Odd Jobs: Burlington Taiko Sensei - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Odd Jobs: Burlington Taiko Sensei

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It's an unmistakable sound.

"It's not something you find everywhere. It's really unique," said Penilee Salnier, Colchester.

Burlington Taiko produces a rhythmic roar and the perfect percussive unison.

"It can send shivers up my spine," said Stuart Paton, Burlington taiko Sensei.

With choreographed grace and intense energy, the drummers have become a crowd favorite on New Year's Eve. But before the curtain rises on their First Night performance, Paton leads his colleagues in a traditional Japanese warm-up.

Paton invited us backstage to get a firsthand look at this odd job. Taiko, the Japanese word for "big drum," is the modern expression of ancient Japanese drumming traditions. Spiritual healers used taiko to dispel evil spirits and drive insects from rice fields. Samurai beat their drums to intimidate the enemy and villagers used them in prayer.

For Paton, it's a way to reconnect with his heritage. He was raised in Tokyo.

"I miss the different Japanese cultures that I grew up with. And playing taiko is one way for me to stay in touch with some of those cultures," said Paton.

He brought taiko to the Queen City 28 years ago. He found it difficult to practice on his own, so he started teaching and formed a taiko study group. It was a modest start.

"We started off playing on car tires," said Paton.

Burlington Taiko has handcrafted about 200 drums and introduced an estimated half-a-million people to taiko through public performances since then. Each year, Paton and his group visit more than 50 schools throughout the Northeast sharing the athletic art form with about 5,000 kids.

"I discovered that I had made it a career. I did not have a plan to become a professional drummer and teacher," said Paton.

His classes are held at the Taiko Dojo off Flynn Avenue.

"This is a headband called hachi makai," said Paton.

It's a group that affectionately calls themselves the adult eternal beginners.

"Starting with Jenniferson and I, here we go," said Paton.

Maintaining your own beat without getting sucked into the melody is harder than it looks. It's really hard to tune out what they're doing.

"I feel very lucky I can do this. It's a pleasure and an honor to do that here," said Paton.

Paton picked up taiko in first grade and later toured with the grandmaster that brought taiko to North America. He's now the artistic director of his own group.

Reporter Jennifer Costa: Is it tough to earn a living in this field?

Paton: It's been a struggle and I love what I do. I feel I'm a happier and calmer person in that way. I think as taiko as one of my jobs and then separate from that you know drum repair, and drum making and selling.

The combination keeps him afloat financially. As sensei, he's the only one who gets a paycheck. The other drummers are volunteers.

Costa: Do you think you have an odd job?

Patton: I do have an odd job. I have multiple odd jobs.

Including booking dozens of gigs for the group. Burlington Taiko is the performance arm of the nonprofit, Taiko AikoKai New England.

"We practice every Tuesday night for the rest of our lives," said Paton.

They practice the beat that propels thousands of runners up Battery Street hill each May for the Vermont City Marathon.

"Every year we get comments from runners about how it helped them get up the hill or it was great. And they can hear us from far away," said Harry Grabenstein, Burlington Taiko Group.

Eight months later they're center stage at the Flynn packing the theater for the 28th straight year.

"Playing for the First Night audience is pretty magical. The energy and the vibe is really nice. For Burlington Taiko is our pinnacle performance of the year," said Paton.

"I like the part where they bring out the big drum and those two guys are on each side of the drum and they bang really hard," said Aura Upchurch, Essex.

Attracting young fans like Upchurch is part of Paton's mission. He keeps the music alive by intriguing the next generation. And what would an odd job be without an odd request?

"We need members of the community to come and walk on the drum, use the skin as a trampoline," said Paton.

It's Paton's latest project. A fixer-upper from China called the Ringo Taiko.

He's adding a second skin. And he needs your help to stretch and massage the fibers for a more mellow sound one bounce at a time.

Burlington taiko's drums can be quite pricey ranging between $100 to $10,000. Click here for more information on how you can join the group or participate in the trampoline project visit .

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