North American Taiko Conference had 3 two and a half hour long workshop sessions: the first on Friday afternoon, the second Saturday morning and the third Saturday afternoon. Many of the workshop leaders and assistants were from North America, but there was some international representation as well. There were 16 workshop options for each session; some of the 38 leaders had one session, a few did two or three.
Workshop topics ran the gamut: from a specific song, technique or instrument to improvisation, composition, drum construction and more. It really seemed there was something for just about everyone. And, at least for me, almost everything sounded interesting in the descriptions. We had the opportunity to specify our choices, of course no guarantees due to the number of participants, but I probably would have enjoyed pretty much any of the offerings.
Based on my experience at last conference, where adequate equipment was a bit of an issue, along with where my interests are currently, my choices leaned toward the more conceptual and less equipment required workshops. I did end up having a pretty straight up drumming session on Friday, and there was not a drum for every participant, but the leader had us rotate frequently so it felt like there was adequate on drum time. I also heard about some clever solutions to the equipment issue such as the use of planter saucers as stand ins for the atarigane (chan-chiki or hand held gong.)
Besides materials/equipment, another issue facing all of the workshop leaders was the limited time. Two and a half hours is really not that long. The workshops I attended felt like they had a reasonable chunk of material that filled the time without being overwhelming. In all cases, it would have been nice to have more time, but it’s probably good to be left wanting a bit more rather than the opposite. In fact, one of the workshops I had was an expansion of a topic that was a small part of a workshop the leader had done previously.
However, one person’s reasonable chunk of material is not necessarily another’s. I did hear some dissatisfaction about some of the specific song workshops that it was too much or too complicated to do in the amount of time given. This range of experience and skill levels is another challenge for instructors. There was a minimum experience level listing on each workshop description, but I’m not sure if those were enforced.
I did also hear some comments from people as far as what the title of a workshop was and that, after taking the workshop, they would have called it something different. Part of that may have been personal interpretation, and part of it may have been that the leader had a particular idea when they wrote the workshop proposal description, but then either didn’t remember specifically what they had said or woke up feeling like doing something slightly different or the workshop may have morphed based on the participant mix. Another of the challenges of teaching – there’s the lesson plan, and then there’s the actual lesson, and the organic mix of participants and what they bring to the session. Sometimes it’s better than what you originally planned to do, sometimes not.
But I imagine it was a great experience to be a workshop leader, to offer your experience to the large and avid audience of conference attendees. We’re very fortunate in the Bay Area that there is a sizable taiko community and we have the chance to play with other groups and take workshops on a fairly regular basis. Some of the people who come to conference are hours from another group, or the only group in their state, and very rarely get teachers or performers coming to their area. So conference is a taiko jackpot. In addition to the workshop leaders it’s also a great experience to meet other players from all over the country and the world.