How did two men from the West Midlands end up teaching Japanese drumming online in the pandemic?

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Two men from the West Midlands, passionate about Japanese drumming, are teaching rhythms online. James Barrow and Michael de Groot love Japanese beats, and the pandemic does not stop them from spreading the good vibes.

From hobby to drumming school 

James learnt Taiko drumming in Japan and after gaining certificates, he set up the first Taiko group in the UK in 1993. Since then he has been“teaching and performing around the UK and occasionally overseas“.

Michael used to drum in a band but he gave it up. Later on, he found out about Taiko drumming where he met James.

“When I first hit those drums, I was hooked. That was over two years ago. I’m still doing it and I love it and James is a great teacher” said Michael

From 2014 they have been building the Taiko West School and Community Project.

 Taiko in Japanese means “big drum” and it is “a solid-bodied, carved barrel shape drum and we play with big sticks “ said James. 

How did two men from the West Midlands end up teaching online drumming?

Before the lockdown, James was teaching almost 250 enthusiasts across the West Midlands with Michael coordinating local groups. When everything had to close they moved all their classes online.

Two men from West Midlands wanted to help their students out during the difficult time of lockdown by continuing their classes online.

Michael said:

” We were just spending so much time testing the technology, working out the best way, how all of this technology could help us. But more importantly, help us, students. Because of course, they were stuck at home with nothing to do furloughed and bored and depressed.”

“That took a lot of time when we finally worked out that James has to be on audio. We can all hear him and see him drumming.

Taiko drumming brings joy to its instructors and their students. The online classes provide space for people to connect and talk, bringing communities together. James added that some of their meetings lasted much longer.

Some people have said, I always feel better at the end of the session than they do at the start when I sign up. By the time we finished we’ve all just got a big smile on our faces because it is a vigorous activity. They are stimulated by the sound and new learning process “ says James.

James says when drumming people exercise because they use their whole body to play the instrument: “it is almost like a mini-workout.”

In addition Michael points out that drumming reduces stress.

Because you’re concentrating so much on learning a new rhythm, making sure your hands are behaving and listening to James. You actually forget what’s going on in the world. It’s meditation,” says Michael.

The number of participants is slowly rising and they have regular attendees. Participants do not need to have drums – many of their students practice on homemade stuff.

Exclusive projects on their way

James and Michael want to expand more and have more Brummies attending to their classes in the future.

James and Michael exclusively told Birmingham Eastside about their new project: mixture of online and hands-on drum classes by 2022. It will be called “Skin and Screens”.

“I’m interested, excited, curious about how we’re going to get that balance,” says James. 


More information about Taiko West can be found on their website.

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Freelance journalist writing stories for Birmingham Eastside

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