumming. It's very cool."
The taiko is made from a single log and can be 7 to 8 feet wide. In Japan, the drums can cost as much as $10,000.
Rooney said that North American taiko drummers typically craft their own drums. One of the drums on stage was made from a 65-gallon whiskey barrel.
"The experience of playing a drum made by your own hands is priceless," Rooney said.
He ended his performance with a traditional Japanese work song.
After the song, Col. Timothy J. Holtan, commander of the Field Band, and Lt. Col. Eric J. Smith, commander of Headquarters Command Battalion, presented Rooney with a plaque of appreciation.
Among the audience members who lined up for lunch was Sgt. Joyce Galiki, who is of Samoan heritage.
"It was amazing," she said of the presentation. "I'm really proud to be an Asian-American."