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Women use drums to bond

Cassandra Tomlin/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Pre-physiology junior Eva Bahnimptewa takes a lesson in Japanese-style drumming yesterday.
By Seth Mauzy
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, October 24, 2005
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Female students and faculty in the Colleges of Science and Engineering attended a Taiko drumming workshop yesterday, learning leadership and communication skills while making a lot of noise.

Taiko, which means "fat drum" in Japanese, is an ancient art of drumming and poise that originated in Japan thousands of years ago as a means of communication across long distances.

The style practiced last night is called Kumi-Daiko or "group drumming," a variant of traditional Taiko founded in America in the 1950s that combines elements of traditional drumming with jazz and other modern styles.

Kumi-Daiko has been used recently to reinforce leadership skills and teach cooperation through classes and workshops, an idea that intrigued Jeanne Pfander, an associate science and engineering librarian.

"It's a creative way to get students interacting with the faculty," Pfander said. Pfander said she was inspired to organize the event after hearing Odaiko Sonora perform at the finish line of the Bobbi Olson Half-Marathon in December.

"I had seen Taiko performed once before, but seeing and hearing them at the finish line planted the seed for the idea," Pfander said.

She found out Odaiko Sonora offered leadership workshops and felt that drumming would be a unique and stimulating activity to bring female students and faculty together, a feeling shared by other faculty who helped organize the event, Pfander said.

"We were concerned about the retention of women in the science and engineering fields," said Barbara Williams, an engineering librarian who helped organize the event. "We wanted an educational and fun event for these students and Taiko seemed like an ideal activity."

Taiko reinforces skills such as teamwork, leadership and listening, which are essential qualities for anyone wanting to succeed in the fields of science and engineering, Williams said.

The students and faculty spent two hours at Odaiko Sonora's rehearsal space at the Ortspace studio, 121 E. Seventh St., beginning with a stretching session and a short lesson on the history of Taiko and how to stand and hit the drum.

Each student and faculty member then chose from a variety of drums, which ranged from huge Taiko drums fashioned from wine barrels to practice drums consisting of tires wrapped in packing tape. The studio and surrounding neighborhood was soon filled with the thunder of 20 women beating the same primal rhythms.

Between the exercises, the group sat and discussed how these points could be applied to their education and careers.

"I found that I was learning better playing with the students than alone," said Betsy Arnold, a professor in plant pathology. "I was picking it up faster with them. They made me a better drummer."

Hamner said she never taught a class of exclusively UA students and faculty before so she tailored her lessons toward things she and the organizers felt were important for women in the sciences.

"For this group I included a lot about the overlap of concepts in the arts and science and the connections between Taiko and their careers," Hamner said.

Catherine Neish, a graduate student in planetary sciences, said she didn't think the lessons of Taiko were particularly applicable to her career but she enjoyed the experience all the same.

"It was a lot of fun and a great workout," Neish said. "It was a good chance to meet some new people."

Students were notified about the opportunity to participate in the free workshop via e-mail lists sent to female students in the Science and Engineering Colleges. Although 29 students initially responded with an interest in attending, 10 students showed up.

After the workshop, the participants returned to the Student Union Memorial Center for a Japanese-themed dinner in the Catalina Room.

Alltel Funds for the Arts sponsored by the event by providing a $1,000 grant to cover the cost of the drumming workshop. The colleges of Agriculture, Engineering and Optical Sciences donated $100 each to cover the cost of dinner afterward, as did the Science-Engineering Team of the Science-Engineering Library and the women's studies department's Women in Science and Engineering.

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