Skip to main content

Finding Her Beat at Swarthmore

On Friday, March 22nd, at 6pm the Tri-College Asian American Studies program and the Swarthmore Music and Dance Department will present Finding Her Beat. The event will begin with a short taiko performance by Swarthmore’s own Taiko Ensemble and  artists from the film in the Troy Dance Studio, followed by a screening of the documentary, Finding Her Beat, in the LPAC Cinema. The event will conclude with a Q&A with executive producer and taiko artist Jennifer Weir, of Taiko Arts Midwest and featured taiko artist Tiffany Tamarbuchi. 

Taiko is a form of ensemble drumming also known as kumidaiko in Japanese. It is a neo-traditional practice with lineages in Japanese classical and folk traditions as well as influences from American Jazz music and martial arts. This form of drumming emerged in post-WWII Japan and since then has spread all over the world. 

Finding Her Beat documents the days preceding an historic taiko performance in St. Paul, Minnesota in March 2020, centering around women and non-binary artists. The film traces the processes and preparations leading up to the performance, and profiles the artists involved. It offers a glimpse into their experiences in the U.S., Canada, and Japan as gender minorities in taiko and the obstacles they have encountered. The film brings visibility to the diverse experiences and identities of Asian and Asian American artists. 

Ethnomusicologist and Chair of Swarthmore’s Music Department and Director of Asian American Studies, Professor Lei Ouyang, described the significance of the film's focus on female and non-binary performers. “[Jennifer Weir] wanted to bring together women and non-binary taiko artists because at the upper level, especially [in] professional taiko, . . .  it is predominantly men.” Ouyang explains this imbalance continues in spite of the fact that as taiko has emerged in Asian American communities across North America, community players are predominantly women.

Swarthmore taiko students get the opportunity to perform alongside artists from Finding Her Beat during their visit. “As they’ve been bringing the film for screenings around the world, one of the things they like to do is to feature local taiko artists. I think it is really a wonderful way to present the work,” said Professor Ouyang. Collegiate groups, like Swarthmore’s Taiko Ensemble directed by Joe Small, are the most recent expansion of taiko in North America. In February, members of the ensemble attended and performed at the East Coast Taiko Conference (ECTC) hosted at Brown University in Rhode Island. Swarthmore taiko artist Min Fruman ‘24 was in attendance and got to see a screening of Finding Her Beat followed by a performance by artists featured in the film. 

“Hearing [the artists] speak about their experiences and philosophies about taiko and then watching them embody those stories onstage was very moving,” Fruman said. “For me [taiko] has come to represent a way of making everyone hear and see you — your physical form, yes, but also everything else you bring to the drum and channel into it — which takes on even more meaning for people who’ve had the experience of erasing parts of their identity, or of being erased. I feel like Finding Her Beat tapped into this shared feeling, and captured the joy that can come from playing taiko with others who understand it as well.”

A short performance featuring artists from the film as well as Swarthmore students will take place in the Troy Dance Studio at 6:00 PM on Friday, March 22nd. After the performance, Finding Her Beat will be screened in the LPAC Cinema, starting at roughly 6:30. A Q&A with Weir, Tamaribuchi, and filmmakers Dawn Mikkelson and Keri Pickett will immediately follow the film screening.