|UW-Eau Claire||News Bureau|
|Schofield Hall 218|
|Eau Claire, WI 54702-4004|
MAILED: Jan. 28, 1997
EAU CLAIRE - When Ronald Keezer says he walks to the beat of a different drummer, he's not kidding.
The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire associate professor of music introduced taiko drumming into the university's curriculum this spring after using a fall sabbatical to study the traditional Japanese art form that mixes percussion sounds and martial arts movements.
"After teaching for 30 years, I became a student again," Keezer said of the six weeks he studied taiko in the state of Chiba in Japan. "It was fun - a tremendous amount of hard work but very, very fun."
Keezer studied with Takeo Nukui, the leader of the Sohshu-Daiko Drum Group, Chiba's most popular taiko troupe. The group has performed in Europe, China and the United States.
The idea to study taiko drumming came to Keezer after he and his wife watched a performance by a Japanese group at The State: Regional Arts Center in Eau Claire in 1995. With a son, Geoff, living in Japan and married to a Japanese woman, Keezer said he was anxious to learn about Japanese arts and culture. Geoff and his wife, Mayumi, and their 1-year-old daughter, Julianne, live in Yokohama, near Chiba in the east-central part of the country. Keezer and his wife, Mary, stayed with the family during their six-week visit.
While in Japan, Keezer performed in two concerts - the first after just three drumming lessons. "I was petrified," he said of the one-hour performance. "It was quite an experience."
Taiko refers to the art of Japanese drumming but the word also means the drums themselves. Because taiko drums range in price from $900 to $15,000 depending on the size, UW-Eau Claire won't have the traditional drums for its taiko class, Keezer said.
"We'll use bass drums but learn the movements," Keezer said of the class, adding that 15 students have enrolled. "The movements are very graceful and fun to watch. A taiko drumming performance is very exciting. We'll have a great time."
The traditional shows are visual as well as aural events, Keezer said of the colorful costumes and controlled movements that accompany the drumming.
Taiko drumming is so intense that performers must spend time before each show stretching their muscles so as to not hurt themselves, he said. "There are a lot of moves," he said. "It's almost like taekwondo but with big sticks. And it's a great stress reliever because you're beating those drums full blast."
The UW-Eau Claire taiko group will be the first in Wisconsin, Keezer said, noting that he hopes to work closely with a group based in the Twin Cities. In Japan, taiko drumming groups have become social organizations with the addition of music. "They are all over the place," he said of drumming groups. "It's become a great way to involve young people."
In addition to creating a taiko drumming class, Keezer hopes to publish information about the Japanese drumming style since little information written in English exists, he said.
Also, Keezer has initiated talks with Chiba University to create an exchange program with UW-Eau Claire. The Japanese university has a strong music program, which is something not available at other universities currently involved in exchange programs with UW-Eau Claire.
This summer, Keezer, a graduate of UW-Eau Claire, hopes to take members of the Shell Lake jazz program to Japan. There are few jazz programs in Japan but a great deal of interest in jazz music, he said, noting that he was asked to perform jazz solos in each of the concerts he participated in while in Japan.
"I'm excited because this has some real benefits for the university community as a whole, not just the music department," Keezer said of the programs stemming from his sabbatical.
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UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: April 23, 1997