DANBY – A line of children walked out of the building toward a wooden pavilion in a corner of the grounds of Currier Memorial School, where some three dozen drums were waiting to be played.
“Konnichiwa! The children called their guest instructor. “Ah! Konnichiwa! Replied their teacher, or sensei, as they would be called in Japan. After the welcome, the third day of taiko drum lessons began with sensei Stuart Paton, founder and artistic director of Burlington Taiko.
The Taiko Drum, the 1,500-year-old ancient Japanese practice, was the culmination of Currier’s six-week exploration of Japanese culture. Since returning from spring break in April, all of Currier’s students have had a little bit of Japan during their school years.
“We studied the history of Japan, earthquakes and volcanoes, artwork, animation and learned a few Japanese words,” said fourth-grade teacher Michael Luzader. “The students especially enjoyed reading children’s stories from Japanese authors. At all levels, our children were totally engaged in discovering a whole new culture.
In addition to their classroom studies, the students got a taste of Japan. “The expressions on the faces of the fifth graders tasting wasabi for the first time were priceless,” said Carolyn Parillo, Director of CMS. “They also showed no fear in tasting rice with special sauces that they had never encountered. Even though they didn’t like the food, they loved the adventure. “
Beyond drums and taste testing, Dorset resident Chie Addington, a certified kimono arts instructor, shared Japanese traditions with the children, including the proper way to dress in silk dresses and to eat with chopsticks.
“The kids were full of questions and not at all shy,” she said. “They were particularly interested in origami and were learning more about maneki-neko, the porcelain ‘inviting cat’. It is a symbol of luck. “
Bringing a Little Japan to Currier was part of a year-long literacy and arts program funded by a grant from the Children’s Literacy Foundation. Currier librarian / media specialist Amanda Begin chaired a committee of teachers who found ways to work within the pandemic guidelines to bring authors and hands-on programs to students.
“Amanda was just great every step of the way and went out of her way to study Japan,” Parillo said. “She even sent buckets and chopsticks home to our distance learners and made sure they had online access on their computers so they could join the taiko class!”
Paton, the Taiko drum instructor, was born in Connecticut but raised in Tokyo. He used Japanese teaching methods during his intensive three-day course with the children. He used a call-and-response technique with rhythmic whole-body movement to advance learning.
“It’s important to talk about music first,” he said. “Once integrated into the linguistic part of the brain, actual play comes naturally.”
On the last day, the drummers showed real progress.
“When the ensemble drum set is done well, it should sound like a single drum, not a multitude of drummers,” said Luzader de Currier, who himself is an avid drummer. “I couldn’t believe how quickly the kids improved their skills in three days. The last session was a big rhythmic boom!
At the end of his stay at Currier, Paton followed one last Japanese custom. He left the students with a special gift to show his gratitude for their work. He had made a poster with the names of each student, teacher and school staff. Written in Japanese characters, of course.
Bob Niles manages communications for the Taconic & Green and Mettawee school districts.