Tathra made taiko drums head west to the beat of Japanese tradition

Luke Hamilton and Chris Korvin - Taiko Drums Works. By Ian Campbell
Luke Hamilton and Chris Korvin – Taiko Drum Works. Photo: Ian Campbell

Twenty-four Japanese drums hand crafted in the salty air of Tathra are being delivered to Western New South Wales today.

“We often stop work to watch whales breach and blow their spray,” Luke Hamilton says.

Luke and Chris Korvin are both drummers with the Bega Valley based Stonewave Taiko but have branched out to create their own taiko making business.

Taiko Drum Works was born out of Stonewave’s need for more authentic instruments to practice and perform on.

“Stonewave started playing on tyres wrapped in duct tape because we didn’t have any drums to play on,” Luke says.

Vertical slats are cut to the right angle and glued, forming the body of the drum. By Ian Campbell
Vertical slats are cut to the correct angle and glued, forming the body of the drum. Photo: Ian Campbell

Taiko is Japanese for drum, performances date back to the sixth century, where they were used as part of Japanese festivals and rituals – which is still the case today.

“Every little town has a taiko group,” Chris explains.

The drums also have a history of being taken into war and used to communicate announcements and motivate soldiers.

“David Hewitt, the leader of Stonewave had one made by a master, and he said – you can take this drum a part and have a look at it. So we did,” Chris says.

“We copied one drum and David played it and gave us the thumbs up and said keep going.”

Tape holds the timber slats in place while the glue sets, sanding and shaping will follow. By Ian Campbell
Tape holds the timber slats in place while the glue sets, sanding, and shaping will follow. Photo: Ian Campbell

Chris and Luke have been getting together twice a week to make more drums, outside of that Chris is a dentist and Luke works in Waste Services at Bega Valley Shire Council.

“I’ve been a model builder since I was eight, so I have good fine motor skills,” Chris says.

Luke describes himself more as a tinkerer, which perhaps undersells his skills.

“My main interest has been in metal work and forging and making knives,” Luke says.

Taiko in the drying room after being oiled. By Ian Campbell
Taiko in the drying room after being oiled. Photo:Ian Campbell

In recent months the pair’s taiko making has become more than a hobby that simply supplies Stonewave.

“We’ve been working on an order for 24 drums for a community group called Moorambilla Voices in Western NSW, our drums are spreading across the country which is really exciting,” Luke says.

“They are being split up initially to go to three different schools as part of the MAXed OUT group.”

For 12 years Moorambilla has been building ‘musical and cultural excellence’ from their home base in Tamworth.

The group’s vision is a cracker:

Moorambilla Voices celebrates life’s incredible possibilities.

We empower children and youth to think big and dream wide as they participate in our exceptional yearly choral programs incorporating Taiko, Dance and visual art.

We offer children the rare and valuable opportunity to connect with artists of the highest calibre – composers, musicians, choreographers and visual artists to co-create outstanding works for performance that celebrate the rich culture of this region to standing ovations!

We provide a unique chance for young people in remote and regional communities to share their creative selves in an environment that celebrates capacity. Like our rivers in flood – our creative capacity is powerful, breathtaking and immense.

Participating children come from schools at Brewarrina, Bogan, Nyngan, Bourke, Cobar, Coonamble, Gulargambone, Dubbo, Gilgandra Narromine, Trangie, Walgett, Lightning Ridge, Collarenabri, Warrumbungle, Coonabarabran, Dunedoo, Baradine, Warren, Wellington, Tamworth, Orange, and beyond!

The MAXed OUT Company is geared towards high schoolers with a focus on taiko.

This delivery of drums from the other side of the Great Dividing Range has been funded by a Government grant and will add to a small pool of instruments that are currently being shipped from school to school for rehearsals and performance.

Raw hides are used so that the markings on the animal shine through. By Ian Campbell
Raw hides are used so that the markings of the animal shine through. Photo: Ian Campbell

Luke and Chris beam as they detail the process they have gone through over the last eight months to fill the order.

Both explain that taiko making is a family business in Japan passed down through generations over hundreds of years.

Standing in their Tathra workshop, with the smell of eucalyptus turps and tongue oil thick in the air, I sense that both men have approached this traditional craft with the same respect and reverence as a young Japanese apprentice.

“These skills are kept closely within families,” Chris says.

“Finding out how to do this is not easy or straight forward.”

Both dream of being able to visit a taiko workshop in Japan one day.

Getting ready to lace up the taiko. By Ian Campbell
Getting ready to lace up the taiko. Photo: Ian Campbell

A range of materials have been used to fill the Moorambilla order, including red deer hides from Western Australia and cow hides from Tasmania.

Raw hides that are soaked in water overnight are the preference so that the unique markings and colouring of the animal are visible on the surface of each taiko.

“The drum is a hide stretched over a metal ring, ropes put tension on the hide, you can change the pitch with different tension on the rope,” Luke explains.

The timber used in the body of the drum adds its own characteristic.

“The thickness and the way the timber has been worked and shaped results in a different tone or pitch as well,” Luke says.

“And we have looked for Australian timber that is close in density and performance to traditional Japanese timbers,” he says.

Plantation Paulownia from Coffs Harbour and West Australian Jarrah have gone through the workshop and a rare sample of Red Cedar from Brogo.

“Brogo Woodworks at Tanja, a friend of ours, had a piece of cedar that was sitting in his workshop covered in dust and rat shit for twenty-five years, he generously sold it to us,” Luke smiles.

Stonewave Taiko by Ben Marden
Stonewave Taiko in action. Photo: Ben Marden from Stonewave.com

Outside of Japan is anyone else making taiko drums?

Chris believes other performance groups are making their own.

“But not on this scale or with this professional finish and quality,” he rightly boasts.

The craftsmanship and materials are reflected in the price, drums range between $1100 and $1800, plus up to $35 for a pair of Japanese drumsticks known as ‘bachi’.

Taiko Drum Works at Tathra is here to stay beyond Moorambilla, Luke and Chris have worked hard to understand this art form in every way and have developed their own systems and work flows – know how they keep close to their chest like an old Japanese master.

The finished product, ready for Moorambilla. By Ian Campbell
The finished product, ready for Moorambilla. Photo: Ian Campbell

 

This story was made with the support of About Regional members, Cathy Griff, Julie Klugman, Nigel Catchlove, and Maria Linkenbagh. Thank you!

 

About Regional, Podcast 11 – The Great Southern Forest

The Great Southern Forest, photo by Richard Green
The Great Southern Forest, photo by Richard Green

The National Folk Festival in Canberra is underway and there is somewhat a South East take over happening with a bunch of artists from this side of the mountain performing.

People like Heath Cullen, Kate Burke, Mike Martin, Sam Martin, Stonewave Taiko and the Djaadjawan Dancers are all taking centre stage.

In the week’s leading up to the National, South East NSW provides a warm-up space to many of the performers booked to play in Canberra.

The Cobargo Folk Festival is one of those warm-up events and always makes the most of the international artists who fly in for the National – it’s often the case that Cobargo is the first gig in an Australian tour for musos from the UK, Europe and America.

Apart from music, folkies enjoy a chat and a lively speakers tents is part of every folk festival.

At Cobargo this year, festival goers heard of an ambitious idea to change the way forests in South East NSW are managed and used.

Stonewave Taiko by Ben Marden
Stonewave Taiko by Ben Marden

The push to establish The Great Southern Forest aims to turn State Forests in the region into carbon sinks – creating jobs and economic opportunities through land management, restoration, and tourism.

Those driving the campaign see the end of the current Regional Forest Agreements in 2019 and 2021 as the chance to end native logging and move to a new economic model.

Dr Bronte Somerset, comes from a career in higher education, she has five children and 12 grand-children and is one of the advocates for The Great Southern Forest, she detailed the idea in a crowded speakers tent at the Cobargo Folk Festival.

Thanks to my partners in this podcast – Light to Light Camps, rolling out the red carpet on the 31 km track between Boyd’s Tower and Greencape Lighthouse south of Eden.

Feedback, story ideas, and advertising inquiries are really welcome – send your email to hello@aboutregional.com.au

Listening options:

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Thanks for tuning in, see you out and about in South East NSW.

Cheers

Ian

About Regional – the podcast, episode five, December 14 2016

About Regional – the podcast, episode five, December 14 2016

Dr Matthew Nott, founder of Clean Energy for Eternity. By Bega District News
Dr Matthew Nott, founder of Clean Energy for Eternity. By Bega District News

About Regional – a new place for the people and stories of South East NSW.

The last program for 2016:

*The Funhouse crowdfunding campaign succeeds; Bega gets a youth and community centre in 2017! Read more HERE.

*Dr Matthew Nott, the founder of Clean Energy for Eternity says households in the region need to rethink the way they use their rooftop solar panels. Read more HERE.

*The Tour de France comes to the Snowy Mountains, some advice from a local personal trainer that will get you ready for round two of L’Etape Australia. Fresh from this year’s ride, Adrian Day from the School of Strength says it’s all about doing the k’s.

*We chat to a hairdresser whose career has taken her around the world, including on tour with The Village People. Jo Greenwood is now keen to give young people in the region the same opportunities.

Stonewave Taiko by Ben Marden
Stonewave Taiko by Ben Marden

*The Bega Valley’s Stonewave Taiko have been booked for their biggest gig yet.

Find your preferred listening option below to learn more.

Feedback, story ideas and advertising opportunities are always welcome, we can connect via hello@aboutregional.com.au

More via the About Regional Facebook page.

Have a great summer, thanks for tuning in.

Ian

Listening options:

Click here to listen here via AudioBoom

Coming soon to iTunes!