Many Connections. One U.

Alumni Profile

on November 12, 2012 by Janet Edwards

What’s that sound? Taiko drum group on campus featured alumni Itoh, ’89, Wiese, ’06

The sounds of taiko drums resonated through the corridors of the Donius University Center during a recent International Fair to celebrate the many cultures and countries of Maryville students. The event included a special Maryville connection, as not one, but two, of the performers with the St. Louis Osuwa Taiko group were Maryville alumni.

Both Junsei Itoh, ’89, and Julie Wiese, ’06, perform with the group. Taiko is the Japanese art of drumming associated with religious ceremonies and festivities. Performers often, but not always, play on large drums, as they use choreographed movements. “St. Louis has an interesting tie to the origins of taiko,” explained Wiese.  Modern taiko was created in Suwa, Japan, a sister city to St. Louis. While taiko dates back to ancient times, it was reinterpreted in the 1950s by jazz drummer Daihachi Oguchi. He began playing taiko drums in an ensemble in Suwa, giving rise to taiko’s modern popularity. Oguchi visited St. Louis in 1986, and later donated taiko to the community. It led to the creation of St. Louis Osuwa Taiko.

Wiese, a St. Ann resident, took a world music class while studying graphic design at Maryville. That’s when she first saw the St. Louis Osuwa Taiko group perform. “I have a background in dance, and I always wanted to play drums, and this combined them,” she said. Wiese currently works as a graphic designer at Fontbonne University and described taiko as providing an outlet. “It’s a good stress reliever. It makes me feel powerful—and loud, which I’m not normally.

Itoh,  the other Maryville alumni who recently performed on campus, grew up in Tokyo, Japan near the Nagasaki Shrine, where festivals are frequently held featuring taiko drums. “I grew up listening to the taiko beat, but never had the opportunity to play taiko in Japan.” He came to the United States to study at Maryville, where he specialized in interior design.  Once in Missouri, he became involved with the Japan America Society and found out about the taiko group performing in St. Louis. “I started in 2002; we’ve improved quite a bit since then,” he noted. Several drummers in the group have also spent time studying taiko in Japan.

Itoh, who works in the interior architecture field, is currently looking for a position drawing on his skills from pre-design through to project management. He brings his ties to both Japan and the United States to his professional life. Itoh lives in Brentwood with his wife, Yuko, 18-year-old daughter Yukako and 11-year-old Mikako. Both taiko performers say they hope to have a chance to visit Japan with the taiko group in 2014.

Here’s a short video of St. Louis Osuwa Taiko and the Maryville alumni at the International Fair on Oct. 25, held to celebrate International Education Week.

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