Keeping the Beat

Video posted April 25, 2017 in News by Mark Marino


When Colin Turley became a graduate student, he had little time to play music, his longtime passion. Then he discovered the ancient art of Japanese drumming — Taiko.

On a recent spring evening in 132 White Building — a dance studio — the Penn State Taiko club meets to practice. A few barrel-shaped drums are rolled out, and for the next hour and a half the sound of tap dancing toes is replaced by booming thumps and ticks.

Armed with two bachi drumsticks, Turley strikes the drum.

“It’s a good way to get out some energy after a day of crazy shenanigans,” he said. “After all the crazy stuff, you get to beat a drum to death with sticks.”

VGhlIFBlbm4gU3RhdGUgVGFpa28gY2x1YiB1c2VzIHRyYXNoIGNhbnMgdG8gdGVhY2ggbmV3Y29tZXJzIGhvdyB0byBwbGF5IHRhaWtvIGF0IHRoZSBKYXBhbmVzZSBjdWx0dXJhbCBmZXN0aXZhbCwgTWF0c3VyaSwgaGVsZCBBcHJpbCAxNiwgMjAxNyBpbiBBbHVtbmkgSGFsbC4=The Penn State Taiko club uses trash cans to teach newcomers how to play taiko at the Japanese cultural festival, Matsuri, held April 16, 2017 in Alumni Hall. Photo by Mark Marino

The word “taiko” describes a broad range of Japanese percussion instruments and is also used to describe the modern style of taiko ensemble drumming, kumi-daiko, which Turley practices.

Turley is working toward a PhD in astrophysics at Penn State, but spends about three to four hours per week playing taiko. He embraced the instrument as an undergraduate at Union College in New York.

He said taiko is a way to keep music in his life without long hours of practice.

Music lessons were something Turley’s family “just did”—his mom played piano when he was young, and his sister has played harp since she was eight. His dad was “too hyperactive to play music,” Turley said.

“We had lessons in music and I never considered it anything other than ordinary,” Turley said.

He stopped playing violin around the time he graduated college, when he also discovered viola, pipe organ and taiko. Turley said he’d need to practice violin at least an hour a day to maintain his skill level.

Turley said that when he has free time again, he would like to get back to practicing violin.

“Once you get to a really high skill level, to get that level back or even to maintain it, you need to play a lot,” he said.

Turley stopped playing taiko because a graduate program in physics is “kinda brutal,” but his love for music drew him back to it. Taiko, he said, was also easier to keep up with.

After participating in the Penn State Taiko club for over a year now, Turley has progressed to teaching others how to play.

“You learn a lot about how to play by teaching someone else how to play,” he said. “You have to really understand what you’re doing.”

Video: Violin chops

Colin Turley plays Bach, one of his favorite composers, with the violin he’s had since grade school.

Tagged in:

music , taiko