The group performing at a Moab Arts Festival a few years ago. [Courtesy photo]

One of Moab’s longest-running community music groups is the Taiko Dan group, started in 1994. The group practices and performs taiko, a Japanese drumming style with large, wine-barrel-shaped drums and a steady, deep beat. 

Longtime Moabites may have seen the group performing at a number of events in the past such as the Moab Arts Festival, the Bluff Arts Festival, and the Canyonlands Half Marathon—but when the pandemic hit in 2020, the group’s community workshops and event performances came to a halt. 

Now, the group is trying to start back up again. 

“We’ve had a number of different members who have come and gone,” said Karen Feary, who has been a member of the group for nearly 13 years. “We’re on the smaller end of it now with the number of members, and we’d like to expand—the more, the merrier. We have so much fun together, and we’d like to share that experience.” 

Feary joined the group when she first saw a taiko performance during the Moab Arts Festival. Then and now, the group offers a public class for beginners: anyone is welcome to come learn (the class now runs from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Center St. Gym every Thursday for $5). As a group, members also practice once a week. 

The taiko style uses no printed music, instead, members learn from each other and from more experienced players—the Moab group has a relationship with a taiko group in Sacramento, California, and regularly hosts members of that group to come to teach songs. The Moab group has also written some of its own songs, Feary said. 

“Once we learn a new song, and once we play it enough, it’s ingrained in our bodies,” she said.

Another longtime member of the group, Monk, who has been involved for 14 years, said learning the songs provides a good challenge—one she’s willing to tackle, since the songs are fun, too. 

“It keeps the brain and body active, and it energizes,” she said. “If I come to practice tired, by the time I leave, I’m not anymore. It’s really energizing.” 

Another crucial aspect of the group’s shared knowledge is how to make the drums. Taiko drumming uses drums of various sizes, but most of the drums are roughly the size of a wine barrel. The Moab group has made the majority of its drums: Feary said two under-construction drums are currently in her workshop. 

Creating a drum in 2016. [Moab Taiko DanFacebook]

“We buy the body, make sure it’s sealed or glued together correctly, sand it down, stain it, and stretch the hide over the drum body and tack it down,” Feary said. “It’s a very involved process.” 

Feary enjoys being a part of the group both for the social aspect and for the act of drumming: the taiko style requires that drummers be fully present. 

“I started drumming as a stress relief—I had a very intense job, and it gave me an opportunity to experience a different kind of energy and be able to release whatever tension I had,” she said. “And with our group, everyone is committed to trying to do the best they can to produce the songs—it’s an art form and a culture as well.” 

The best way to get involved in the group as a member is to start at the class, Feary said: from there, potential new members can get the hang of the music and meet group members. To officially join the group, you don’t have to have experience: a willingness to learn is the most important thing, Feary said. Feary said the group is also looking to do more performances. 

“When I first started, it just looked like fun—I never thought I was going to perform,” Monk said. “I just thought, this is a fun thing to do one or two nights a week to learn and to be physically active. But now, I look forward to performances: they’re a lot of work, but I do enjoy them.” 

Classes run every Thursday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Center Street Gym (203 E. Center Street, Moab) and cost $5. For more information, contact moabtaikodan@gmail.com.