“In founding and developing Odaiko Sonora, I have always emphasized to our students and our audiences that taiko is not just hitting a drum with a stick.

Karen Falkenstrom is a recipient of a 2015 Artist Research & Development Grant.

Artist Research and Development Grants are designed to support the advancement of artistic research, aid in the development of artistic work and recognize the contributions individual artists make to Arizona’s communities. For more information about the Artist Research & Development Grant, click here.

kfalkenstrom3As a founder, director and lead drum builder for Tucson’s taiko team Odaiko Sonora, Karen Falkenstrom is dedicated to researching and studying musical folk traditions of Japan — dance, vocals, costume and non-taiko instrumentation — and to the creation of a new collaborative work to be presented in concert in 2016.

Falkenstrom studies the shamisen (a three-stringed Japanese instrument) and receives vocal training with Toronto artist, Aki Takahashi. Additionally, she is travelling to Japan to learn dance, vocal, and drumming styles unavailable for study in the U.S. at an invitation-only intensive led by internationally-acclaimed taiko master Tiffany Tamaribuchi. As one of only 8 invitees, she has the rare opportunity to participate at: the Kasuga Ondekomatsuri, a demon dance festival on Sado Island; a live/work intensive with the touring group Shidara; and one-on-one instruction with renowned folk artist Akira Kataogi. She is touring the obon festivals throughout California, the east coast, and Hawaii to learn more about the dances and songs brought to our country decades ago, and how they have become a distinct Japanese-American style.

All of the research, travel and study culminates in a 90-minute performance in Tucson, featuring taiko in its original context: as a backdrop for the work, song, dance and rituals of a village. Part of this performance will include a long-planned collaboration with fine wood-turner Lynne Yamaguchi in which taiko rhythms are derived from the lathing of imbalanced wood pieces—an idea focusing on the Japanese-American Internment, the transformation of culture and the unexpected, often creative results.

kfalkenstrom2aKaren Falkenstrom co-founded and co-directs Odaiko Sonora, Tucson’s Japanese drumming ensemble. She has 30 years of arts administration and education experience; holds a BS in architectural design from the University of Virginia and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Arizona; has worked for some of Tucson’s most acclaimed arts organizations; and has directed and/or founded several award-winning nonprofit arts groups.

Fallkenstrom’s professional, artistic and cultural work in Tucson has been recognized through many awards, including a Pan-Asian Community Alliance Woman of the Year (2008), YWCA Woman on the Move (2009), and the prestigious Arizona Arts award (2009). In 2014, she received a Tucson Pima Arts and Business Award (Lumie) for Arts Patron.

Falkenstrom has played, performed and taught taiko since 2001. She has studied with North American and Japanese taiko masters, including members of KODO, Shidara, Grand Master Seiichi Tanaka, San Jose Taiko, Portland Taiko, Tiffany Tamaribuchi, leader of Sacramento Taiko Dan and many others. She has appeared in hundreds of performances over the last 13 years. With Rome Hamner, she developed Odaiko Sonora’s school programs and curricula, and launched the group’s work with TUSD’s nationally recognized arts integration program Opening Minds Through the Arts. Through Odaiko Sonora, Falkenstrom reaches thousands of kids each year through school residencies in rural communities, urban environments, and in schools for special needs students. Their programs have introduced kids and adults to Japanese art, culture, and language, and given them firsthand experience with the performing arts. Her focus with taiko has been community building and collaboration.

Perspectives: Karen Falkenstrom

Perspectives is an on ongoing series of interviews and check-ins with recipients of our Artist Research and Development Grant (ARDG). Today we speak with 2015 ARDG recipient Karen Falkenstrom of Tucson.

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United States of Arts: Arizona

Last month, the National Endowment for the Arts visited Tucson to witness the city's annual All Souls Procession and speak with State Senator/Public Artist Steve Farley, taiko drummer/teaching artist Karen Falkenstrom, and Arizona's Poet Laureate, Alberto Álvaro Ríos. Today, we're pleased to be able to share the finished video with you.

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