If you’re a student at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) and have an interest in taiko drumming, just talk to Terry Nguyen! “Even though the UCR Taiko Ensemble is listed as a music ensemble in the Department of Music, anyone can join regardless of their major,” Nguyen says. “There are no audition requirements. Students are not required to have any prior musical experience. If they come to me with an open mind and a willingness to learn, then I will teach them!”
Nguyen is an alumnus of UCR, its Taiko Ensemble and Senryu Taiko (a student taiko drumming group). “I am not too far removed from the time that taiko started in Riverside,” she explains. “I am still in contact with the folks who laid the groundwork for taiko at UCR. It’s crucial to know this history, to have the first-hand experiences and to transmit the knowledge.”
Currently, Nguyen’s main focus is the UCR Taiko Ensemble, which is academic, and TaikoMix, a community-based performing ensemble that educates the public about the history and performance of taiko. “The majority of TaikoMix members are UCR and Senryu Taiko alumni, so it’s fun to have this living history that keeps growing each year,” Nguyen says. “The organizations support one another through sharing resources like taiko equipment and repertoire.”
Nguyen’s taiko class met off campus for nearly three years as she waited for the on-campus facility, The Barn Theater, to be renovated. Then came the pandemic. During the 2020-2021 fall quarter, some instructors were presented with an option of submitting worksite plans to offer in-person classes. The Barn’s renovation and expansion had just been completed that summer, so Nguyen formulated a plan that allowed her taiko class to convene in-person while also livestreaming for a synchronous class. Students who opted to come to class at the Barn complied with the strict sanitization protocols, including wearing masks and distancing themselves from one another. “As one of the first taiko/music ensembles to resume in-person rehearsals, I have shared the worksite plan with a couple of my fellow ensemble directors, as well as other taiko organizations, as they ramped back up to their in-person activities,” Nguyen says.
In addition to promoting taiko drumming, Nguyen finds ways to share Asian and Asian American cultural and traditional arts. “Aside from taiko, which I have been playing for nearly 20 years, I am one of few Tsugaru shamisen (Japanese three-stringed percussive lute) players in Southern California,” she says. “I am the principal shamisen player and artistic director of The Wagaku Collective, an all-traditional instrument ensemble that performs on shakuhachi/shinobue flutes, Tsugaru shamisen, Okinawan sanshin and, of course, taiko.”
See Nguyen’s shamisen (@tsugaruterry) Facebook and Instagram pages. Nguyen also appears as a guest artist with various taiko ensembles and musicians. She studies and researches the history of Japanese traditional instruments (wagakki) and folk music (minyo), which is reflected in her lessons and presentations.